Does your cat go bonkers the moment that little red dot appears on the floor (the wall, the ceiling, and so on)? You’re not alone. Most cats become singularly obsessed as soon as you whip out the laser pointer toy. But why do cats like lasers so much? Learn more about this instinctive response and what you can do to improve your cat’s playtime experience.
Why do cats chase lasers?
So, what is it about that little red dot (or green dot, or purple dot…) that drives our cats wild? Turns out there are several reasons why your cat can’t get enough.
A lesson on cones and rods
In case you need a little brushing up since eighth grade science class, cones and rods are cells found in the retina. The retina is a thin layer of tissue found at the back of the eye, which converts light into neural signals for the brain to interpret. Cones are involved with color vision while rods detect movement and low-light vision.
Cats have a lot more rods (and a lot fewer cones) than humans do. This means that cats are perfectly honed to hunt and chase small prey in low-light conditions, like at dusk and dawn. This is also why wild cats tend to be nocturnal.
Side note: Because cats are somewhat colorblind, the “little red dot” may actually appear as greenish-grey to your feline. The laser’s hue shouldn’t impact your cat’s interest, though.
Movement excites the prey drive
Now we know that cats are experts at detecting tiny movements in almost any lighting condition. A laser’s rapid darting movements more or less mimic scurrying prey, which sends your cat’s predatory instincts into overdrive. Suddenly, your cat is doing what he or she was born to do: Hunt, stalk, pounce, and…
The laser pointer “controversy”
Are laser pointers bad for cats? Well, as long as you use common sense and don’t shine the laser directly into your cat’s eyes, these toys certainly aren’t dangerous for your cat. However, some critics have made the case against laser pointers in that lasers are “unattainable prey”—which could give some kitties a complex.
In other words, your cat hunts the laser without ever having the satisfaction of catching it. Some cats understand this all too quickly and lose interest in the laser pointer toy altogether. Other cats eventually tire of playing, but are willing to give it another go on a different day. Rarely, the inability to catch the laser manifests into bad behavior on your cat’s part.
On a different note: Are laser pointers bad for dogs? Dogs much more so than cats tend to become obsessive about laser pointers, and can even be diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder related to this activity. Animal behaviorists recommend that you find an activity other than chasing lasers when it comes to playing with your pup.
The laser pointer is a good toy for your cat – but you can make it even more satisfying!
There are many benefits to using laser pointers with cats. The big one is exercise: Cats need daily exercise just like people do! And unfortunately, they aren’t getting enough of it: 60-70% of cats in the United States are considered overweight to obese.
Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, recommends using a laser pointer to exercise your cat because of the physical benefits and the mental stimulation it can provide.
There are ways to make the laser pointer experience more satisfying for your cat is: Immediately following a laser-chasing session, reward your cat with a few treats or another “attainable” toy, such as a catnip mouse or a feather on a kitty wand.
Rewarding your cat for “catching” the laser will help foster a healthier relationship with this sort of toy, while encouraging your cat to get the daily exercise he needs. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a win-win!
Purchase a laser pointer for cats!
If you don’t have a laser pointer toy already, we recommend Litterbox.com Rechargeable Laser Pointer. This $10 toy is a laser pointer, LED flashlight, and UV blacklight all in one! It’s also USB-rechargeable, so you don’t have to worry about running out of those tiny batteries.
So, why do cats like lasers so much? Now you know that the light and movement of lasers drives your kitties wild. Make the laser pointer even more fun by rewarding your cat after a play session!