Cowboy and Canines

Written by Dr. Nicholas Pappas. Posted in Featured, Pets

Published on August 06, 2014 with No Comments


Are left-handed people sinister?  Well, in a word, yes.  Now, before you “southpaws” go into vapor lock, let me explain.

Medical terminology is replete with directional phraseology.  For example, medial means toward the midline and lateral means away from the midline.  Proximal means up and distal means down from a central axis.  If you ask your optometrist for your prescription, you will notice O.D. and O.S.  This means oculus dexter (right eye) and oculus sinister (left eye).  Also, your hand specialist will refer to your hands as R.D. and R.S.  You guessed it—rotary dexter and rotary sinister.

The idea that people who are left-handed are naturally disposed to evil is unknown but has been around since recorded history.  The Bible mentions right-handedness positively over 100 times while left-handedness is mentioned only 25 times and every time negatively and with derision.   It is certainly counterintuitive because left-handed people are much more likely to be creative.

Most left-handers are visual thinkers who excel in creative fields like art and music.  They are also more likely to excel in ball sports and at tasks that involve three-dimensional thinking and hand-eye coordination.

But, does “handedness” apply to pets, too?  Can dogs and cats be “left-pawed” or “right-pawed?”  The answer is yes.  Indeed, they can be lateralized (right or left-pawed).

It is believed that only about 13 percent of the world’s population is left-handed.  Genetics are believed to be primarily responsible for this trait because left-handedness can definitely “run in the family.”

In fact, a gene that researchers believe is responsible for left-handedness has now been isolated.  The numbers in cats and dogs are closer to 50 percent and reflect a gender based and breed predisposition.

According to a recent university study, the majority of domestic cats are right-pawed.  Fifty percent are right-pawed; 10 percent are ambidextrous; and the remaining 40 percent favor their left paw.

On the other hand, dogs tend to be more evenly split at 50 percent.  Female cats and dogs typically will have their right paw dominate, while males tend to go with the left paw.  However, if the animal has been spayed or neutered at an early age, this distinction goes away.

A few interesting anecdotes are that left-pawed dogs are much favored as police dogs and guide dogs, but left-pawed dogs have a greater risk of disease.  There also seems to be a direct correlation with extreme aggression and left-pawed dogs suggesting a hormonal influence.

A very interesting recent study determined that ambidextrous pets (with no bias for either left or right paw) were at higher risk for behavior problems, separation anxiety and noise phobia (they are frightened by things like thunder and fireworks).  This is important to possibly mitigate or ameliorate this very common problem in todays’ society.

How does one determine if their cat or dog is particularly pawed?  There are many ways used by behaviorists, but here are a few:

1. Place a treat or a toy under the sofa just out of your pet’s reach and see which paw they use to grab it.

2. Put a small piece of tape on your dog’s snout and see which paw they use to remove it.

3. Place a toy like a Kong or The Squirrel Dude filled with a soft treat.  Place it directly in their line of vision and see which paw is used to hold it down (works better with dogs).

4. Also with dogs, see which paw they prefer to “shake” with you.

With all of these, 100 reps would be ideal.  Good luck.  Have fun with your kitty or pooch.  The socialization will be beneficial.


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About Dr. Nicholas Pappas


Dr. Nicholas Pappas is a former Chairman of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. He has been involved in veterinary medicine for 40 years and has practiced for more than 30 years. You can reach Dr. Pappas at katdrpappas@gmail.com.

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