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Are Cats and Dogs Right or Left Handed, Too?

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According to two studies, the answer is yes: Just like humans are usually right- or left-handed, cats and dogs are typically right pawed or left pawed.

The first study, performed by researchers at Turkey's Ataturk University in 1991, showed the majority of domestic cats are right pawed (50 percent), 10 percent are ambidextrous, and the remaining 40 percent favor their left paw. But dogs, according to a 2006 study by the University of Manchester, tend to be more evenly split—around 50 percent of dogs are left pawed and 50 percent are right pawed, with a statistically insignificant number being ambidextrous.

Determining if your cat or dog is left or right pawed or ambidextrous isn’t as simple as holding a toy just out of reach and seeing which paw they reach with. This is because their paw preference is often weakly expressed, unlike with humans. So in order to accurately determine your pet’s paw preference, you need to run tests several dozen times to see the trends. Just a few tests include: What paw does your dog most often shake with? If your dog or cat is playing on its back and you put your hand just out of their reach, which paw do they reach for your hand with? You can also try putting a treat or a toy under a piece of furniture to see which paw they usually reach for the treat or toy with. If your pet wants to come inside, which paw does it typically use to scratch at the door? 

In all these cases, record which paw is used and once you’ve done several dozen (at least) such tests, check to see if there is a clear dominant paw. If not, continue on until one emerges. If you’ve done 100 to 200 or so such tests and there is no noticeable paw preference, your animal is probably ambidextrous.

Why does it matter if your animal favors one paw over another? Stefanie Schwartz, a vet at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, California, told the Daily Mail that determining laterality—or what part of the brain is dominant over the other—could one day help breeders figure out which puppies are best suited to be military, service, or therapy dogs.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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