QUB boffins discover female cats likely to be right-handed
An unusual study into the behaviour of cats has given boffins at Queen's University Belfast 'paws' for thought.
Experts have discovered that female felines are more likely to be right-handed than males.
Researchers from QUB's School of Psychology recruited 44 cats as part of their investigation, and spent time analysing their behaviour.
Dr Louise McDowell, Dr Deborah Wells and Professor Peter Hepper found indicators that there was a gender divide among cats over which paw was their dominant one.
Their findings have been published in the academic journal, Animal Behaviour.
Until now, studies on limb preference in animals have focused solely on forced experimental challenges.
However, in the Queen's study, the cats - 24 male and 20 female, and all neutered - were studied in their own homes so that information could be gathered as they went about their everyday lives.
The cat owners collected "spontaneous" data on whether the 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.
A "forced" test was also carried out, which involved the cats having to reach for food inside a three-tier feeding tower.
The majority of cats showed a paw preference when reaching for food (73%), stepping down (70%) and stepping over (66%), and their preference for right and left was consistent for the majority of the tasks, both spontaneous and forced.
In all cases, male cats showed a significant preference for using their left paw, while females were more inclined to use their right paw.
However, when sleeping, the cats did not appear to favour any particular side. Some well-known cat owners in Northern Ireland responded to the study with a mixture of bemusement and fascination.
Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister has a male cat, Leon, aged 10. She said she would try to look out for whether he showed any signs of being left-pawed.
"It's interesting, Leon would tend to use both paws when he is playing, I haven't noticed him using his left one more, but it's maybe something I'll look out for now," she responded.
Another cat lover, Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, said he hadn't noticed any of his former or current cats showing signs of having a dominant paw.
Mr Lunn has two cats, three-year-old brothers Oscar and Leo, which he adopted from Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Conlig, Co Down, after his previous tabby Tigger died at the age of 15.
"They are very, very nimble with their paws but I must say I have never noticed whether they favour one paw over the other," he said, joking that his two felines might be ambidextrous. Dr Deborah Wells said limb preference could be a useful indicator of a cat's vulnerability to stress.
"Beyond mere curiosity, there may be value to knowing the motor preference of one's pet," she commented.
"There is some suggestion that limb preference might be a useful indicator of vulnerability to stress.
"Ambilateral animals with no preference for one side or the other, and those that are more inclined to left-limb dominance, for example, seem more flighty and susceptible to poor welfare than those who lean more heavily towards right limb use.
"We have just discovered that left-limbed dogs, for example, are more pessimistic in their outlook than right-limbed dogs."
She added: "From a pet owner's perspective, it might be useful to know if an animal is left or right limb dominant, as it may help them gauge how vulnerable that individual is to stressful situations."
Responding to the findings, Cats Protection - the UK's leading feline welfare charity - said: "These are interesting findings though as the study involved just 44 cats, a lot more research would be needed into whether female cats are right-handed and male cats are left-handed.
“The right and left paw phenomenon is not something we’ve noticed among the unwanted cats in our care but anyone thinking of adopting one of our felines is welcome to play with them with a feathery toy and see which paw they prefer to use!”
“To adopt a cat please contact the Belfast Adoption Centre on 028 90 480202."