Right pawed and left pawed cats

Your pet cat probably has a dominant paw: one study has shown that 40% of cats are ambidextrous, while 60% have a favored paw. Of cats who favor a paw, some studies say the right paw is favored at a ratio of about two to one, while others say left-right favoritism is divided evenly.

It might seem unlikely that animals aside from humans and higher primates might prefer one upper limb to the other, but that’s just because it’s difficult to test. It’s easy to tell whether a human is right handed, left handed, or ambidextrous, because humans write. Almost all humans have a hand they prefer to write with. Apes perform complex tasks with a preferred hand most of the time, too.

Cats, on the other hand, don’t perform especially complicated, intellectually demanding tasks like people do. Instead, they’re more likely to use their paws when interacting with their surroundings, so which paw they use in a particular instance is more likely to depend on the environment, rather than personal preference. For example, if the mouse is slightly to one side of the cat, the cat is more likely to use the corresponding paw to swat at it.

Left- and right-handedness arise in brain structure, depending on which hemisphere of the brain is dominant over the other. The hemispheres of the brain correspond to the opposite hemispheres of the body, for example, a left-brained person is very likely to be right-handed, and vice-versa. This is true for humans, cats, and other animals.

In humans, right-brain dominance is associated with creativity, while left-brain dominance is associated with being analytical. This reflects tendency, but isn’t binding: there are plenty of right-handed artists. Most humans – up to 90% – are right-handed. Unfortunately, as of yet no conclusive tests have been conducted showing whether left- and right-pawedness correspond to particular feline personality traits.

If you want to find out whether your cat is left or right-pawed, you can use a few controlled experimental measures to find out.

First, choose an isolated area for the test, like the bathroom, so the cat won’t be distracted. Bring a notepad, some string, and a piece of scrap paper with you.

Dangle the string before the cats nose until the cat swipes at it. Do this at least ten times, or more if you want greater accuracy. Tally which paw the cat uses (left, right, or both) after each swipe.

Then, drag the string across the floor, directly in front of the cat, until it gets the cat’s attention. Just as before, tally which paw is used (left, right, or both) each time the cat pounces, at least ten times.

The last one’s a little tricky. Crumple up the scrap paper into a ball, getting the cat’s attention, then toss it under a piece of furniture that the cat can reach an front paw under, but can’t crawl under. Note which paw the cat uses to try to get the paper ball out. If the cat can’t retrieve it, try another paper ball. Have the cat reach under the furniture at least five times. Note the results.

Once you’ve completed the steps, count up the tally and see where your cat stands! If the cat’s preferred paw is between forty and sixty per cent preferred, you might want to try the experiment again, with a larger sample size (more tallying). If you don’t feel like doing that, consider your cat most likely to be ambidextrous!

I experimented on my three cats this way. The first kitten, Scully, as well as her brother, Mulder, came up right-pawed. My four-year-old cat, Griever, is ambidextrous. And me? I’m a southpaw!


“A study of cat brain hemispheres.

“Scholastic paw preference testing.

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