Friend or foe?

By Melissa Locker
March 04, 2020
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Cat Playing with Laser Light
Credit: Chris Winsor/Getty Images

There are a few things that most cats can agree on—naps are good, dinner is great, catnip is nice, and lasers must be chased at all costs. While humans can understand the joy of naps and dinner and even catnip, what is it about lasers that cats seem to find irresistible?

Part of the reason that lasers are so alluring to cats has to do with their eyes’ keen ability to sense motion. “The feline retina (and other parts of the eye as well) is perfectly designed to maximize the chances of catching quickly moving prey at dusk and dawn when cats most like to hunt,” write the experts at PetMD.com. Their killer vision pairs perfectly with their killer instincts. When you bounce the laser across the floor and walls, it taps into a cat’s predator reflex and instantly puts your cat on the prowl, stalking the laser’s slight movements and pouncing on the “prey”. It’s fun for your cat and fun for you as your cuddly kitten’s animal instincts kick in as it stalks and attacks the laser beam. Plus, chasing a light around the room is great exercise, which is as important for cats as it is for humans.

That said, many experts warn that laser play isn’t for every cat. While some cats can go a few rounds with a laser, happily chasing the bright light and then strolling off to their next great adventure (or nap), other cats are easily over stimulated by lasers and frustrated by the fact that they can never actually catch the prey. That’s why cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger discourages cat owners from buying laser toys. “Cat laser pointers and cat laser toys can frustrate kitties, overstimulate them, and, in some cases, cause them to act aggressively toward playmates,” she writes at Catster.com. “In the majority of cases, lasers pointers should be left at the office where they fulfill their raison d’être — pointing out specifics in presentations.” She does acknowledge though that some cats truly love their games of laser tag and know how to play nicely and in those cases lasers are okay.

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If you want to help your cat get in touch with its inner animal—or are worried that your furry friend is getting frustrated by chasing a laser pointer—a veterinarian at VetStreet.com suggests trying other toys like feathers or a stuffed mouse tied to a string or anything that will let your cat stalk, pounce, and catch or providing “a food-filled toy to end hunting sessions with a reward.”

While the occasional laser pointer is fun for cats, they can spell trouble for your dog. “A lot of dogs become obsessive about the light from laser pointers, and there are many cases of dogs who were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after (and perhaps partly as a result of) this activity,” Animal Behaviorist and Certified Dog Trainer Karen B. London writes at The Bark. “It may look fun and entertaining to people, but it’s usually anything but fun for dogs.”