Are Laser Pointers REALLY Bad for Cats? How to Play Safely

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For such a tiny, mundane looking thing, laser pointers are surprisingly controversial cat toys. Although they are used by millions of cat-owned households, they are vilified as cruel, harmful, and possibly causing blindness!

But before you take that laser pointer from the pet store and chuck it in the trash, let’s look at the truth, and the pros and cons of this simple little toy. There are ways to play with it safely, and that won’t turn your cat into an OCD mess.

Laser Pointer Issues, and Solutions

Will it drive my cat crazy?

The biggest argument against laser pointers is that the red dot can never be caught, causing frustration. Cats have an instinctual need to hunt — and catch, and kill. But no matter how much they chase after that red dot, they can’t catch and kill it. And yes, this can be frustrating for many cats, although some others are fine with the thrill of the chase. Incidentally, this problem is much worse for dogs, and the American Kennel Club actually does not condone laser pointer play for pups.

If your cat gets manic when running after the red dot, and has a hard time calming down afterwards, you may want to change the way you use it in play. Even if your cat seems okay with never catching it, there are better ways to use the laser pointer than just moving around the red dot for a while and putting it away.

The Solution

With a little extra planning, you can add the catch and kill part to laser pointer play.

The easiest way is to just reward your cat with a treat when you are done with the laser pointer. That solves the issue of “caught and killed.” But you can create some more elaborate, and more satisfying scenarios.

For more fun, you can place one of your cat’s favorite toys nearby. Then, after they have chased the red dot for a while, point the dot directly on top of the toy. That way, they have something tangible to catch and kill. You can also use several toys for this.

Make the game even more elaborate by bringing in a wand or fishing pole style toy. Then, when you point the red dot at this toy, you can drop the laser pointer and pick up the wand or pole for a more tactile play session.

Ending any play session with a treat is always a good thing, since it’s the reward after the “kill.”

Can the laser pointer blind my cat?

The type of laser light used in modern cat toys is much, much weaker than the lasers used for medical and other purposes. Cat toy lasers are generally 1 to 5 milliwatts, which is safe for human and feline eyes. In fact, that’s why the dot is red, because it’s in this less powerful range. Never use a laser pointer that’s a different color than red.

You should still use caution, however. Only use laser pointers intended for cat toy use, and only use newer ones. Check the packaging to make sure they are labeled specifically for cat play. If there’s a lack of information on the package, or its origins are questionable, avoid using it.

Even though cat toy laser pointers are basically safe, you should still never look directly into the light, and neither should your cat. And avoid pointing the laser on reflective surfaces like a mirror or shiny metal.

What about those high tech devices that run laser pointers when you aren’t home?

These are best used in manual mode, and never automatic. Cats that really love laser pointers could go crazy and knock things over or injure themselves in their pursuit of the red dot, and you wouldn’t know it until you got home, or checked in on the device from the app on your phone. Plus, there’s no guarantee that your cat won’t sit and stare directly into the laser light, which isn’t good either.

Do all cats like laser pointers?

Somali cat ignoring laser pointer

Nope! In fact, I’m one of those who don’t. My human can’t even turn them on around me because I will look directly at where the light’s coming from instead of the red dot. I guess I just know it’s fake! In fact, out of my two roomies, now passed on, Binga didn’t care about the red dot either, but Boodie! She loved laser pointer play! That red dot would grab her attention every time. So if your cat doesn’t find the appeal in laser pointers, they are not alone.

Just a couple more precautions about the laser pointer:

  • The play sessions should be fairly short. Most cats play with the laser pointer pretty energetically, and only need a few minutes of play before you reward them and end the session.
  • Be mindful of your cat’s physical limitations — and your surroundings. Don’t run the red dot up the wall if they are going to leap after it and potentially hurt themselves. And if you accidentally move it over a table full of knickknacks…well, I just hope none of them were breakable. So always be aware of where you’re putting that red dot.
  • At the end of the day, it’s just a cat toy, and one of many that should be in your collection of fun games you share with your kitty. Enjoy it with your cat, put it away, and pull out something else another day. Variety will keep your cat mentally engaged and youthful for a long time.

Does your cat enjoy laser pointers? And do you have any games or fun tips for red dot play? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

Here is some more advice about cats and playtime you may want to check out:

Are Laser Pointers REALLY Bad for Cats? How to Play Safely

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