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Cats put their best paw forward according to their gender
23rd November 2010
Have you ever wondered if other animals are left or right “handed” like humans? Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have published a paper in the journal, Animal Behaviour, posing just this question about domestic cats.
Studies looking at paw preference in other species have shown a preference to use a particular limb in horses, dogs, humpback whales and sea lions, to name a few. So, how do we test paw preference in cats? Grab some tasty treats and a jar and let’s get started!
The Wells and Millsopp (2009) study found that cats use their paws equally when engaging in play with a fishing rod toy. The real indicator of paw preference was when the cats had to perform a more complex task i.e. reaching for food in a glass jar. Cats were presented with a glass jar containing a food treat e.g. chicken. The vast majority of the time, male cats would use their left paw to reach for the treat, whilst females would use their right paw. Interesting stuff, but why was this happening?
The hormone testosterone has been linked to left-handedness in humans. Perhaps this is why we see a preference in the male cat for left paw use. Indeed, female cats exposed to testosterone have shifted from a right paw preference to a left paw preference following exposure. It may also be that, because male and female cats differ in some of their behaviour (e.g. hunting styles, parental care), this drives other differences like paw preference.
Why not see which paw your cat favours? You’ll both have fun and all that extra stimulation means your cat might be tired enough so you get to watch TV in peace tonight!
For more information see Wells, D.L., and Millsopp, S., (2009). Lateralized behaviour in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus. Animal Behavour, 78, 537-541.
Dr Sarah Millsopp PhD BSc (Hons) PG Dip
Sarah is a pet behaviour counsellor and lecturer in Animal Management, SERC (www.serc.ac.uk) She is also a member of the Feline Advisory Bureau, a member of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour and a Provisional Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. www.drsarahtalkspetbehaviour.com