You might have seen a cat transfixed by one of the many laser pointer toys on the market. They seem to love to chase that beam of light, and they get great exercise doing it. But is it really good for your pet? Are laser pointers bad for cats?
It turns out there are pros and cons when it comes to laser toys. You should really consider both sides when deciding whether to let your cat play with them. Here’s a look at the advantages of laser pointers and some of the potential safety concerns.
Why Do Cats Love Laser Pointers So Much?
It’s undeniable that cats simply love to play with a laser light toy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a green laser, or red laser, or any other color light, they just can’t get enough. Once they focus on that laser dot, nothing else seems to matter. Many cats could chase that light for hours.
Why the laser focus, so to speak? Well, a lot of it has to do with cats’ prey drive. When a beam of light dances around on the floor or on the wall, it looks like prey to your pet. Indoor cats don’t get to actively hunt like their outdoor counterparts. A moving laser light stimulates their stalking and pouncing instincts.1
In the wild, cats will typically chase prey up to ten times a day. Even though your indoor cat has no need to hunt, the behavior is hardwired into your pet. For many cats, laser light is a good substitute to help satisfy their prey drive.2
Playing With Your Cat and a Laser Light is Fun for Pet Parents: But is It Fun/Safe for Your Feline Friend? How About Your Dog?
While cats love to play with laser light because it stimulates their instinct to chase prey, it doesn’t exactly mimic the hunting process. Cats don’t chase prey to the point of exhaustion. They sprint, rest, and then sprint some more. Extended play with a laser pointer isn’t natural. Too much of it could put a lot of stress on a cat’s small lungs.3
Also, if you have a dog and you’re considering letting them play with a laser pointer, you might want to think twice. A dog will sometimes keep looking for the light long after you’ve turned it off. This can lead to some obsessive behavior. For example, when you least expect it, your dog might react to any sort of light that happens to reflect in your home.4
If you want to satisfy your dog’s prey drive, there are other ways to go about it. You could, for example, get a toy known as a “flirt pole.” It sort of looks like a fishing pole that has a rope tied to the end. Or you could simply wrap some rope around your dog’s favorite toy and let your dog chase it as you drag it behind you.5
Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats and Kittens? The Psychology of Lasers and Lack of Reward
Even though cats love to play with a laser toy, it can also be a frustrating experience for them. Part of the thrill of the hunt is the capture of the prey. Unfortunately, that’s impossible with laser light. There’s never any “catch,” so there’s no sense of closure. The cat might think they’ve caught the beam, but they haven’t really caught anything.6
A laser beam does a great job of satisfying a cat’s instinct to stalk prey and pounce on it. But it doesn’t do anything to satisfy the sense of “killing” and “eating” that prey. This doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal for some cats. They chase the beam for a while and then go about their business. For other felines, however, it can ultimately be a source of agitation. Where’s their reward for all that chasing?7
How About the Actual Laser Beam? Can it Do Damage to Your Cat’s Eyes?
A laser toy should never be shone directly into the eyes of any pet (or person). Even though the light shouldn’t do any sort of damage to your cat’s eyes – provided, of course, that the laser is made specifically for pets– it may still be uncomfortable.8
Lasers are classified by number, which should be plainly clear on the labeling. The higher the number, the more powerful the beam the laser emits. Make sure you don’t buy any laser classified higher than one or two in terms of power. Also, a cat’s eyes more easily absorb green laser light than red light. As a result, a green light could pose a risk to your pet’s vision.9 Stick to lasers that emit red light.
The Pros: Laser Cat Toys May Help Satisfy Prey Drive and Encourage Physical Activity/Exercise
This isn’t to say your pet can’t gain some benefits from playing with a laser toy. You’ve already seen how a light can satisfy some facets of your cat’s instinctual prey drive – namely stalking and pouncing.
Another benefit is that play with a laser beam is a great form of exercise. Indoor cats typically aren’t very active. Outdoor cats get to run around in the grass and climb trees, while their indoor counterparts usually take it easy the vast majority of the day. When they chase that dot of light, though, they get an excellent workout.10
Laser light also keeps your cat mentally stimulated. Domestication has been great for cats, giving them security, plenty of love, and a steady stream of food they don’t have to work for. But there’s a trade-off. As cozy as your pet may be, that can also lead to a lot of boredom. Laser pointer toys may help stave off that boredom and get your pet excited.
Strengthening Your Bond With Your Beloved Pet
One of the most important benefits of a laser toy is that it presents another opportunity for you and your cat to bond. It doesn’t take a lot of effort on the part of a pet owner to play in this fashion. Even if you’re tired after a long day of work, all you need to do is move the light around the room while you lounge on the couch.
So, to recap, here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of letting your cat play with a laser pointer toy.
- Cats love playing with laser toys.
- Laser toys are a great way for your cat to get exercise.
- Laser light stimulates your pet, and staves off boredom.
- It’s a great way for you to strengthen your bonds with your pet.
- Lasers help your cat express their predatory instincts to stalk and pounce.
- Playing too long with a laser pointer could make your cat exhausted.
- A laser pointer can be frustrating for your cat because it doesn’t provide the reward of catching “prey.”
- There’s a chance a laser pointer could lead to an injury.
- Lasers could cause eye discomfort. If the wrong type of laser is used, and the light gets into your cat’s eyes, it could potentially cause vision damage.
How To Be As Safe Using A Laser Pointer To Play With Your Cat
If you’re going to buy a laser toy for your cat, you’ll obviously want to make sure it’s as safe as possible. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind if you are planning to buy a laser toy for your cat to chase.
First, you should avoid pointing the light at walls or furniture. Your cat could slam into something and be hurt. Always keep the light on the floor. Also, consider buying a laser at a store you trust, rather than finding one online. That way, you can be more confident that it will be safe for your pet.11
Other Ways To Play With Your Cat And Help Them Express Their Prey Drive
If you’re leery of buying a laser light toy for your cat, there are a lot of other types of toys available. These toys will not only help your pet get the exercise they need, but they’ll also help keep them from being bored. They’ll also help make the bond between you and your furry family member even stronger. Here are just a few examples.
A feather wand is something like the “flirt pole”. You can make the feather move like a bird or a small animal – something that your cat would hunt if they were outside. You keep the lure on the ground and then make it twitch until your pet pounces. One of the good things about this kind of toy is that you can make it as easy or challenging for your pet as you wish.
If you really want to give your cat a feeling of satisfaction after making a “kill,” consider a toy that dispenses treats. One of the most common types of treat toys is a ball. Just fill it with tasty snacks and let your cat pounce on it, roll it or bat it around to their heart’s content. Once they dislodge the treat, that gives them the closure they won’t get from a laser toy.
What’s more natural for a cat than to chase a mouse? That’s why the tried-and-true toy mouse remains one of the most popular feline toys out there. You not only allow your cat to express their hunting instincts, but you also give them the satisfaction of chasing and capturing their “prey.” Experiment with different types of mice, such as squeaky, plush, or rubber toys, and see which ones your pet likes the best.
No Matter What Type Of Toy You Prefer, There Are Plenty Of Great Choices
While a lot of pet parents love to let their cats chase laser lights, others are leery. No matter where you fall along this spectrum, you can rest easy knowing there are all kinds of options out there to keep your cat entertained for hours.