A kitten nips at a human's finger.
A kitten nips at a human’s finger. Wang Xi / Public Domain

We live in a world where scissors, measuring-cup handles, spiral notebooks—even video game controller keypads—are designed for right-handed folks. Roughly 70 to 90 percent of the world’s human population is right-handed. Some primates and mice also demonstrate a right-handed predisposition, and according to a new Queen’s University Belfast study published in Animal Behaviour, predominant right-handedness might apply to the cat kingdom—but only among females.

Researchers at the Queen’s University School of Psychology worked with cat owners to collect data on 24 male and 20 female domesticated cats. The research team stated in a press release that they tracked when “cats used their left or right paws when they stepped down the stairs or over objects and whether they slept on the left or right side of their body.” The team also conducted a test to see which paw a cat used to “reach for food inside a three-tier feeding tower.”

In the above situations, male cats showed a strong preference for their left paws whereas female cats preferred their right paws. Hormones and brain structure differences between male and female cats, the findings indicate, could be an explanation for such preferences. The team, however, cannot conclude the link without further research.

A ragdoll cat idles away the afternoon by the windowsill.
A ragdoll cat idles away the afternoon by the windowsill. Josh Couch / Public Domain

Paw preference may also relate to pets’ stress tolerance. Queen’s University researcher Dr. Deborah Wells said “there is some suggestion that limb preference might be a useful indicator of vulnerability to stress.” Limb preference correlates to brain laterality. Left-limbed animals show “stronger fear responses, aggressive outbursts, and cope more poorly with stressful situations,” Well added. She conducted a similar study with dogs and found that “left-limbed dogs, for example, are more pessimistic in their outlook than right-limbed dogs.”

Wells agreed more research needs to be done, but concluded the results could be helpful for cat owners who want “to understand how their pets deal with stress” and calm them during stressful situations such as trips to the vet or fireworks displays.