Why Do Cats Chase Lasers: A Cat’s Love Affair with Laser Beam Explained

cat playing with a laser pointer
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Cats are obsessed with certain things. If you’ve been observant enough or you have had the chance of using laser pointers to play with your pet, then you would have likely asked this question: why do cats chase lasers?

Cats love lasers in the same way that ants are attracted to sweets. They just can’t get enough of it. But why is it so? It is important to understand why so you will be able to entice your cat to play and exercise better. But perhaps more than that, it will also allow you to decide on whether to use a laser pointer in playing with your cat or using another toy altogether because there are pros and cons to playing with laser pointers.

In this article, you will know the reason behind this fondness for lasers. You will also know more about the advantages and disadvantages of using laser pointers for cat playtime. And we will also give you tips on how to use laser pointers to your advantage especially when entertaining your cat.

The Reason Cats Chase Lasers

orange cat playing with laser

Perhaps the first thing that comes into mind when asked about why do cats chase laser pointers is that they are attracted to the color. But you would be surprised to realize that it isn’t really the case.

First, let’s look at how the human eye differs from the feline eyes. Both human and feline eyes have retinas, the part of the eye that converts light energy into neural signals that are sent to the brain for visual recognition.

There are two kinds of retinal cells both found in the eyes of cats and humans—cones and rods. The former is used for color vision and focuses on the finer details of things while rods are mainly for detecting movements under low light conditions.

Now, humans have more cones than felines so our pets won’t really appreciate the color of a laser pointer. In fact, they may not even perceive the laser as red but likely of another color like yellow or white. But they have more retinal rods than we do, so they can appreciate the movement of a laser pointer.

See Also: How Do Cats See

While the color of a laser pointer is not significant to a cat, the movement of the laser is alluring to the animal. Imagine how a laser pointer darts to one place then dashes over to another area; it can be comparable to the action of a prey animal. And this stimulates a predatory response in a feline.

Yes, you might argue that your cat no longer needs to be a predator because you’ve been giving him cat food. That may be true, but remember that your cat is a natural hunter. When given the opportunity to hunt something, he would not pass up on it. And since a laser hunter moves much like a real prey, your cat would be up to the challenge of stalking, attacking, and chasing it.

Are Laser Pointers Safe for Cats?

tabby cat looking at laser

Now that you’ve learned the reason behind feline fondness for laser, the next question you may ask is: ‘Are laser pointers safe for cats?’

The good news is that yes, laser pointers are generally considered safe for cats as long as it is not directed into the cat’s eyes. Avoid doing that so that your cat can enjoy hours of chasing the laser.

And even if you accidentally point the laser directly into your pet’s eyes, don’t worry because the beam won’t really harm him. Most of the laser pointer cat toys have lasers that range from 1 to 5 milliwatts, making them safe for use by humans and for animals.

However, do take note that there are still powerful lasers available on the market so you might want to take note of the label in the package indicating that the item is safe for use for pets.

According to an article published by experts from the Princeton University, exposure to common laser pointer beam won’t cause permanent damage. Among the side effects that can happen to you or your pet are flash blindness, afterimages, and glare, and those are to happen after a few minutes of exposure to the laser pointer beam.

Here’s another safety reminder in case you eventually get a laser pointer toy for your pet: keep the item in a safe place. This would ensure that your pet or even little kids in the house won’t be able to put their hands on the toy.

Pros and Cons of Laser Toys

Laser toys for cats have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s really up to you to determine if the pros outweigh the cons. Doing so would enable you to come up with the best decision on whether to use a laser toy in playing with your cat. Let’s look at the pros first.

#1: Pros

laser pointer for a cat

One advantage of laser pointers as a cat toy is that it stimulates the predatory nature in felines. As pointed out earlier, our furry friends are natural hunters just like their relatives in the wild such as the tigers and jaguars. They thrive when they are given the opportunity to chase something. And when they do so, they usually succeed.

Another advantage of using a cat laser pointer is that the cat would definitely get an excellent workout from all the chasing. Your cat will run and jump in an attempt to get ahold of the laser beam, and this would get his heart pumping.

As you may already know, exercise helps ward off life-threatening conditions while keeping your pet physically fit.

Playing laser pointer chase game with kittens can be a good way to improve their coordination. It can also enable them to build their muscles. As for adult cats, playing with a laser pointer gives them a chance to hone their prey instincts.

A game of chasing laser beam can also be an effective way to stimulate a bored cat. We all know that felines who stay indoors risk being inactive and bored. With a laser pointer, you can get your pet up and moving without having to walk him outside.

See Also: How to Play with Your Cat

For some cat parents, the use of a laser pointer also gives them the chance to bond with their cats. There is no question that cats would pounce on the opportunity to chase after the laser beam even if it means exhausting themselves.

And we can’t also argue that laser pointers are relatively inexpensive. You can get one for as low as five bucks! With the low price of a laser pointer, it is not surprising that many pet owners get one and use it for playing with their cats.

#2: Cons

sad kitten

However, many feline behavioral experts have also expressed their reservations about using a laser pointer during playtime with cats. Their primary concern is that it can become a source of frustration for many cats which can lead to unwanted behavioral changes.

Sure, all the running and jumping can be physically beneficial for your cat. Yet experts say that it can also be mentally draining for your pet. Let’s remember that felines are very much used to catching their prey in the wild most of the time. There may be instances where they don’t succeed in catching prey on the first attempt, but they would eventually do so because of their superior hunting skills.

Because no cat (and even humans, too) will be able to track down the laser beam, playing with a laser beam can be a frustrating experience for your cat. No matter how your whiskered friend tries, he won’t be able to actually catch the ‘prey.’ The predator in your pet will feel bad especially after spending all that energy to stalk, attack, and chase the laser beam.

If you don’t know yet, felines are tactile creatures. They need to feel their prey underneath their claws. They have carpal whiskers located on the underside of their paws, and they use these in detecting the movements of prey. So can you imagine how frustrating it can be for your pet to stalk and pounce on a laser beam but never feel that prey underneath his paws?

Cat behavioral experts also point out that the use of a laser pointer does not harness the natural hunting behavior of cats. They argue that it is not in the nature of cats to run after prey.

Cats have small lungs, so they are not built to chase. Instead, they rely on stealth to inch closer to their prey. And once they get within striking distance of the prey, they would make a timely pounce on their target. The deviation from their natural hunting instincts all the more makes chasing laser frustrating for cats.

While there’s no question that allowing cats to chase laser can keep them physically fit, the activity may also lead to unwanted behavior such as clawing and biting furniture. There is no clear explanation as to why this happens, but the theory is that the inability to catch the beam of light can lead to bad behavior and pent-up aggression.

Chronic anxiety may also come about as a result of a cat’s inability to catch the laser beam. The frustration of not being able to catch a laser beam may lead to the cat thinking that every shadow that he sees around the house is prey, and consequently, he will try to grab it.

Kittens and even adult cats who regularly play with laser pointers have been observed to exhibit bad behavior. Some of them bite, claw, and destroy furniture like the sofa. Others drop vases and even scratch the hands and arms of their parents. It’s like they are venting their frustration over their inability to catch the laser beam.

In short, there are as many cons as there are pros to using laser pointers to engage and play with cats. It is really up to you, the cat parent, to decide if you want to use a laser pointer in playing with your pet.

Tips in Using Laser Pointers

laser pointer in hands

In case you are inclined to use laser pointers, then you might want to familiarize yourself with these safety tips:

  • Don’t shine the beam into his eyes. While most of the commercially-available laser pointers are safe for use for humans and felines, it would be best to keep the beam away from your cat’s eyes to avoid damage over time.

  • Set up something that your pet can catch so that he won’t feel frustrated after chasing the laser. It can be another toy such as a stuffed toy, catnip ball, or a rope. You may even roll up your clean socks if you don’t have any toy for your pet—as long as you don’t mind your cat tussling with it. Once you have stashed the objects, point the light beam around the room. Slowly move it until your cat notices the beam. This would surely get him into a frenzy and start stalking the red dot. Shine the beam on the object and let him get it. Keep the red dot in place until your cat has snagged the object.

  • Do not place the toy or object against walls or furniture. If your pet jumps in an attempt to get to the laser beam, he may slam into the wall and can get hurt.

Wrap Up

cat with glowing eyes

Cats love to chase lasers because the movement of the red dot excites them. While the red dot looks white or yellow to them, the rapid movement of the laser beam thrills the felines enough for them to chase the dot around.

There’s a lot of debate on whether the use of laser pointers is actually good or beneficial for cats. As we’ve said, the pros and cons are almost equal to each other. It’s really up to you to decide.

In case you are not convinced that a laser pointer is a good tool to play with your cat, you can use other toys for playtime such as a duster, a ball, or even a toy mouse. These toys are durable, entertaining, and won’t be a source of frustration for your feline friend.

What is your opinion and experience about using a laser pointer to play with your feline friend? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts! We also have another article dedicated to DIY cat toys in case you need more ideas on how to keep your cat exercised.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.