Paw Preference

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Updated on Feb 08, 2012

Grade Level: 6th; Type: Animal Science


The object of this project is to determine if cats have a dominant paw similar to humans being right-handed or left-handed. Since cats do not obey commands, patience and a good rapport with animals contributes to the project’s success.

Research Questions:

  • Can cats be left-paw or right-paw dominant?
  • What do the results indicate about their brains?

Most humans have a preferred hand (and foot, eye and ear), meaning that one of the pair responds more frequently than the other to stimuli. Human brains map into two hemispheres that have specialized functions with “crossed” connections. The left hand is controlled by the right hemisphere’s cortex region and vice versa.

The constants in this experiment are the cats, the environment and the tester. The cats will respond to various—tempting—articles in their vicinity, and the frequency with which they use each paw is recorded. Across activities, a general conclusion can be reached about paw preference and perhaps the similarity of a cat’s brain to that of a human.


  • Group of cats.
  • Cat treats.
  • Feathers.
  • String.
  • Logbook.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Record the gender and age for each cat.
  2. Place a treat beneath a piece of furniture or piece of paper near the cat.
  3. Observe which paw the cat uses to reach for the treat.
  4. Take a short break and repeat. Do this again for a total of three times per cat.
  5. When the cat is lying quietly, gently twist a feather approximately 12 inches from its upper body and lay the feather down.
  6. Observe which paw the cat uses to reach for the feather.
  7. Take a short break and repeat as above.
  8. Likewise, with similarly reclining cat, wiggle a six-inch piece of string in front of the cat.
  9. Observe which paw the cat uses to try and trap the string.
  10. With nine results for each cat, calculate a percentage for the two paws and make conclusions about paw preference.

A table can record the results:


Cat 1

F, 3 yrs

Cat 2

M, 5 yrs

Cat 3

M, 2 yrs

Cat 4

F, 8 yrs

Treat 1

Treat 2

Treat 3

Feather 1

Pie charts can display the percentages visually:

Terms/Concepts: Fine motor control; Brain hemispheres; Brain lateralization


Jane Frances Healey taught for many years at both the college and high school levels. Currently, she's a freelance writer in the San Francisco area, and she enjoys doing research on a wide variety of topics.

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