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Are Laser Pointers Bad For Cats? Are They Safe?

gray kitten playing with laser toy

Cats love to play. They especially enjoy games that feed their hunting and chasing instincts. They like to chase one another, if you have multiple cats, and gain enjoyment from balls, toys on a string, and other toys that can be flung around and stalked. These activities are similar to chasing rodents and birds in the wild, and owners are often encouraged to adopt similar games into their daily cat care routine.

Another toy that has become increasingly popular is the laser pointer. Laser pointers are a fun way to encourage movement and to sate your cat’s desire to chase and, if they are used responsibly, are perfectly safe for a cat to play with. However, some precautions must be taken with this kind of toy. As long as you are careful, though, a laser pointer is not only a safe toy but could be very beneficial to your cat’s wellbeing.

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Why Cats Love Lasers

Cats are predators. In the wild, they eat rodents and other small animals, which they need to catch before they can eat. Even as domestic pets, they retain the prey drive that would help them catch their dinner.

When they chase toys around the house, whether it is the fine dot of light from a laser pointer or a toy mouse on a string, they are re-enacting the hunt. So, when your cat is chasing that red dot, it is the same as chasing a mouse through a field or a bird up a tree.

Two cats playing with laser pointer
Image Credit: Wanda Lizm, Shutterstock

Precautions To Take

Laser pointers are fun, but owners need to take certain precautions when using them:
  • Use a low-wattage laser toy – Use a laser pointer that has been designed for the purpose, not a high-powered one. Aim for a maximum power of 5 watts to ensure that there is less chance of causing permanent damage.
  • Don’t shine the light in your cat’s eyes – Low wattage lasers won’t cause damage if they are briefly passed across your cat’s eyes, but they can cause irreparable damage if the laser is too powerful and there is prolonged exposure directly to the eye.
  • Store the pointer away safely – This might sound odd, but if the cat associates the red dot with the toy itself, they might go looking for it and accidentally turn it on. Store it in a drawer or a cupboard that your cat can’t access.
  • Take it slowly – One of the potential benefits of a laser pointer is that it can be used to exercise a cat. They will gleefully chase it around the room, and it is an effective way of introducing exercise, especially to a lethargic cat. Start slowly to prevent your cat from getting too tired and potentially causing breathing or heart problems.
  • Be careful of obstacles and obstructions – It can be fun watching your cat charge around the room to try and catch the dot, but they will laser in on their target, to the detriment of all else. This means that they are likely to run into obstacles that are in the way. Shine the light in areas where there are minimal obstructions.

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Is A Laser Toy The Right Choice For Your Cat?

As with most things, there are benefits and pitfalls to consider before choosing a laser cat toy:

Pros
  • Physical Exercise – Cats need physical activity, and especially if your cat is an indoor cat, it may not have the same opportunity to run around and exercise. A laser toy is one way of ensuring that your cat is getting the exercise it requires but do start off slowly.
  • Mental Stimulation – Hunting requires a lot of focus and thinking, as your cat works out where the prey is and anticipates where it will be. The red dot stimulates mental activity and keeps your cat on its toes.
  • Less Effort For Owners – Most owners know their cats need physical exercise and mental stimulation, but after a long day’s work, it can be challenging to sit down with a string toy and have your cat chase it. You can use a laser toy from the comfort of your chair.
  • Fun For All – Playing with your cat is not only fun for the cat, but it’s fun for you, and it helps to develop a bond between you both.
Cons
  • An Unwinnable Game – When cats chase toys, they are mimicking a real-life hunt. Unfortunately, when chasing a red dot, they are being set up to fail because even if you stop moving the laser, they cannot catch their quarry. This can lead to frustration and anxiety, and if you see your cat becoming frustrated, you should stop.
  • Eye Damage – Even though laser cat toys are low-powered, prolonged exposure of the laser to a cat’s eye can cause permanent damage. Avoid shining the light directly in the eye and if there are any signs of eye damage, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
  • Physical Injury – There is also some risk of physical injury. The cat will be so focused on catching the dot that they may run into walls, furniture, and physical objects. Make sure you play in an open area that is free from obstacles and potential causes of injury.

Other Toys That Encourage Hunting and Chasing

Hunting and chasing are an important part of a cat’s development. Laser pointers are only one way to provide this type of stimulation.

  • Wand toys are sticks, or plastic wands, that have a piece of string on one end and a soft toy on the end of the string. They enable you to pull and throw the toy around without the danger of getting scratched by your cat’s claws.
  • Small toys, which are usually shaped like mice, are another good option, and the inclusion of a bell or the addition of catnip makes them even more appealing to your cat.
  • You can even get treat toys, which dispense a small treat when your cat bounces or bats the ball vigorously enough. Not only do treat toys reenact the hunt but they also get rewarded for their efforts, which further mimics natural behavior where a successful hunt results in food.

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cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

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Are Laser Pointers Bad For Cats?

Laser pointers that are specifically designed for use as cat toys can be a fun and engaging way to encourage a cat to run around and chase, mimicking its hunting behavior in the wild. However, there are some caveats to ensure that playing with the toy is safe. Ensure the laser is not too powerful, use it in an area that is free from physical obstructions to prevent injury, and don’t intentionally shine it in your cat’s eyes because prolonged exposure can cause eye damage, although this is rare.


Featured Image Credit: movetheuniverse, Shutterstock

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