The ontogenesis of lateralized behavior in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus

Deborah Wells, S. Millsopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


For the first time, the development of paw preferences in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, is explored. Twelve cats were tested at ages 12 weeks, 6 months, and 1 year on a challenge requiring them to use one of their paws to retrieve food. To control for repeated testing of the same cats at different ages, the subjects' paw preferences were compared with those of cats tested just once, at 6 months (n = 11) or 1 year (n = 14) of age. Analysis revealed a significant effect of age on the distribution of cats' paw preferences. Cats were significantly more likely to be ambilateral than paw preferent at 12 weeks and at 6 months but more likely to display a lateral bias in paw use at 1 year. There was a significant positive correlation between cats' paw preferences at 6 months and at 1 year. Lateralized behavior was strongly sex related. Females had a greater preference for using their right paw; males were significantly more inclined to adopt their left. Analysis revealed no significant difference in the direction or strength of paw preferences of cats tested longitudinally or cross-sectionally at 6 months or 1 year of age. Findings indicate that cats develop paw preferences by 1 year and hint at a relative stability in preferred paw use over time. The strong sex effect observed strengthens the case for the influence of a biological mechanism in the emergence of motor asymmetry in cats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-30
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


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