The term laterality refers to the primary use of the left or right hemispheres of the brain. The two sides of an animal brain are not exactly alike, and each hemisphere differs in function and anatomy. This means the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side. This prompts which hand humans will favor for the majority of their tasks. As a result, humans experience right-handed and left-handedness. But are our pets affected by the same physiological make-up?
Humans tend to favor their right versus their left hands. In fact, “southpaws” make up only 10% of the human population and more males than females are left-handed.
Research over the past several decades has demonstrated that young children display weak, inconsistent hand preference tendencies and are slower with both hands. However as they mature, consistency improves with age.
There’s some controversy as to what age hand preference and hand performance abilities can be considered fully developed, but on average it occurs between the ages of 3-7.
Cat & Dog-handedness
There is research suggesting dogs and cats experience lateralization as well. However, the ratio appears to be more evenly split than humans. It seems our furry friends come in at 50 percent right-pawed, and 50 percent left-pawed. As far as gender preference, there's not enough research completed to date to determine whether there are any sex differences — such as more females or males being right or left pawed.
Test your dog or cat . . .
According to the Daily Mail Reporter: “Paw preference won't make a dog or cat walk, talk or wink like a human. You won't even get a high-five or a fist pump out of it. But vets and owners reckons the curiosity factor will have pet owners clamoring to find out if theirs is a leftie or a rightie.”
If you’re a pet-owner and would like to experiment with your pet to determine their right or left-pawedness, Veterinary Neurology Center’s Dr. Stefanie Schwartz has developed a few performance tests to figure out whether a dog or cat is right or left-pawed.
For dogs, she suggests filling a toy with a treat or something tasty, and positioning it in the center of your pet’s vision. Then watch which paw he or she uses to touch the toy first. Do this a half dozen times to make sure your dog is consistently using one paw or the other.
You can also add something sticky on the tip of a dog or cat's nose and take note of which paw it uses to remove it? Alternatively, “place a treat or a piece of cheese under a sofa, just beyond a dog or cat's reach,” Schwartz says to see "which paw [he or she uses] to try and get it out?”
Other indicators include which paw used to shake hands, or which paw a cat uses to bat a dangling toy. Or as documented in this video, you can use a treat in a jar serves a similar result.
Does it make a difference?
For humans, being a ’southpaw’ definitely makes a difference in society based on some of the rules humans have established that favor right-handers. Think about it. Poor lefties have to live in a right-handed adjusted environment. For instance, consider all of the right-handed gadgets, awkwardly designed desks, and cooking tools and utensil that fit comfortably only in one's right versus left hands. Flies in men's trousers are right-handed, and even a can opener is right-handed.
With your pets, on the other hand, luckily there is basically no difference. The well-being of dogs and cats doesn’t depend on preference, and most pet products have not been designed to favor one paw over another. So whether your dog or cat is right or left-pawed, they have equal opportunity to accomplish tasks, play with their toys and become your best friend possible, no matter which paw is extended first.