Lateralization of spontaneous behaviours in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris

Louise J. McDowell, Deborah L. Wells, Peter G. Hepper

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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Recent years have drawn attention to the link between lateral bias and cerebral functional asymmetry in animals. Most studies of animal laterality have focused on limb use arising from forced experimental challenges as opposed to spontaneous behaviours. This study explored, for the first time, the expression of lateralised spontaneous behaviour in the domestic cat, a species that exhibits motor bias in the form of paw preferences. The side used by 44 pet cats to perform three spontaneous behaviours (lying side, stepping down a flight of stairs, stepping over a raised object) was recorded. Paw preferences were also assessed using a more traditional forced food reaching challenge. Cats showed a significant lateral bias for food reaching (73%), stepping down (70%) and stepping over (66%). Paw-preferent animals, however, did not differ significantly in their tendency towards left- or right-sideness. The direction of the cats’ side preferences was significantly correlated for most of the measures, whether forced or spontaneous. The strength of the cats’ motor bias was significantly related to task; animals displayed a weaker lateral bias for lying side than any of the other measures. The study revealed a sex split in the direction, although not the strength, of the cats’ lateral bias for food reaching, stepping down and stepping over. Male animals showed a significant preference for using their left paw on these measures, while females were more inclined towards right-sideness. The study provides the first evidence that the domestic cat displays motor laterality on specific spontaneous behaviours, and that the direction, although not the strength, of these lateral biases is largely consistent with that of an experimental task. The results suggest that the more forced food reaching test traditionally used to assess motor bias in the cat offers a biologically valid measure of limb use in this species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-43
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date05 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


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