I think many people who use laser toys like it because it gets a guaranteed reaction from kitty but unfortunately it can also cause lots of frustration. If you really take time to understand how cats hunt and how they use ALL of their senses, you’ll come to realize that chasing a red beam of light without ever having the satisfaction of capturing it isn’t a lot of fun.
I always advise my clients to not use those toys for playtime with their cats. Or, if they’re absolutely set in their ways about using it, my recommendation is to start the game with the laser toy and then start shining it on an actual interactive toy so eventually the cat can go after the toy alone.
Cats Use Their Sense of Touch
Cats are tactile creatures and when they pounce on their prey they rely on being able to feel their captured treasure underneath their paws. Cats have carpal whiskers on the underside of their paws (at the wrist) and they use those whiskers to detect movement of prey when they have their paw over it. Imagine doing a great job of stalking and pouncing and repeatedly NEVER feeling as if you’ve successfully captured your intended target. Putting a paw over a laser light is an exercise in frustration.
Give Your Cat Time to Use His Brain
Additionally, when people use the laser lights with their cats they often move the lights too frantically, causing the cat to stop playing in a natural feline way and begin just randomly bouncing off the walls in an attempt to get the target. Although this frantic, comical behavior is very amusing for the owner to watch and also makes the owner think that she is giving her cat much needed exercise, this isn’t how cats hunt naturally. Cats are sprinters and they don’t hunt by chasing to exhaustion. Because of their smaller lungs, they rely on their stealth to inch closer and closer to their prey. Once they’re within ambush distance, they execute a well-timed pounce. Having your cat racing around until his sides are heaving isn’t beneficial physically or mentally for him.
For playtime to be truly beneficial, it must be both mentally and physically satisfying. If you simply focus on physically keeping your cat active and neglect his need for mental satisfaction and confidence, then you’re doing him a disservice.
In some cases, chasing laser lights can cause cats to develop a fixation with any flickering light and they may end up displaying OCD-type behavior. This warning has been issued by a number of certified behavior professionals and veterinary professionals.
Safety of Laser Light Toys
Although manufacturers may claim that the laser lights are safe, I am also concerned about someone accidentally shining the light in the cat’s eyes. Not all laser lights are made well so if you do use a laser light you must use caution to not shine the light in the cat’s eyes. During an active play session, it can be hard to control where the light shines so that’s another reason to use regular interactive toys instead of the laser.
Want More Information?
For specific step-by-step techniques on how to conduct fun and effective interactive game with your cat, refer to any of Pam’s books. In each book you will find an in-depth section on interactive playtime. The most recent release is the comprehensive cat care book, Think Like a Cat.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.