Laser Pointers: Paws Up or Down?
Pet parents find that cats of all ages — from playful kittens to sedentary seniors — will often engage in laser pointer play, stimulating them and encouraging them to be more mobile with minimal effort on their humans’ part.
But as ideal as it sounds, are laser toys good for — even safe for – your cat?
To allay your concerns, begin by choosing a toy specifically designed for cats. This means avoiding all high-powered laser pointers and any not manufactured and sold with felines in mind. Those considered safe should have a power rating of five milliwatts or less. Anything higher is potentially dangerous. Most importantly, never point the laser directly at your cat’s face or eyes, projecting its dancing red dot instead on any inanimate object within her field of vision. And because she can injure herself by lunging into a wall or cabinet or by jumping off furniture, avoid aiming the dot at any high places and stay away from stairs.
Engaging your cat in laser play helps keep her fit and helps strengthen the bond between you. Chasing an erratically moving laser light also mimics her hunting behavior, often triggering her strong and instinctual prey drive. But for the greatest success, it’s essential that you keep each play session short and fun, challenging and engaging, and to end the session when your cat seems to be losing interest in it. If, however, you insist on continuing, she’ll either ignore the dot, stop playing altogether or simply stalk off with a sassy swish of her tail and a “so there!” shake of her head. Get the hint?
The major drawback to a laser pointer, though, is that it’s a toy your cat cannot catch. For such a prey-driven animal, there’s no natural “end” to the game, no “reward”, which can prove extremely frustrating for her. Some kitties may even begin to show signs of anxiety or exhibit such stress-related behaviors as clawing at the furniture, inappropriate chewing or aggression.
To prevent this, offer your cat several high-value treats together with pets and praise at the end of each play session. Two other options are having the red dot “land” on a toy she likes so that she can pounce and close her paws around it or switching from the laser to a toy on a fishing rod so that she feel the joy of catching her prey and “killing” it.