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Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats? Everything You Need to Know!

cat and kitten playing
Image Credit: Wanda_Lizm, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Emma Stenhouse

Laser pointers are popular toys, and it can be fun watching your cat chase after that little red dot. But if you’re wondering whether laser pointers are safe for cats, the short answer is that laser pointers can be bad for cats if they’re not used correctly.

The good news is that if you do use a laser pointer carefully, it can be a safe and suitable toy for your cat. Let’s take a closer look at how to use these toys correctly.

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Why Do Cats Like Lasers?

Cats love laser pointers for the same reasons that they love any other toys. They’re fast-moving and unpredictable and engage their natural-born predator brain. Unlike kicker toys, which your cat has to interact with to get it moving, the quick movement of a laser pointer can encourage even the most laidback cat to indulge in playtime. If your cat turns up their nose at most toys, a laser pointer is almost guaranteed to catch their interest.

Playing is a great way to encourage your cat to exercise and help them maintain physical strength. Play is also a great enrichment activity that helps keep your cat from getting too bored. Hunting that elusive red dot can engage your cat’s brain and keep them mentally stimulated.

Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats & Can They Hurt Their Eyes?

tabby cat big eyes closeup_Real Moment_shutterstock
Credit: Real Moment, Shutterstock

Yes they may hurt your cats eyes, but the good news is that most laser pointers are of a low level and are approved as safe to use in a domestic situation. Laser pointers sold as cat toys will usually have power between 1-5 milliwatts, which is too low to cause serious damage.

Even so, you should never shine a laser pointer directly into your cat’s eyes or into the eyes of anyone else! The reason that laser pointers designed for use with cats are red is that this color is less powerful. Never use a laser of another color, even if the wattage is low. They can still be powerful enough to damage your cat’s eyes.

Laser pointers manufactured and sold as pet toys within the U.S.A. should usually be within the safe range, but take care if purchasing from abroad. These laser pointers may not be subject to the same strict regulations, and you could end up inadvertently purchasing a stronger laser that could damage your cat’s eyes.

Are There Any Psychological Effects of Playing With Laser Pointers?

If laser pointers aren’t used considerately, then they can cause psychological effects on your cat.

Cats in the wild follow a natural six-stage cycle throughout the day:

  • Hunt
  • Catch
  • Kill
  • Eat
  • Groom
  • Sleep

Mimicking this in a domestic situation can help your cat.

PetSafe Bolt Interactive Laser Cat Toy-FI
Image Credit: Petsafe, Chewy

Within the “hunting” part of your cat’s cycle, there are a further four steps:

  • Staring at their prey
  • Stalking and chasing
  • Pouncing and grabbing
  • Biting and killing

The problem with using a laser for cats can be that when the “hunt” ends, your cat can’t actually pounce on or “catch and kill” the red dot. This can lead to frustration for your cat — they don’t understand why the hunt didn’t end with them catching something in their paws!

Of course, cats in the wild don’t catch their prey every time, so they also have to deal with the frustration of not completing a hunt. But sooner or later, they will get to the catch and kill stage! If you only play with a laser pointer with your cat, then the consistent lack of completing their hunt can make them frustrated. You might think that your cat is having fun as they try harder and harder to catch that dot, when in fact, they’re getting more and more frustrated at never being able to catch what seems to be right under their paws.

Over time, this kind of playing with a laser pointer can lead to your cat becoming frustrated. As a result, they might redirect that pent-up energy to other behaviors, like scratching furniture or attacking your foot instead.

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How to Use a Laser Pointer and Play With Your Cat Safely

If you do decide to play with a laser pointer, the good news is that there are a few ways that you can do so safely, while making sure your cat stays engaged.

First, make sure anyone using the pointer knows not to shine it into your cat’s eyes (or anyone else’s, for that matter!).

In terms of making sure that your cat doesn’t get frustrated by not being able to “catch” the laser, it’s important to end a play session by rewarding your cat with the satisfaction of catching their target. There are two different ways that you can achieve this.

Cat staring on laser
Image Credit: Laurav1984, Shutterstock

Option 1

End the “hunt” by shining the laser pointer on one of your cat’s toys. As they pounce on the laser, they will “catch” the toy and feel like they’ve won. They can then move onto the “killing” stage of their cycle, kicking their toy and feeling the satisfaction that comes with catching their prey.

Option 2

After your cat has run after the laser pointer for a while, you can switch to playing with a physical toy. We like toys attached to a fishing rod because you can use them to mimic the erratic movements of the laser pointer. These are the best type of toys for making sure your cat gets the satisfaction of completing all four steps within the “hunting” stage of their daily cycle.

After your cat has caught their toy, they’ll move on to the eating and sleeping stages of their cycle, so it’s a good idea to coordinate the end of your play session to coincide with your cat’s mealtimes. They’ll probably then settle down to a satisfying grooming session before finding a cozy spot for a long nap.

Keep Laser Pointer Sessions Short & Sweet

Using a laser for cats can be tiring, and their hunting instincts will often override their other senses. Your cat can easily become exhausted, especially if they’re not using to such high-intensity exercise. Keep sessions short, and end them before your cat becomes too tired.

We recommend starting with a laser pointer play session of no more than 1 minute and gradually working your way up from there as your cat’s fitness improves.

What About Laser Pointers on Pet Cameras?

Many pet cameras now offer laser pointer toys, so you can keep your cat entertained while you’re away from home. These can either be activated to operate automatically, or you can control them manually using the linked app on your phone.

If you do want to use the laser function on your pet camera, we recommend only doing so on the manual function. This way, you can supervise our cat’s interactions and even make sure you direct the laser toward a toy as you end the session.

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Wrapping Up

Laser pointers can be a fun toy to keep your cat mentally stimulated and physically exercised. But they need to be used with more care than your average toy. Lasers can harm your cat’s eyes if they look directly at the laser, so make sure anyone using this toy knows never to shine it directly in your cat’s face.

Extended sessions with a laser for cats can lead to your cat becoming overtired, as the urge to hunt will make them keep going even when they’re exhausted.

A big problem with laser pointers is that your cat can never “catch and kill” the red dot. Over time, this can lead to them becoming frustrated, which in turn, can lead to the development of problem behaviors like furniture scratching and aggression.

The solution to safe play with a laser pointer is to always point the laser at the floor or wall, keep sessions short so your cat doesn’t overexert themselves, and end by allowing your cat to “catch” a physical toy. Following this routine will keep your cat happy, and you can rest easy knowing that they’re safe.

Featured Image: Wanda_Lizm, Shutterstock

About the Author

Emma Stenhouse
Emma Stenhouse
Emma is a freelance writer, specializing in writing about pets, outdoor pursuits, and the environment. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Costa Rica and New Zealand before moving to a smallholding in Spain with her husband, their 4-year-old daughter, and their dogs, cats, horses, and poultry. When she's not writing, Emma can be found taking her dogs for walks in the rolling fields around their home...and usually, at least some of the cats come along, too! Emma is passionate about rescuing animals and providing them with a new life after being abandoned or abused. As well as their own four rescue dogs, she also fosters dogs for re-homing, providing them with love and training while searching for their forever homes.

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