Is your cat or dog left-handed or right-handed? What can that tell you about his or her behavior and health?
Our handedness is a part of our identity. For those of you lefties who make up approximately 10% of the population, your handedness can be a point of pride and a source of frustration, having to live in a world designed for right-handed people. It is suggested that your handedness may even be linked to certain personality traits. But have you ever thought about whether your furry friends might have a paw preference? And if so, could there be a link to certain personality traits or health implications?
How do you know if your pet has a paw preference?
There are a number of tests that can give you a sense of whether your pet may have a paw preference. It is best to track paw preference over time to determine if there is a strong bias. Some dogs or cats can be ambidextrous, showing no bias.
For dogs, the first foot placed forward when walking from a standing or sitting position, is often the dominant paw. Dogs will typically use their dominant paw to remove a blanket from the head, a piece of tape from the nose or to stabilize a toy.
For cats, paw preference can be determined by watching natural behaviors. They typically use their dominant paw to step in their litter box or step down a flight of stairs.
The paw used to reach for food in a toy tends to be the dominant paw for cats as well. For cats, nearly three quarters of cats show a paw preference, with male cats tending to be left-pawed and female cats tending to be right-pawed (Hepper et al. 2018).
What can paw preference tell you about your pet?
Some studies suggest that left-pawed animals display more fear responses, higher stress levels and reactivity than right-pawed animals (Rogers 2010). Studies also show that left-pawed dogs are not as successful at completing the Guide Dog Training as their right-pawed counterparts (McGreevy et al. 2012).
This link is believed to be associated with brain dominance. Left-pawed animals are thought to have right-brain dominance, since left body motor function is controlled by the right side of the brain. The right brain is specialized to express intense emotion, including fear and aggression.
Paw preference may also affect health. Some studies showed a link between paw preference and immunity. Right-pawed and left-pawed dogs exhibit different patterns of immune response to an immune challenge (Vallortigara et al. 2004). There are differences in the
white blood cell responses and other measures of immune response in right-pawed versus left-pawed dogs.
What does all this mean?
At this point, there is not enough research to really understand the implications of paw preference. In the grand scheme of things, paw preference should not greatly impact you and your pet.
However, you may find it interesting to know if you and your pet share a preference for right or left handedness. Additionally, it may give you more insight into your pet’s fears and phobias.
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