Are Laser Toys Bad for Cats?

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Who hasn’t zipped that pointer back and forth around the room, watching their beloved kitty dart this way and that in an effort to squash this elusive red prey? At first glance, it seems like this toy could, and often does, keep our furry loved ones busy for hours on end! What better form of exercise is there?

You’re probably thinking the laser pointers present dangers to cat’s eyes, which is true. However, that isn’t the reason some animal psychologists scorn their popular use.

Take a minute and look a little deeper. Laser pointers have been scorned for their use before, and it doesn’t have anything to do with anyone shining in the cat’s eyes. That being said- even though it’s probably common sense not to shine a pointer in an animal’s or human’s face other than a split second on accident, please try to avoid shining the pointer in your cat’s eyes.

Think Psychologically

In the wild, both cats and dogs (for this will often drive dogs wild as well) can smell their prey distinctly. Movements make sense. Most importantly, there is and end to this climax; the physical, tangible animal falls silent at the end of their razor sharp claws or crushing jaws once it is caught. Their prey is real, and the rules of nature apply.

When it comes to laser pointers, that little red dot has no smell. It moves unpredictably, this way and that. It has no feel, sometimes lacing across our pets with no mark at all. The biggest tragedy of all- there is no end to this elusive mystery object! It never goes away, and can’t die. Our little predators can’t catch or certainly not eat it. Because cats both have no way of understanding this mystery, and certainly don’t think of this ‘game’ the way a human child would, it has been blamed for causing anxiety related problems before.

Most cats will come down from their frustrating hunting high with the elusive invincible dot with no harm done. Though seldom, some cats can develop increased anxiety from this unnatural experience.

According to well-known veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker (Becker, Marty, DVM):

The potential problem with these toys comes because the cat can never “win” the game. Even if a cat catches the dot there’s nothing there. The cat gets all worked up with no resolution — every time. Even in the wild, a hunting cat will catch the prey now and then. But there’s no catching that alluring, fast-moving red dot!

Reward Each Capture

The fact that the laser pointer dot has no end and can’t die according to the rules of nature is the biggest issue here, and has been said to lead to increased anxiety in certain cases. However, we humans are capable of advanced intellectual thought and problem solving no other animal on earth can boast. That being said, simply turn off the pointer once your cat catches it, immediately offering some form of treat to simulate their capture!

Reward your cat for catching the dot, turning this into a true game. In time, he might even begin to understand the ultimate goal- not of ‘eating’ the dot, but of catching it to satisfy you and gain his reward! Of course, this will take considerable coordination on your part, making sure not to cross the cat’s body with the dot while turning it off at the exact second your cat ‘catches’ it.

Make sure you reward your cat every single time in order to avoid confusion, offering that reward as quickly as possible after the dot ‘prey’ is caught. So, to recap:

  • Try to move the dot as an animal in the wild would move.
  • Don’t cross the cat’s body with the dot.
  • Turn the pointer off, to simulate death, as soon as the cat ‘catches’ it.
  • Reward your cat with a treat when he/she catches the pointer, simulating the ‘meal’.
  • You can even eventually land the pointer on the ‘meal’ already set out.
  • Make sure children are aware of the dangers laser pointers could present to your pet’s eyesight.

There are also other ways to compliment this game, ensuring it is a safe and mentally harmless experience.

  • Make sure to offer other toys in addition to the pointer; don’t rely on this for your cat’s sole source of entertainment.
  • Offer other toys or forms of playing after the ‘pointer play’ is done- tangible toys that can actually be ‘caught and killed’.
  • Finally, no animal in real life would avade it’s natural predator for hours, just staying beyond its grasp the entire time. Try to simulate a natural experience, limiting play to 10 or 20 minutes a session.

Pros

  • Laser pointers offer absolutely fantastic exercise to most cats!
  • Cats are natural hunters, the rapidly moving red dots simulating moving prey and helping satisfy their predatory instincts.

Cons

  • Cats are never able to capture the red dot, thus never gaining the satisfaction of the ‘kill’. Some animal psychologists say this can be incredibly frustrating for cats.
  • Never shine the pointer directly in your cat’s eyes, as this can cause serious damage.

Conclusion: Are Laser Toys Bad for Cats?

In the end, with all things considered, laser pointers can be absolutely fantastic toys for cats- if handlers follow the advice above. Few toys are as simple and easy to manipulate, and catch their attention so well!

On the other hand, the potential to develop anxiety issues is still strong if you play with the laser pointer just any old way you want to. If you do decide to invest in this fantastic toy, make sure children and other family members are aware of proper use.

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