Lateralized behaviour in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus

Deborah L. Wells, Sarah Millsopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Lateralized behaviour in the felids has been subject to little investigation. We examined the paw use of 42 domestic cats on three tasks designed to determine whether the animals performed asymmetrical motor behaviour. The influence of the cats' sex and age on their paw preferences was also explored. The distribution of the cats' paw preferences differed significantly between the three tasks. Task 1, the most complex exercise involving retrieval of a food treat from an empty jar, encouraged the most apparent display of lateralized behaviour, with all but one animal showing a strong preference to use either their left or right paw consistently. Tasks 2 (an exercise involving reaching for a toy suspended overhead) and 3 (a challenge involving reaching for a toy moving along the ground) encouraged ambilateral motor performance. Lateralized behaviour was strongly sex related. Male and female cats showed paw preferences at the level of the population, but in opposite directions. Females had a greater preference for using their right paw; males were more inclined to adopt their left paw. Feline age was unrelated to either strength or direction of preferred paw use. Overall, the findings suggest that there are two distinct populations of paw preference in the cat that cluster strongly around the animals' sex. The results also point to a relationship between lateralized behaviour and task complexity. More apparent patterns of lateralized behaviour were evident on more complex manipulatory tasks, hinting at functional brain specialization in this species. © 2009 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-541
Number of pages5
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


  • cat
  • Felis silvestris catus
  • handedness
  • laterality
  • paw preference


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