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As a cat parent, it's fun to watch your feline friend chase and pounce on their toys. Sometimes, that includes the elusive dot of a laser pointer. But you might be wondering if laser toys are safe for cats, and if so, which ones are safest?
Are Laser Toys Safe for Cats?
Cats need environmental enrichment and stimulus to help them exercise and stay healthy. When used properly, playing with laser pointers is a fun cardio activity. If you shine a laser light directly into your cat's eyes, however, it can harm your cat's vision and can even permanently damage their eyes, emphasizes Cat Health.
A laser's light can burn the retina in the blink of an eye — literally. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the higher a light's wattage, the more dangerous it is: "The natural protective mechanisms of the eye — such as the blink reflex — are ineffective against lasers with an output power greater than five milliwatts, and severe retinal damage may occur, even after momentary exposure."
If you use a laser pointer while playing with your cat, follow these safety precautions:
- Use a low-wattage light, with a maximum power output of 5 milliwatts.
- Never shine the light directly into your cat's eyes.
- Store the laser toy in a secure spot that your cat can't reach.
These same guidelines apply to any light source, including flashlights — the dots of which your cat probably also likes to chase!
Psychological Effects of Laser Pointers
Playing with laser light toys might also impact your furry friend's psyche. As International Cat Care explains, toys such as laser pointers might frustrate your cat. Because cats are natural-born hunters, they can get frustrated if they aren't able to complete their hunting sequence by pouncing and catching their prey — or, in this case, the laser light.
The reason cats love laser pointers in the first place is that the quick movements of the dot of light mimic the motions of a living creature. According to Psychology Today, "cats chase the laser pointer's dot of light because it changes direction and speed. Cats see the moving dot as alive and worth catching."
Laser pointers can also be dangerous if your cat chases them and is not paying attention to their surroundings and runs into a wall or furniture. Or if they knock something over it could harm them or potentially break something in your home. If you do decide to use a laser pointer make sure to do so in an open space where they're not likely to harm themselves.
What's the best thing to do in this situation? Give your cat something to catch! One way to do this is to offer them a toy that they can grab, like a toy mouse, in addition to the laser pointer.
Other Options for Playtime
There are plenty of fun things to do with your cat that engage them physically and mentally. In addition to the usual cast of cat toys — from stuffed animal critters to wands and balls — try offering your kitty a windup or battery-operated toy that skitters across the floor and imitates the movements of live prey. If you're in a pinch, you can throw a wadded piece of paper across the room for your cat to bolt after. You even can teach your cat how to fetch and bring a toy back to you.
As always, safety comes first when playing with your furry friend. If you choose to use cat-safe laser pointers during playtime, remember to do so as safely as possible and give your cat a reprieve when your cat is getting frustrated.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, STEAM educator, professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), and a devoted pet parent. She writes about pets, education, and STEM-y stuff. Her work also has appeared in NIU STEM Read, Fit Pregnancy, What to Expect When You're Expecting Word of Mom, and Care.com. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien