Wells, D. L. 2021. Paw preference as a tool for assessing emotional functioning and welfare in dogs and cats: A review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 236, 105148.
Dogs and cats have been extensively studied of late in relation to their paw preferences, with both species showing preferential motor bias at the level of the individual. Over the years, a wide range of measures have been designed to assess the direction and strength of preferred paw use in dogs and cats and, to a lesser degree, determine the utility of motor bias as a predictor of emotional functioning and well-being in these animals. This paper reviews the various methods used to assess preferential paw use in the domestic dog and cat, highlighting outcome measures and methodological issues to consider in the case of implementation. Particular attention is paid to animal welfare implications, focusing on the relationship between motor bias assessment and outcome measures related to emotional functioning and psychological well-being. The paper also explores the wide range of intrinsic (e.g. temperament, breed, sex, mood) and extrinsic (e.g, task complexity) factors that may impact upon motor bias and study outcomes and attempts to determine the overall utility of paw preference testing as a tool for assessing welfare risk. It is concluded that paw preference testing harbours merit as a tool for assessing emotional functioning and psychological well-being in dogs and cats, but, given some of the methodological issues raised in this review, might be best considered alongside other indicators of animal welfare and/or in conjunction with other measures of asymmetry.