Cats and Laser Pointers

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses the types of toys cats need.

Q: I’ve always had a few laser pointers and laser toys around my house and use them to play with my cats. They seem to go crazy for them. Now, I’m not so sure laser pointers are a very good idea. I noticed recently that after using the laser pointer to play with Sam, my 11-month-old Maine Coon male, he then chases our older cat around, terrorizing her. Does this have anything to do with the laser pointer? What do you think of laser pointers and laser toys?

A: You are very observant. There is a direct link between Sam chasing your older cat and playing with the laser pointer. Sam is frustrated since he can never catch his prey, which in this case is the laser beam. Since this essential need is not satisfied, Sam is re-directing his frustration by chasing your older cat.  

I adamantly believe that laser pointers need to be left at the office and not transformed into cat toys. In addition to the potential eye damage from shining the beams in cats’ eyes, laser pointers, as you have observed, are frustrating for cats. Cats never can have the satisfaction of catching the elusive dancing dot.

Play is an extension of the hunt. When cats play, they need to frequently catch their play-prey objects. Although, in real life cats don’t enjoy success every time they hunt, they do catch their prey enough times, giving them both the satisfaction of the hunt and a meal. Laser play doesn’t allow cats to satisfy the need of feeling a well-earned prize beneath their paws.

Instead of playing with Sam using laser pointers, use pole toys (which should only be used under supervision) and other safe toys when playing with him. Play with Sam in a way that imitates the hunt, moving the object on the end of the pole so that it mimics the movements of prey. Pull the toy over objects and on the floor, using sporadic, unpredictable movements. Sam should be allowed to catch the toy during the session, but after the last catch, reward him with a treat or a meal. Unlike laser pointers, playing with toys in this way will not result in Sam being stressed or frustrated since he can enjoy the ultimate goal of catching his prey.

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