Written by: Yasaar Nakchbendi
Living in a multi-cat household has many advantages. You’re privy to a vast spectrum of crazy cat quirks. George flicks his food out of his bowl when eating, mischievous Baggins flicks pens off tables and Jimmy Fancy Feet makes ‘air biscuits’ in his sleep.
But despite all my observations of our cats’ daily rituals, I’ve never paid much attention to paw preference.
Like many cat owners I will admit I’m too busy taking cat selfies to be bothered with the science of lateral bias. This tendency is to use one hand, or in this case one paw, in favor of the other for performing everyday kitty tasks.
But take a closer look. In almost every ‘cativity’ your cats will most certainly reveal their paw preference. Whether it’s pawing at the red dot or fishing out treats from a food puzzle toy. Lateral bias in animals has been researched at various lengths over the decades with a few studies focusing on our beloved felines.
A 1991 study at Ataturk University in Turkey showed 50 percent of cats were right-pawed, 40 percent were left-pawed and 10 percent were ambidextrous.
But in very recent study, researchers at the Animal Behavior Centre at Queen’s University in Belfast found that lateral bias in cats reveals a lot more than just percentages.
44 neutered cats were studied in their own homes. Their owners observed their cats’ paw preference when taking their first step down a flight of stairs and when stepping into a litter box. What emerged from this study is that paw preference can be linked to gender. Female cats showed a right-side bias for natural behaviors and male cats showed a left-side bias.
Another study reveals an interesting association between lateral bias and emotional functioning in domestic cats. Animals with stronger paw preferences were perceived as more active, affectionate, confident and friendly than those with weaker paw preferences.
I’m not highly strung, I’m just left-pawed.
How does your cat decide that using his left paw to grab food just feels like the right paw to use and why does it even matter? Study co-author Deborah Wells explains: “Left-limbed animals, which rely more heavily on the right hemisphere of their brains, tend to display stronger fear responses, aggression and stress than right-limbed animals, which are usually left-hemisphere dominant. Ambilateral animals, which do not have a preference for one side or the other, have also been shown to be susceptible to stress.”
This is all very interesting. Since I started taking notes instead of cat selfies, it turns out most of our male cats happen to be lefties, whether it’s pawing at food or playing with a toy. Our tortie girl Scout, has a left-paw preference too. Perhaps it makes sense; you can’t stick a label on a feisty tortie! Or perhaps it’s learned behavior from her mostly male housemates.
But Jimmy starts his day on the right paw.
Our little air biscuit maker, Jimmy Fancy Feet, however, likes to start things off on the right paw. He likes to wave his paw in the air when he wants attention. This is how he developed and perfected his excellent paw shaking skills.
Things you can do to test your cat’s paw preference⦁
- Fill your cat’s puzzle feeder and watch which paw he prefers to paw and grab at the treats.
- Put something sticky and edible on your cat’s nose and observe which paw he uses to wipe it off.
- When engaging in interactive play, which paw does he often use to swat at or grab the toy?
- Place a treat under a bed or couch and watch which paw your cat uses to reach for it.
- This is one that happens in every cat household! When your cat is frantically pawing under the fridge or couch to try and reach a long lost toy, which paw is he using to try and fish it out?
- Does your kitty give you paw shakes like Jimmy does? If so, which is his dominant paw?
Baggins continues his free-fall experiments with his left paw. Jimmy the right-pawed polydactyl will welcome you with a paw shake. And true to the study, this orange care-free fella comes packaged with pure Zen therapy with his laid-back confident cattitude.
Watch Jimmy Fancy feet’s video below where he teaches his human the polite way to give paw shakes.
So, which paw did your cat use today to knock your pen off the table? Let us know through our poll here!
Yasaar Nakchbendi is the author and founder of the award-winning blog, Chirpy Cats where she expresses her love for all things feline with a focus on cat environment enrichment in multi-cat households. Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.