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Right Pawed in a Left Pawed World

Pet Paw Preference

animal behavior | Whitworth Animal Clinic | Madison, ALOne of the first things we learn as kids is whether we are left handed, right handed, or ambidextrous. Which hand is the most comfortable to manipulate and write with becomes almost immediately obvious, even before we have a pencil in our chubby little hands. Animal behavior studies show that, just like their human companions, our pets have a preference to which paw they prefer to use. Some people even speculate that, just like there are special traits associated with left handed people, your left pawed pet may have certain characteristics.

The two hemispheres of the mammal brain control movement on the opposite respective sides of the body, the right side of our brains governing movement on the left and vice versa. There is no hard evidence that paw preference influences pet behavior. However, since many creative processes take place on the right side of the brain and many logical processes occur on the left side, some people speculate that being left handed (or pawed, or hooved) may contribute to a more artistic nature, and other unique traits.

While more than 90% of people are right handed, studies performed in Turkey in 1991 showed that 50% of cats are right pawed, while 40% prefer their left and 10% appear to be ambidextrous, while a later University of Manchester study showed that dogs are split about half and half. Many scientists believe that, while hand or paw preference is most likely genetic, highly social species like humans that depend on cooperation for survival eventually develop a culture that values using one side over the other, which in turn shapes our genetics, resulting in the high population of right handed humans. While human lefties have to struggle with using right-handed scissors, your left handed pet seldom encounters the stresses of a right handed world.

Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a veterinarian working in Tustin, CA, has developed some tests to determine which side your pet prefers; here are a few easy steps to help satisfy your curiosity:

  • Put something sticky on your pet’s nose. Which paw does your cat or dog use first to try to get rid of it?
  • Put a bit of heese or some other tasty treat under a sofa or out of reach. Which paw does your pet use first to get at it?
  • When you teach your dog to shake, which paw does he or she use most often?
  • When you dangle a toy for your cat, which paw does he or she use to bat the toy?

Although Dr. Schwartz’s steps are easy enough to follow, she recommends performing them at least 100 times for an accurate result. Perhaps that is a bit far to go, at least until you teach your tabby how to hold a pencil.