Favouring one hand for tricky tasks isn’t a uniquely human trait - although people are not split 50-50 on this, since only ten per cent of the population are left-handed.
When it comes to domestic cats however, there’s a surprising factor at play, which means their population actually has an abundance of both lefties and righties. Back in 2009, researchers from Queen's University Belfast tested paw preference in cats, recruiting 42 felines (21 male, 21 female) for the task.
What they found was a strong correlation with sex - every female favoured her right paw, while all males save one turned out to be southpaws (one of the males turned out to be ambidextrous).
However, paw preference - just like handedness in people - doesn’t show across the board, but is more distinct when the task at hand needs more dexterity. That’s why you can easily pick things up with either hand, but probably have a preference when it comes to wielding a pen or scissors.
The cats in the study had to go through three different exercises - two of them involved reaching for toys either overhead or along the floor, and cats were fine to engage with either paw. The task that revealed a paw preference required more dexterity - cats were presented with bits of tuna stuck in jars that were too small for their heads, but just right for fishing the food out with a paw. With such high stakes involved, cats chose to put their best paw forward.
According to the researchers, the sex correlation could be explained with hormonal differences, an idea supported by other research, including studies on people.
Since we love anthropomorphising our pets, you’ve probably wondered whether your cat has a preferred paw, too. You can go by the sex assumption alone, but that’s not as fun as repeating the science at home. All you need are some treats and a small container they can’t stick their face into. You’ll have to repeat this activity a number of times, as the unscientific-yet-adorable YouTube video of Maru and Hana demonstrates below.