Dogs and Cats are Typically Right or Left Pawed

dog-catToday I found out dogs and cats are typically right pawed or left pawed.

This is according to two studies, one done at the Ataturk University in Turkey (in 1991) and another at the University of Manchester in England (in 2006).  According to the Ataturk University study, the majority of domestic cats are right pawed (50%), 10% of them are ambidextrous, and the remaining 40% favor their left paw.

Dogs, on the other hand, according to the University of Manchester study, tend to be more evenly split with around 50% being left pawed and 50% being right pawed, with a statistically insignificant number being ambidextrous.

In addition to that, there seems to be a connection between the gender of the animal and which paw is dominant in both cats and dogs.  Specifically, female cats and dogs typically will have their right paw be dominant, while males tend to go with the left paw.  However, if the animal has been spayed or neutered at an early age, this distinction goes away.

Determining if your cat or dog is left or right pawed or ambidextrous isn’t as simple as running one test, such as giving them a toy to play with just out of their reach and seeing which paw they reach with.  This is because their paw preference is often weekly expressed, unlike with humans.  Thus, in order to accurately determine your pet’s paw preference, you need to run such tests several dozen times to see the trends.

Some helpful such tests for dogs and cats include: if you’ve taught your dog to shake hands, which paw do they seem to like to use the most?  If your dog or cat is playing on its back and you put your hand just out of their reach, which paw do they reach for your hand with?  You can also try putting a treat or a toy just out of their reach underneath a bookshelf/coffee table/couch /etc. and see which paw they typically try to reach for the treat or toy with.  You can put some peanut butter on the top center of their nose and see which paw they use to get it off with. For both dogs and cats, if the animal wants inside or into a room you’re in, which paw do they typically use to scratch at the door? Another good one is to put a treat underneath something and see which paw they use first to try to uncover the treat with. Yet another test is to place a small piece of paper or plastic on a smooth surface so it can slide, and then place a tasty, lickable treat on the paper.  When the dog or cat licks it, inevitably the paper/plastic will slide and they will likely use one of their paws to stop it from sliding while they lick.  In all these cases, record which paw is used and once you’ve done several dozen (at least) such tests, check to see if there is a clear dominant paw.  If not, continue on until one emerges.  If you’ve done 100-200 or so such tests and there is no noticeable paw preference, your animal is probably ambidextrous.

That being said, it should be noted that cats, as in all things, tend to be trickier to figure out than dogs.  For instance, it’s been observed that when cats are playing, they typically don’t exhibit much in the way of paw preference, but when they want something, like a treat, it’s then that they’ll usually use their dominant paw first, unless they are simply one of those 10% or so that are ambidextrous.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Horses also are left or right hoofed.  They can also be ambidextrous.  While for cats and dogs their paw preference is fairly inconsequential, for race horses particularly, knowing this information can be very important.  For instance, in horse racing in America, horses run counterclockwise and when turning, turn to the left, so which hoof is their dominant can be important in that, “You have to work to get them to take the lead they prefer less,” says Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.  For courses where the horse has to turn multiple ways, an ambidextrous horse then is more desirable than one who has a hoof preference.
  • There is a cat who loves playing the piano. (And for the record, she’s right pawed, though uses both paws to play and even sometimes uses her head to play more notes when her paws are occupied on other keys.) The cat is named Nora, owned by Betsy Alexander who is a piano teacher. Nora enjoys playing the piano on a daily basis, even sometimes playing duets with humans.  She first started playing around a year old and has continued to this day, even being filmed playing when no one is around to hear.  You can see a video of this here: Nora the piano playing cat
  • The idea that people who are left handed are naturally disposed to evil has been around for as long as we have recorded history. The Devil is mostly portrayed as left handed. The Bible mentions right handedness positively over 100 times, while left handedness is mentioned only 25 times and every time is negative.
  • Domestic house cats are known to be able to fall from any height without suffering fatal wounds most of the time, more on this here.
  • The longest lived domestic cat was named Creme Puff.  She lived from August 3, 1967 to August 6, 2005, a span of 38 years and 3 days.  This is well over double the normal life span for domestic cats, which is typically around 12-14 years for males and 13-15 years for females. Interestingly, the owner of Creme Puff, Jake Perry, also raised a sphynx cat which was born in 1964 and didn’t die until 1998, a span of 34 years and 2 months.  The cat’s name was “Grandpa Rexs Allen”.  Why Perry’s two cats lived so long isn’t entirely known, however, he didn’t typically feed them store bought cat food.  Rather, he raised them on a variety of “natural” foods; prominent among these foods were: bacon, eggs, asparagus, and broccoli, among other things.  This can be a somewhat dangerous practice normally as cats require certain nutrients they won’t always get if they are just eating “human” food.  For instance, cats will go blind fairly quickly (and permanently) if they don’t get enough taurine, found in muscle.  Cats also require a high amount of protein and calcium.
  • This high amount of protein consumed by cats is thought to be why dogs like cat poop so much, with it being very protein-rich.
  • The documented record for the most kittens born to one cat is currently held by a cat named “Dusty”.  She gave birth to 420 kittens in her lifetime and even had a litter at the very old age (for a cat) of 18 years old.
  • The most kittens in one litter is 14, a feat accomplished by a cat named Bluebell.  Amazingly, all 14 kittens survived, which is rare in large litters of kittens.
  • The smallest adult cat on record was named Tinker Toy.  Tinker Toy as an adult cat weighed just one pound, eight ounces and measured in at just 2.75 inches tall and 7.5 inches long.
  • The heaviest cat in the world was 46 pounds and named Himmy.   This cat had a waistline of 33 inches.
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