One of the best ways to engage with our kitties is by playing with them. There is a variety of methods that you can use to get your kitty moving, some love feathery toys while others prefer the game of tag.
I’m sure most of us have also seen how our cats can react when they see the red dot from a laser pointer moving haphazardly around them. They go crazy!
But does this obsession come with possible ramifications?
Are laser pointers bad for cats? Laser pointers are a fun activity since it triggers a cat’s prey drive, but it can also cause frustration since there’s no chance for a cat to actually “catch” the dot. Your cat can also accidentally injure themselves due to inattention, and the laser light can damage their eyes if shined directly.
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons as well as some alternatives to laser pointers you’ve come to the right place!
Are Laser Pointers Bad For Cats?
While the sudden movement of a red dot across the floor and wall can send your cat into an excited frenzy, there are three potential issues that explain how laser pointers can be dangerous.
A cat could hurt themselves while trying to catch the laser, as they jump around the house. The excitement that your kitty could show when chasing after a laser pointer might seem innocent at first, but they can also become hyper-focused on it and stop paying attention to their surroundings.
Cats aren’t used to chasing or playing with prey that defies all the laws of physics and some felines may attempt twists, turns, and jumps that they shouldn’t just for the chance to catch that dot. Your cat can, slip, fall, trip, or even crash into a wall causing damage to themselves or break something along the way.
Human and feline eyes aren’t that different when it comes to certain functions. The pupil, the cornea, the iris, the lens, and the retina are all there to control and focus the amount of light that enters the eye.
The difference is that cats also have a special reflective layer covering the retina called the tapetum. Dr. Cynthis Powell explains that “when light enters the eye, it’s supposed to hit a photoreceptor that transmits the information to the brain.”
You’ve probably seen how your cat’s eyes glow in the dark, well once again that’s the tapetum at play. Since the cat’s eye gathers more light, they can navigate better during the night, and they are more sensitive to bright light, six times more sensitive than humans to be precise.
This means that if the laser light hits your kitty directly into their eyes it can cause almost immediate damage. Even for humans, exposure to strong laser pointers can cause long-term vision loss, as research shows, so you can imagine how dangerous it could be for cats.
Negative Impact On Your Cat’s Psyche
Eye injury is definitely a serious enough cause to set any laser pointers aside, but I think the potential for frustration is also significant.
Cats may be small, cute, and fluffy but it doesn’t change the fact that cats are also skilled predators just like their feline brothers the lions, and the most important part of the hunting experience is the reward.
While lasers do offer that excitement since the light moves in an unpredictable way, but it lacks the second act of the chase, which is the catch. This can be extremely torturous to your cat and can cause severe levels of anxiety that they might begin to express through problematic behaviors.
Gary M. Landsberg, DVM, states that “a cat’s major behavioral needs include eating (hunting), drinking, elimination (urine and feces), security, play and exploration, climbing, perching, and scratching.” She also explains that problematic behaviors related to play can manifest as aggression towards people, other cats, and play aggression.
Why Do Cats Like Laser Pointers?
Since cats can’t catch the red dot, you might wonder as to why they enjoy laser pointers so much. Well, while not all cats will go crazy for lasers, for example, my cats have never been impressed by them, there are those who do go bananas when they see the red dot.
Debra Horwitz, DVM tells us that cats are interested in toys that offer unpredictable and rapid movement. The way the light can move in such an erratic way mimics the prey’s behavior. The size is also small so a cat wouldn’t feel intimidated in any sort of way.
Indoor cats also don’t get to actively hunt like the cats outside so a fast-moving laser light is bound to get their attention.
Another reason explaining why your kitty would choose the laser pointer over their other toys must be because of the overall interaction with you. If you are actively moving the red dot and praising your kitty every time they make a swift turn, or offer them treats, then your kitty will see it as positive reinforcement.
So, you might also be responsible as to why your kitty enjoys playing with the laser pointer.
What Are The Benefits of Cat Laser Toys?
When it comes to laser toys there are of course certain drawbacks, but in the hands of a responsible cat owner, they can be used for good.
The need that cats have for play is oftentimes neglected, and if they live indoors that means that they don’t have the same opportunities to be physically active. Using a laser pointer for play can be a great way to encourage vigorous activity.
Unlike other toys, lasers can be moved around the house in unique ways like up the walls if you have shelves that go all the way up to the ceiling. It can motivate your kitty to reach the top floor of their cat tree.
This cat owner uses a laser pointer to help her kitty lose weight, and with this kind of motivation, I’m sure they will!
A laser pointer can definitely encourage cats to, jump, climb and pounce like they would in the wild. Better With Cats author and veterinarian Georgina U. Philips, DVM, advises cat parents to take it slow when first introducing their cat to a laser pointer.
She explains that while getting them to climb is one of the benefits of the toy, you need to be careful not to put your cat in a dangerous situation. As well as to avoid giving control over the laser pointer to your young children.
As I’ve mentioned earlier laser pointers can elevate the interactive play between you and your kitty, as long as you’re keeping it safe.
By moving the little red dot around, your kitty won’t just get physical, but it will also awaken the predator within. The important aspect of playing with your cat, apart from the mutual bonding, is the mental stimulation it offers to your feline companion.
They can of course cause frustration, that’s why they shouldn’t be the to-go toy when you’re playing with your cat, but a cherry on top of many other games.
Between you and me finding the motivation to play with your cat after a long day’s work can be difficult and if my kitties enjoyed laser pointers I’d probably use them on those super hard days.
Laser toys don’t require any physical activity from you since you can engage your cat in an intense play session without getting up from the comfort of your couch while binging Netflix or your office chair.
Basically, lazy days can be laser days!
Should I Use Laser Pointers To Play With My Cat?
You’ve heard the good and the bad, so now it’s time to decide whether laser toys should be trashed or not.
Well, Philips suggests that “the laser pointer shouldn’t be your cat’s only source of interactive playtime.” She also suggests that “You can also end the play session by pointing the laser on a toy that your cat can grab onto or switching to a wand toy towards the end of the play session.”
So, basically use the laser pointer in moderation, pay attention to your cat’s reaction and keep their interaction with the red dot short. Sure, this type of toy brings to life an aspect of the hunt, but your kitty never gets the satisfaction of proving that they’re a successful hunter.
When it comes to an eye injury, the risk might be low during routine play, but Philips states that it’s best to use a laser that has lower milliwatts. There are several pet-safe laser pointers on the market, so make sure you read the label before making the purchase.
What’s The Best Alternative To Laser Pointers?
There is no limit to the type of toys you can use to turn your kitty into a super active feline hunter, so sticking exclusively to laser pointers doesn’t really make sense.
My personal favorites are the wand toys. These are perfect for interactive play sessions with your kitty that offer them the exercise and the mice or feather at the end to catch. You can even craft your own DIY wand toy and make it as long or short as you want.
I often use random ropes from my clothes, but if you’re looking to buy one, I can’t recommend enough the Rainbow Cat Charmer that’s available on Amazon. The name speaks for itself since it will definitely charm your kitty with its snake-like properties.
If you want your kitty to have some fun on his own, you can also buy a few stuffed mice preferably the catnip kind. My cats go crazy over them, they hunt them down, they carry them around the house and they spend hours on end licking them. The only drawback to mice is the fact that they always end up disappearing under the couch.
There are plenty of intricate toys on the market, electronic mice that move around the house, puzzles with treats, and all that jazz. Each cat is unique so by trying different things and making the playful interaction pleasant you’ll discover what does it for them and what doesn’t.
My cats have simple tastes, so we’ve settled on the classic wand toy mentioned above, the occasional mice and a feeder ball from PetSafe Slimcat. If you check this little invention on Amazon, you’ll see that it’s a great way to combine mealtime with exercise, especially when you’re not around.
Don’t Forget Toy Safety
When it comes to toys there’s no limit, but my one suggestion is no matter what toy you use make sure to always put them away when you’re not around, especially toys with feathers and small parts.
An overexcited cat that’s left alone with a toy can end up ingesting it, something that can be easily avoided. Plus, your kitty won’t lose the novelty of each toy since they won’t be laying around all the time.
One of the great things about cats is that they’re easy to please, or at least most of the time. So, you’re probably going to face failure if you only use laser pointers to satisfy their hunting instincts.
Sure, that little red dot will excite them, but most likely the play session will end in disappointment, something no cat owner would want for their feline companion! I think it’s best if we stick to the real toys, something that actually looks like prey, and leave out the laser pointers and their possible dangers.
Now tell us does your cat like playing with the laser pointer or do they prefer something less ephemeral?