Left-handedness is much more common in cats than in humans. Why and what?

Although there isn’t a complete agreement on the percentage of left-handed (left-pawed) cats, one source states, ‘when it comes to using their paws to catch or manoeuvre something, cat are usually left-pawed or ambidextrous; only 20 per cent are right-pawed’ (The Cat Expert). Another source (Dr Deborah Wells and Sarah Millsopp of Queen’s University Belfast) states that of 42 cats tested in a study, all 21 females used their right paw while 20 out of 21 males used their left paw and one male was ambidextrous. And yet a third source states that, ‘more cats are left-handed than right-handed. Out of every 100 cats approximately 40 are left-pawed, 20 are right-pawed and 40 are ambidextrous’ (cat-world.com.au).

Left-handed cat
Left-handed cat probably a male. Image: MikeB
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The Psychology Today website say that there have been more than 30 scientific studies on paw preference in domestic cats and the results have been somewhat inconsistent. Some studies have said that cats are right pawed. Through simple observation when living with cats, is clear that far more domestic cats are either ambidextrous or left-pawed compared to humans. The key finding is that females tend to be right-pawed and males left-pawed.The tendency for domestic cats to be left-pawed comes from the females.

The Psychology Today concluded in assessing 32 different studies in which 1,484 cats were observed that:

  • 75% of cats showed a preference for one paw while 25% did not which is a much larger number than for humans where only 1% of individuals show no preference for one hand;
  • Overall 39% of cats were right-pawed;
  • Overall 36% of cats were left-pawed;
  • 25% of cats had no preference.
  • HOWEVER: Females are more likely to show a right-paw preference compared to male cats;
  • 52% of female cats showed a right-sided preference;
  • 27.1% of female cats showed a left-pawed preference;
  • 20.9% of female cats showed no preference;
  • 52.3% of male cats showed a left-pawed preference;
  • 30.8% of male cats showed a right-sided preference;
  • 16.9% of male cat showed no preference.<
  • /ul>

    The conclusion is that male cats are more likely to be left-pawed and female cats are more likely to be right-pawed.

    In other tests it was revealed that for very 100 domestic cats about 40 are left-pawed, 20 are right-pawed and 40 are ambidextrous (Cat World by Dr Desmond Morris).

    Overall based on other studies we can conclude that the percentage of left-pawed cats is higher than the percentage of left-handed people, which is around 15% – another source says 10%). We are not sure of the exact percentage, but it said that 70-95% of people are right-handed.

    Why are humans right-handed?

    Research has been done on humans to decide why there is a large predominance of right-handedness. Scientists are still not completely sure why this is, but we are sure that it has existed for around 500,000 years.

    One theory is that the left side of the brain manages language, and the right hand is controlled by the left side of the brain. This ‘might suggest that as the left hemisphere evolved for language, the preference for the right hand may have intensified simply as a side effect’. (bbc.com – Jason Goldman).

    Lucky Japanese cat is left-handed

    Another theory suggests that a competitive society fosters an increase in right-handedness as it provides an advantage because it creates a difference e.g., in sports while in a cooperative society the left-handed are at a disadvantage as tools and implements are designed for right-handed people. As society is increasingly cooperative (or meant to be!) there are less left-handed people. Also, some left-handed people had their left-handedness knocked out them.

    Why are cats more likely to be left-handed?

    Can we use these theories to try and explain why cats are more likely to be left-pawed?

    You’d have thought that the default situation (the automatic status) would be ambidextrous. As cats have a less extensive language than humans the link between language and right-handedness does not apply. This may be a factor. Also, the cat is essentially solitary and competitive. Based on the above theories, this favours left-handedness.

    However, I am going to suggest the following reasons:

    1. Domestic cats are not necessarily normally left-pawed. The research is incomplete. More work needs to be done. There is probably an even distribution between left and right-pawed cats with all cats being to a lesser or greater extent ambidextrous.
    2. Cats may favour one paw over the other because they learned that using one paw more than the other made that paw more dextrous due to extended usage. But for a cat there is less of a requirement for one paw to be more dextrous than the other because in their day-to-day activities both paws are used equally. For humans there is a need to have enhanced dexterity. In fact, this simple reason, which I provide, may also be why there is a preference for one side in humans, which has been modified by competition and cooperation as mentioned.

    I have not provided a clean answer because there is none as yet. For me the key is that cats are essentially ambidextrous because it suits their lifestyle. Humans need fine dexterity to operate tools etc. The Japanese Beckoning Cat is left-pawed (picture heading page).

    Below are some more pages on cat paws.

4 thoughts on “Left-handedness is much more common in cats than in humans. Why and what?”

  1. What strikes me most from the above statistics is how many cats are ambidextrous, my own cat seems to be, far more prevalent in cats than in Humans. Is that something we have lost along the evolutionary path?

    • Is that something we have lost along the evolutionary path?

      I think yes, we have lost it due to evolution. The way I read it, we have had to specialise and become more dextrous and have therefore chosen one hand to be better. This hand is used almost exclusively for tasks requiring dexterity and so becomes more dextrous.

      Cats don’t have this requirement. They generally need both forepaws in equal measure. But my online research was inclusive which forced me to come to my own conclusion.

  2. Mitzy is gorgeous. Her eyes are a beautiful luminous green and the first thing I noticed about her.

    Michael, I agree with your reasoning. It applies more to my cats than the findings of those studies.

    Sophie was ambidextrous and had no problems pulling or pushing doors open with either paw. Interior doors had to be locked with a key if I needed to keep her out of a room because she’d figured out that repeated pawing at a certain part of the door frame would cause the lock to give.

    Charley and Horace I notice, use their right paw to pull open a left-hinged door, but nudge doors open with their heads (instead of pulling with their left paw) if the door hinges are on the right. Hope that makes sense.

  3. This is a subject I never gave any thought to.

    But I have wondered why my cat always curls up in my lap and kneads on the same side, only very rarely will she move to the left, momentarily.

    I’m right handed, so if I want to clip her nails while she’s in my lap, it’s almost impossible, since I’m not ambi-dextrous.

    I noticed two sharp nails yesterday, and knew they had to get clipped. So, I laid down next to her, while she was resting on her side, on the porch. It wasn’t too tough, although at one point she bit my hand gently to let me know she didn’t like it.

    I used to take her to the groomer to get her nails clipped, but since her recent traumas with vet visits, I’m trying to avoid putting her in the carrier.

    I only clip the sharp ones, not all 14 on the front, at one time. Yes, she’s a polydachtal, with 7 toes on each front paw, and 6 on each back paw.

    I’m attaching a picture of her when she was younger that shows her huge “mitts”, and that’s why she was named Mitzy!


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