Are Laser Pointers Safe for Cats?
If you have a cat, you know how much the furry creatures love to chase things. Everything from a speck of dust to their bushy tail can become a toy to paw. For that reason, one preferred way owners like to occupy their cats is by shining a laser pointer on the ground—which prompts their pet to chase it. "Laser pointers tend to be popular among cat owners for a variety of reasons," says Jessica M. Sewell, BAS, CVT, LVT, RVT, CPhT, regional technician and assistant director for VCA Animal Hospitals. "They are relatively inexpensive, readily available, and easy to use. They can also be entertaining for both the cat and owner and provide bonding time." Despite all of the benefits behind this type of play, lasers emit a strong beam of light—which raises the question of whether or not they're safe to use with your cat. To answer this question, we consulted two experts.
As is the case with humans, lasers are generally safe for cats so long as its beam isn't pointed directly into the animal's eyes, which may lead to damage of the retinas, says Krista Miller, DVM, veterinarian at Thrive Affordable Vet Care, Baton Rouge. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, "the eye can focus a laser beam to a very small, intense spot on its retina, which can result in a burn or blind spot." For this reason, Sewell recommends buying a laser that has a low power output, like the ones typically found in children's toys. Alternatively, Miller says to check out your local pet store, which will offer brands that "may be specifically designed for pets" and "have a beam that's maybe filtered or is less strong than a typical laser pointer used for presentation use."
While your main concern when playing with a pointer laser is likely protecting your cat's eyes, you should pay equal attention to their behavior. While lasers are a great way to contribute to a cat's mental stimulation and weight loss, feelings of frustration also arrive during this type of play. "Cats are used to things that move. Movement stimulates their predatory and hunting behavior so when there is no reward at the end, they are not satisfied," Miller explains.
Sewell notes that The American Association of Feline Practitioners confirms this sentiment. They warn: "If laser pointers are used, it is essential that the light comes to settle on a physical object that the cat can get hold of. Use of a laser pointer without this provision can induce significant levels of frustration." According to Sewell, annoyed cats may redirect those feelings in other ways like over-grooming or through aggressive behavior towards other animals in the household. To avoid this, Miller suggests giving your pet a tangible toy or food source when you're done with the laser.
It is also important to take note of when your cat is feeling tired and wants a break from play. "Several regular sessions of daily play, usually up to 15 minutes, are recommended," Sewell says. "If you're working on helping your cat shed some excess pounds, you may find the cat tires quickly at the beginning of the weight loss journey. Watch for these cues, as it's important not to overdo it."