Every cat owner knows about the enmity between the laser pointer and their pet. It is amusing to watch them try to wrestle with that tiny red dot once they see it. As entertaining as it is, it makes one wonder why cats are so fascinated with lasers. The lasers have no scent and are not large or imposing so what about them tick our feline companions off so vehemently? Plus, is it safe for cats to play with lasers?
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Understanding How Cats Perceive Lasers
There are two major explanations for cats’ obsession with lasers. They have to do with the cat’s vision and how it is different from humans, and how the laser beams stimulate the predatory instincts of cats.
- Lasers stimulate the predatory cycle of cats
Cats are ferocious predators. You may not know this by watching them meow lazily all day and lick themselves, but they are genetically wired to run after and pounce on moving prey. Big cats such as tigers, panthers and cheetahs embody this trait in the wild. Your domesticated cat does not have to go through the rigors of chasing after its food. However, this does not mean that it is not equipped for the job.
When laser dots dash around the room, your cat interprets it as a prey trying to run away. The laser imitates the way a prey moves and by so doing, catches the cat’s attention. These intrinsic cat traits surface. The desire to hunt is triggered and all your cat wants to do is to pounce and kill the prey.
Since this need is more primal than logical, your cat does not notice or care that the laser is not an actual animal. So the cat pursues the laser relentlessly like it would a mouse.
- Cats have a different vision from humans
One of the reasons cats are obsessed with lasers is because of how they look to cats. The human eye is quite different from that of cats in a range of vision and mode of operation. The human vision is more vibrant and colorful than a cat’s. In contrast, cats’ eyes are not sensitive to color.
They are blind to the color red and interpret it as yellow or white. However, what they lack in color vision, they make up for with superb peripheral vision. Cats can pick out the slightest and stealthiest movements. Because of this, cats do not see the light from a laser pointer the same way we do as their eyes work differently from ours.
Therefore when you hold a laser, it is almost impossible for your cat to ignore. It is like when a bug flies close to your eye. It is almost impossible to ignore. You swat at it not necessarily to kill it but to make it go away. Likewise, cats pounce at a laser beam even though they might have figured out it isn’t prey.
Can a Laser Pointer Damage the Cat’s Eyes?
A lot of cat parents are worried about playing with laser pointers because they believe the laser beams can cause lasting eye damage in cats. Though this is a valid concern, it should not deter you from playing laser games with your cat. As long as you do not point the laser beams directly into your cat’s eyes, you have nothing to worry about.
When buying laser pointers, search for brands that are safe for pets. Generally, cat laser pointers are in the variety of 1 to 5 milliwatts which is safe for both human and animal eyes. Therefore, even if you accidentally direct the beam to the cat’s eyes, it is safe.
Is It Right To Have Your Cat Chase After Lasers?
As much as playing laser games with your cat is fun and amusing, some people argue that it is not a good idea to tempt or tease your cat as it might make them neurotic. To help you better understand which side of the divide works best for you and your cat, here is a list of merits and demerits of playing laser games with your cat.
- Mental stimulation: All cats – wild or domesticated – are wired to hunt for food. Since pet cats rarely have to hunt for their food, their predatory urges are under-stimulated. Playing with a laser allows them to pander to their predatory instincts.
- Form of physical exercise: While wild cats get to climb trees, hunt food and run around, housecats get little or no exercise. Pet cats live an inactive life which could cause them to be unfit and shorten their lifespan. Getting them to play with the red dot is a great way to sneak in physical activity in the comfort of your home.
- Bonding time: What better way to bond with your favorite feline than through laser games? Playing laser games with your cat avails you the opportunity to bond with your pet while lying on your sofa. A fun activity for both parties.
- Aggressive behavior: Most cats have no problem chasing laser pointers. Once they get tired, they settle down to something else. Other cats, however, get agitated after some rounds of laser game and become destructive. This is probably because they are frustrated having to stalk and pounce all day with no kill to show for it. If you notice a relationship between playing laser games with your cat and aggressive or feisty behavior, do away with the pointer.
- No gratification: Because it is impossible to track down or catch laser beams, playing with lasers could be frustrating for your cat. It may not start acting out, but it may still feel upset.
Having your cat chase laser printers is always fun. However, like all good things, it should be done with moderation. If you are worried that chasing a laser pointer would get your cat frustrated, in place of lasers, use toys that it can catch. Also, occasionally land the pointer on a treat to surprise your pet. That way, it feels like it finally caught something.
- Tiffany Paul, DVM, Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats?, PetMD
- Linda Fiorella, Why Does My Cat… Love Laser Pointers?, VetStreet