Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats?
Whip out a laser pointer, and in a second, your cat will be locked on target and ready to pounce. Laser pointers are a popular toy for cats, but have you ever stopped to ask: Are laser pointers bad for cats?
There are so many types of cat toys to choose from. Fetch and chase toys, teaser wands, puzzles, even catnip, but the most exciting of them all is the laser pointer.
Watching your cat pull off impressive aerial stunts while she frantically dashes to catch the tiny red intruder is fun, but there may be some unexpected consequences to this exciting game. To make sure you are using your cat’s laser pointer safely and appropriately, we need to consider why cats chase the laser so enthusiastically.
Cats and Lasers: The Obsession
Generally, when wielding the almighty pointer, you like to make it dash and darts rapidly across the floor. You let it jump partway up the wall or under some furniture, all to make the game more challenging for your cat.
These frantic and unpredictable movements trigger your cat’s natural prey drive. Whether you consider your cat a hunter or not, the built-in instincts of her ancestors are always there.
Though some domesticated cats are not as adept as others, cats are exceptional hunters. They are stealthy, quick, and not afraid to go in for the kill. Many cats, even domesticated indoor kitties, will be almost relentless in their pursuit of the laser.
Now we know why they chase the laser, but we still need to know if it’s safe.
Pros and Cons of Laser Pointers for Cats
Even if you’ve never used a laser pointer with your cat, it’s easy to see why most cats would interact with one. You may have noticed your cat following the glare from your phone dancing on the wall, or the movement of a sunbeam from a blowing curtain.
Although their reactions seem to indicate that they enjoy the experience, we must look at whether using a laser pointer with your cat is safe and recommended. Here are some pros and cons of laser pointers for cats to help you consider all the information before introducing or continuing to use this toy:
Unlike dogs, cats don’t often get the same opportunity for physical activity. They don’t go for daily walks or have free run of the back yard. Many domestic cats are strictly indoors. Using laser pointers for play is an excellent method of encouraging vigorous activity.
Even a fat cat can improve her cardio with short, high-energy workouts chasing the laser. This activity helps to build and maintain muscle mass, as well as help to keep cats fit and trim.
- Mental Activity
In addition to being a great cat workout, laser pointers are a great way to keep your cat thinking. Hunting requires a lot of mental focus, so short games of laser tag will give her some of the mental activity she needs.
Get creative with your laser skills to increase the challenge as she learns to hone her fierce hunting skills. Run the laser under objects and around corners to help her sharpen her problem-solving skills and quick decision making.
- It’s Easy
The best thing about laser pointers is how easy they are to use. They can be used from just about anywhere in the house. You can be lying in bed, binging some Netflix, or even getting some work done from home.
Laser pointers make it easier to interact with and exercise your cat every day. The hustle and bustle of life make it easy to forget that our cats need our attention. Having a toy that allows you to play with your cat more often is a great way to strengthen your bond with her.
- Eye Damage
Some people are concerned that you can damage your cats’ vision by shining the laser into her eyes. This is only kind of true. Yes, the laser has the potential to impact kitty’s vision, but only with prolonged contact.
Low wattage lasers designed for cat toys shouldn’t be a risk if the light flashes across her eyes for a split second. The trick here is to avoid pointing the laser at her eyes. Instead, try pointing the laser at the ground in front of her or beside her.
Laser pointers have the potential to cause anxiety in your cat. When we ask, “are laser pointers bad for cats?” what we should be asking is “Do laser pointers stress out your cat?” The answer to that is, in most cases, yes.
You may be having a ball, and it may look like your cat is passionate about the game, but you are setting her up to fail. Simply put, it’s an un-winnable game. She can stalk, chase, and pounce, but she’ll never catch the laser.
The anxiety or frustration that this game causes can lead your cat to redirect her emotional response towards more destructive behaviours. She may be aggressive towards you, your other pets, and even turn her frustrations towards herself by overgrooming or scratching.
Cats always land on their feet. That’s the saying, right? You’d be surprised how often one of my cats faceplants while trying to leap onto furniture, or how easily they slide across the hardwood right into a wall when chasing a toy.
The fact is, laser tag is a high energy game that requires a lot of your cats’ concentration. It’s easier than you think for your cats to misstep, slip, fall, or trip when she’s hunting the beam of light.
Even the most agile cats can make mistakes, and the last thing you want is for your cat to injure herself in the pursuit of the laser.
Tips for Using a Laser Pointer Safely
There are some awesome benefits to using a laser pointer with your cat, but do the pros outweigh the cons? If you use a laser pointer safely and appropriately, then you can minimize the risks and make sure your cat reaps the benefits of this fun toy.
To help you use your cat’s favourite laser toy in the safest ways possible, we’ve put together a few tips:
4 Laser Pointer Safety Tips
- Avoid using automatic laser toys unless you are there to supervise. Manually operating your cat’s laser show allows you to limit the area of play and keep your cat from prolonged exposure to the laser pointer.
- Avoid shining the laser on tall shelving and objects that your cat can fall from when she races to catch the light. Minimize the danger and margin for error but sticking to lower playing fields and places with stable and softer landings.
- Try to limit playtime to short increments. Catching a laser is tiring. Your cats’ instincts will tell her to be relentless in her hunt, and she could easily overexert herself. If you notice signs of exhaustion during a short play session, take a break and encourage your cat to catch her breath.
- Let her win. I know we said that that laser tag is an un-winnable game, but that’s not strictly true. Instead of ending a session by just turning off the laser pointer, focus the laser on a physical prize that your cat can catch.
You can strategically place a few treats or some of her favourite toys around the room and stop the laser on the reward. Wait for your cat to pounce on the red dot and then quickly turn it off. This will give your cat an object to catch and satisfy her hunting instincts.
Never use modified lasers, lasers not designed for pets, or high-powered lasers. They may be a fun gadget for you but can easily be dangerous for your cat. Most laser pointers for cats have less than 1mW of power.
You might have noticed that cat laser pointers are typically red. This is because red lasers are less powerful and can do much damage. Green laser, on the other hand, even at wattages as low as 5mW, can pop a balloon or light a match if the laser is concentrated on the item long enough.
Imaging what a more powerful laser can do to your cat. Be safe and stick to pet-approved lasers only.
Play Smart, Play Safe
Are laser pointers bad for cats? They certainly can be used the wrong way, but if you use if correctly, laser pointers can be a great tool for exercising and bonding with your cat.
Not every cat is suited for laser pointers. If your cat shows signs of aggression or stress, even with our safety tips, then it’s time to look for a new game. For some, the hunt is just too stressful.
Does your cat get stressed out after playing with lasers? Share your story and tips in the comments below!
Krystn is the content writer for Homesalive.ca. She is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast and has worked in the pet industry for over a decade. Krystn loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.