Dr. Coates is taking the Labor Day holiday off, so we've pulled one of our favorites from the archives. Today's post originally ran in September 2012.

I think all of my animals are left-handed (or pawed and hoofed to be precise). I read an article in my local paper last week that asked “Is your pet right-pawed, left-pawed, or ambidextrous?” and started paying closer attention to their behavior. According to the Coloradoan, a “1991 study at Ataturk University in Turkey showed 50 percent of cats were right-pawed, 40 percent were left-pawed and 10 percent were ambidextrous,” and a “2006 study from the University of Manchester in England showed dogs were split half-and-half.”

I’ve known for years that my horse is left-hoofed. When I work with him in the ring, he always moves more readily and gracefully to the left versus the right. He’s not lame and doesn’t have any neurological issues, I think it’s just easier for him to lead with his left hoof and bend his body in that direction. With training, I can get him to perform new moves well in both directions, but we usually have to work much longer going to the right to achieve the same results.

I watched Vicky (my cat) this morning trying to get my attention as I sat on the couch reading the paper and drinking a cup of coffee. Using her paw, she patted my arm and leg … with claws unsheathed for maximal effect. As I ignored her pleas for a head rub (poor thing, she must have wondered what was going on) I observed that she hit me roughly twice as often with her left paw in comparison to her right.

And then there’s Apollo. While Vicky was pestering me, he vied for Richard’s attention at the base of a nearby armchair by putting his left paw on Richard’s knee. Of course his right side was wedged between Richard’s leg and the chair at the time so he may have only been doing what was easiest … more research is needed.

Want to test your pets? Dr. Stefanie Schwartz of the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, California recommends "a few simple tests":

  • If you teach a dog to shake, which paw does it offer you first and most often?
  • Fill a toy with something delicious and put it in the center of the dog’s visual field. Which paw does it use to touch the toy first? Which paw does the dog use to hold the toy?
  • Put something sticky on a dog or cat’s nose. Which paw does the animal use to remove it?
  • Place a treat or a piece of cheese under a sofa, just beyond a dog or cat’s reach. Which paw does it use to try and get it out?
  • Dangle a toy over a cat’s head. Which paw does it lift to bat it?
  • Put a treat under a bowl. Which paw does the cat or dog use to move it?
  • When a dog wants in the backdoor, which paw does it "knock" with?
  • Source: The Coloradoan

Dr. Schwartz does recommend running these tests "100 times (over several days)" to get your answer. Hmm, on second thought, maybe I don’t really need to know exactly what Apollo’s paw preference is.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock