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The Risks and Rewards of Laser Toys and Cats
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The Risks and Rewards of Laser Toys and Cats

Critter Culture Staff

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Laser pointers are arguably a cat's favorite toys on planet earth, and the effort-to-reward ratio is highly promising for owners. But lasers aren't without their risks, and a teeny tiny percentage of cats just aren't into them. How can you safely use these beloved toys, and what other options are at your disposal?

1

Why cats need enrichment

Mental stimulation and rewarding activities enable a dopamine release in a kitty's system. Without games, challenges, and quality time with you, cats can become bored and depressed. This manifests in concerning or destructive behavior not unlike what you'll see among depressed humans. For example, depressed cats sleep more, groom less, and lose interest in activities they usually like. Playtime also teaches cats essential domestic skills such as bite inhibition.

two maine coon kittens playing indoors running through corridor chasing the red dot of a laser pointer Nils Jacobi/ Getty Images

2

Benefits of lasers

Laser play can help indoor cats get much-needed exercise— they need to run and jump to achieve their goal of catching the light, and the movement helps their physical health. Laser games also get feline brains working as they have an opportunity to problem-solve and use their prey drive. And best of all, laser play is a low-effort way to make your cat happy when you've had a hectic day, and it's fun for owners too. All you have to do is plop down on a couch and point.

Ginger pet cat chasing a red laser dot on a wooden floor. Image by Chris Winsor/ Getty Images

3

Laser precautions

Laser games become unsafe when you cause your cat to overexert itself, jump too high, or play in an area where collisions with hard objects are possible. If your cat is sedentary, go slow so it stays engaged and has a chance to 'win' and build up its confidence and fitness. Never shine the laser in the kitty's eyes, or you might cause ocular damage. Store the toy out of reach after use.

Scottish straight cat playing with laser pointer. M-Production/ Getty Images

4

How to play a laser game

To begin with, you should aim the laser close to your cat and form little circles like you're Hermione Granger in a Professor Flitwick class. This flurry of movement should capture your cat's attention and get the show on the road. Kitty will go towards the light, but the afterlife isn't lurking around the corner, we promise. Once your cat gets close to the light, move it further away. Go back and forth or scurry like you imagine prey might. Let your cat catch the light and inspect it before moving it again.

A young small grey tabby kitten is playing with laser pointer on the floor at home. Kitten looks at the red point under his paws. Second dark grey kitten on the blurred background. Natural light portrait photography in front view. Evgeny Zhigalov/ Getty Images

5

Why cats enjoy lasers

Laser games mimic hunting, a skill that cats naturally have down pat. They're born killers, ruthless and efficient, but indoor cats don't need to hunt. They have all the food their little tummies require, and it comes easy. But the instincts to stalk, chase, and ambush prey never go away. Your domestic house cat watches Animal Planet, or the birds outside, with curiosity and a sense that something's amiss. Hunting toys and games fill that void.

Two grey kittens are hunting for a laser pointer on the wall inside domestic room. Kittens are looking and chasing the red point. Selective focus on the front animal turned backside. Second kitten on the blurred background is trying to reach the goal. Evgeny Zhigalov/ Getty Images

6

Classic toys

Not all cats will like lasers; they can lose interest even if you tempt them with catnip. But there's more to domestic feline life than lasers. Try bells, balls, and classic wand toys with birds or other animals attached to a piece of string at the end of a stick. Ensure the sticks are long enough to ensure you're out of the firing line when your cat tries to leap, pounce, and scratch.

playing with toy mouse Akimasa Harada/ Getty Images

7

Technological entertainment

There's an entire pet industry committed to stimulating America's animals. You can order motion-activated toys like flopping fish or buy auto lasers for when you're not at home. Download apps and games for your cat to interact with or switch on Animal Planet if the bird feeder is short on action.

A cat play with fish toy Poly Isepan/ Getty Images

8

Food puzzles

Food puzzles, also known as slow feeders, make your cat work for dinner, which sounds like a punishment but is quite the opposite. These fun foraging toys dispense treats as rewards for hunting behaviors such as swats, and they tend to encourage movement and slower eating, which assists overweight cats.

Playful kitty having fun with a challenging toy. Active mature feline. insonnia/ Getty Images

9

Zero-equipment playtime

You can entertain your cat without a single toy. Hide and seek is a winner; reward your cat with a treat after it 'catches' you. Follow playtime with a meal, and you'll bring the whole session to a natural conclusion. Paper bags, cardboard boxes, a room with a busy view, and a feline buddy are other ways to keep a kitty excited about life.

Cat playing with boxes and toys FilippoBacci/ Getty Images

10

Use the right laser

Use lasers with low wattages, such as five watts. These tools are safer options that are less likely to harm your cat's vision with occasional direct contact. You must still ensure that you don't shine the beam into the eyes, as prolonged exposure longer than a few seconds can harm your cat's vision.

cat in the box kmsh/ Getty Images

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