When a cat bats a toy, walks down stairs or even steps into a litter box, it favors the use of one front paw over the other. A new study closely examined “handedness” in felines, and found that male cats were more likely to be left-pawed while females preferred the right.
This pattern is seen in humans as well, as more men are lefties than women, and it indicates that handedness is linked to sex hormones, though this connection needs to be further explored. Right-handedness is also more common among humans than cats—nearly nine out of ten people identify as righties.
The researchers gained their results from observing cats in their homes. For three months, they took note of which paw the felines used for their initial step into a litter box or onto stairs. They also recorded which side of the body the cats reclined on, and which paws they used to reach into a narrow hole to obtain food from a feeder.
Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University Belfast and the lead author of the study, noted that cat owners can use these observational criteria to determine whether their own cat is left- or right-pawed, or even ambidextrous.
This study’s findings could be used to further explore how domestic cats handle stress. Researchconducted on humans discovered links between left-handedness and a higher incidence of mental illness. It remains to be seen whether left-pawed cats are more likely to experience anxiety or other conditions.
The implications of this study could potentially influence the cat category. Cat toys and litter boxes may be developed to have specific versions for right-pawed cats or left-pawed cats. Furthermore, if it turns out that lefty cats are more susceptible to mental health conditions the way humans are, calming aids may be specifically targeted to left-pawed felines. The way cats are cared for may change, as special precautions might be suggested for helping lefty cats avoid stressful situations.
Whatever the case, this study points to how the humanization of pets has not only infiltrated the pet industry, but also influenced science itself. By imbuing cats with human qualities such as handedness, we look to better understand their behavior and strengthen our bond.