Are Cats and Dogs Right or Left Handed, Too?

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According to two studies, the answer is yes: Just like humans are usually right- or left-handed, cats and dogs are typically right pawed or left pawed.

The first study, performed by researchers at Turkey's Ataturk University in 1991, showed the majority of domestic cats are right pawed (50 percent), 10 percent are ambidextrous, and the remaining 40 percent favor their left paw. But dogs, according to a 2006 study by the University of Manchester, tend to be more evenly split—around 50 percent of dogs are left pawed and 50 percent are right pawed, with a statistically insignificant number being ambidextrous.

Determining if your cat or dog is left or right pawed or ambidextrous isn’t as simple as holding a toy just out of reach and seeing which paw they reach with. This is because their paw preference is often weakly expressed, unlike with humans. So in order to accurately determine your pet’s paw preference, you need to run tests several dozen times to see the trends. Just a few tests include: What paw does your dog most often shake with? 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 under a piece of furniture to see which paw they usually reach for the treat or toy with. If your pet wants to come inside, which paw does it typically use to scratch at the door? 

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 to 200 or so such tests and there is no noticeable paw preference, your animal is probably ambidextrous.

Why does it matter if your animal favors one paw over another? Stefanie Schwartz, a vet at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, California, told the Daily Mail that determining laterality—or what part of the brain is dominant over the other—could one day help breeders figure out which puppies are best suited to be military, service, or therapy dogs.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.