Welcome to our Peculiar Pet Facts series, where we investigate the oddities of our pets and explore the science behind them.
Have you ever noticed that your dog reaches for a toy with the same paw most of the time? Or that your cat enters the litter box with the same paw? Probably not, but these are the kinds of things to look at to discover if your cat or dog is one of the many animals that have a paw preference.
Paw Preference Is Common in Many Species
Preference for the right or left hand/paw/forelimb, called laterality in the science world, has been seen in both invertebrates and vertebrates. Octopuses and crustaceans can have tentacle or claw preferences (think blue crabs with one significantly larger crusher claw), parrots can have a foot preference for holding food, and some marsupials and non-human primates have paw or hand preferences for certain tasks.
Female Cats May Prefer Their Right Paw
Not all cats and dogs have a paw preference; like many things, it depends on the individual cat or dog. For example, in one study 78 percent of cats and 68 percent of dogs showed a paw preference while the others used both paws interchangeably. Interestingly, female cats were more likely to be right-pawed but there were no sex differences in dogs. Scientists aren’t really sure why animals show paw (or hand or forelimb) preferences, but it’s probably a combination of factors like genetics, learned behaviors and environmental influences.
Overall Population Preferences Are Not Clear, Yet
The jury is out on paw preference conclusions across the entire population of cats or dogs. A lot of the studies that examine laterality have a relatively small sample size (number of animals taking part), and the conclusions can change depending on which cats or dogs were used, their previous experiences and the methods used to test them. So while conclusions can be made about specific studies, there isn’t enough evidence yet to make conclusions about the entire cat or dog population.
Test Your Pet’s Paw Preference
If you’d like to find out if your cat or dog has a paw preference, there are some simple ways to test it. It will take some time, as you need to repeat each test about 50 times to get a “real” result — this doesn’t have to be in one session, though. If your pet uses the same paw more than 65 percent of the time, then they probably prefer that paw.
- For dogs, place a toy in front of them and see which paw they use to touch it. This works especially well if it’s a hollow toy filled with a high-value treat that they need to hold their paw on to get the treat out.
- For cats, dangle their favorite toy in front of them or play “chase the dot” with a laser and see which paw they use to swat at it.
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