Conscious Cat

January 16, 2012 28 Comments

Are Laser Toys Safe for Cats?

Posted by Ingrid

cat-with-laser-toy-safety

Some cats go wild for laser toys, chasing the little red dot around the house, up and down furniture, and, in Ruby’s case, even up walls. Well, she tries, anyway. Allegra will chase any reflection of light, even if it’s just the sun reflecting off my watch on the wall, so the laser is definitely a hit with her as well.

But are laser toys really such a good idea to use with cats? And more importantly, are they safe?

How to use a laser toy the right way

I consider laser toys the lazy cat guardian’s toy – and don’t think I haven’t used them occasionally. After all, all you have to do is sit and point, and your cat does the rest. But is it really as much fun for your cats as it seems to be? It can be, if you use the laser toy the right way.

Cats play to mimic their natural hunting behavior. Hunting involves stalking, chasing, pouncing on and killing their prey. The laser meets the first two of these requirements – stalk and chase – but not the last two. By the time they “catch” the laser, there’s nothing to “kill,” leaving the cat frustrated.

You can avoid this by pointing the laser to a real toy occasionally, giving your cat a chance to actually “catch” something when she pounces on the red dot.

Even better, add a second stage to the laser game. When your cat is nice and revved up from chasing the laser, switch to a different interactive toy. You may think your cat is so fixated on the laser at that stage that she won’t want to play with anything else, but you’ll probably find that because she’s now in full hunting mode after chasing the red dot, she’ll pounce on anything that moves. By allowing her to go after a real toy, you’ll make play more satisfying for her.

Beware of creating behavior problems

If you only use the laser toy without adding in a real toy at the end of the play session, you’ll most likely create problems. Your cat’s hunting drive won’t be satisfied, and all that pent up energy has to go somehwere. That “somewhere” may be your legs, or another cat in the household. “It’s like winding up a jack-in-the-box and expecting the top not to blow off,” says Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy. “If used as the only toy in the cat’s play life, the laser pointer can actually help promote further play aggression, and undo the benefits of play therapy.”

Are laser toys safe?

Lasers are safe to use, as long as you don’t point them directly at the cat’s eyes. Lasers can damage the retina and, in worst cases, cause blindness. Never let a child use a laser toy when playing with cats.

Because of this safety issue, I don’t like automatic laser toys that randomly shoot laser beams for cats to chase. Since you can’t control where the beam points, there’s too much of a chance that it will shine directly into the cat’s eye.

A safer alternative to laser toys is a regular flashlight with a small, focused beam. It works just as well, and you don’t have to worry about damage to your cat’s eyes if you accidentally shine it directly at her.

Do you use a laser toy with your cats? Share your experience in a comment.

Photo by JeffreyW, Flickr Creative Commons

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28 Responses to “Are Laser Toys Safe for Cats?”

  1. My cats loved chasing that laser beam all over for about the first 5 months we got it but then I think they figured out it was a waste of their energy because when they pounced on it, nothing happened. I think it’s a good idea to follow up with another toy they can actually catch. They do, however, still watch it move around but don’t chase it with as much gusto as they used to.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’ve found that when I haven’t used the laser in a while, they tend to be more interested in it again. But then, that seems to be the case with most toys.

  2. Dorene says:

    I keep the laser toy in my pocket and if Vir (6 month kitten) is doing something I’d rather not or needs to blow some steam, I pull it out and play with it with him. He seems to like chasing it up walls which he can’t really do with his other toys. I’m trying to make sure I play more with the fishing pole so he has something to “kill’ but the laser toy does help when i need to redirect him.

    • Ingrid says:

      Dorene, using the laser to redirect unwanted behavior is a great idea – thanks for mentioning it!

      • David Perry says:

        I would disagree. They tend to like the laser pointer. Doing something they like may actually reinforce bad behavior. The cat may think… if I do this thing (scratch your speakers or whatever it is you don’t like) that red comes out to play!

        Maybe it works, maybe it makes it worse. I really don’t know but based on animal behaviors , feedback mechanisms, reinforcing positive behavior… I would tend to say it’s not good as a distraction.

        Who knows. Animals all have different personalities. What works for one, may not work for others.

        OR… it’s a breakthrough! Distract them from bad behavior…

        • Ingrid says:

          There is no question that cats like the laser pointer, David. The issue is that it’s not a very satisfying way to play, and that it can be harmful if it’s aimed directly at their eyes.

          • David Perry says:

            I agree. I’m happy someone mentioned about the unsatisfaction about never catching the red dot. I use laser pointers manually with my 2 cats about once every 2 months. I am very careful about how it reflects off objects, floors, fixtures so it never hits their eyes.

            I am happy someone mentioned changing the behavior… for example, after playing with the laser for a short while pop out the toys and let them catch something physical. That’s good tips!!!

            I came across this webpage because I was recently in a pet store. Saw a battery operated toy that shone a “Safe” laser. I thought to myself… no laser is safe and these toys should be banned. I couldn’t find ANY info in about an hour of searching as to what type of light these toys emit. If it’s a true laser then it can’t be safe… ever… they COULD look right into it. If it uses a type of light that’s NOT harmful to eyes then COOL, awesome toy but people need to be educated that… the laser could cause distress and depression in your pet because they can never catch the red dot.

            Sadly, most people don’t care about their pets mentality. I have always tried to stimulate my 2 cats so they aren’t bored. I hide treats around my apartment and they love finding them. I wish I had more time to play with them but working 75-90 hours per week 7 days a week (50% of that from home) is very tiring. But, I try my best! That’s why I got the 2nd addition to my family. Sweetums (Born 2007) now has Cuteums (born 2011) to keep her company. :)

  3. I’ve often wondered about the laser toys and the safety issue with eyes…..Sam loves all of his other toys so much I think we’ll probably not get one but it’s good to know that other cats love the joy of the chase (!) and if you’re experienced with using one, I’m sure the eye issue isn’t a concern. They must be popular – - – I see them in every pet store and there are usually several models to choose from!

    Pam

    • Ingrid says:

      They are very popular, Pam. I just wish they’d come with “instructions” that mention all the concerns about them.

    • Suzanne Shact says:

      My 3 year old Morris LOVES the laser light but I time him: after 15 minutes, I stitch to a mouse that he can chase, pounce on and throw around.

  4. Esme says:

    I have read about this concern about laser toys. We do play with them sometimes, however I am fortunate as P. loves just chasing anything around the house so I do not need to rely on the laser toy. M. is not as playful-only if I am playing with P.-he loves to hide under tissue paper so many times I pretend not to be able to find him or wrap him up in layers. funny about playing-p put on some weight when she was on the steroids-she lost it just as quickly when she got off the steroids-I attribute it to the fact that she cannot do anything quietly-honestly she meows when she goes ot the bathroom-she is always running no matter what she does. He on the other hand strolls and sometimes gets in to crazy boy mode and runs through the house. With this new house I will chase him around the kitchen and the dining room also as play. Speaking of the angel-I can hear her coming down the steps-meowing away.

    • Ingrid says:

      Aww, P sounds adorable. What a busy little girl!

      • Esme says:

        Ingrid I was thinking of you yesterday at bedtime. The pumpkins settled down on the bed, I crawled onto the bed in the middle (you cannot disturb them once they are settled now) and my husband was pushing me to move over. THey just honkered down. I must confess my back is rather sore today they hogged up the bed really well.

  5. I am glad that you posted about this!

    When Cody was quite young, I wasn’t permitted to use a laser (vet orders) because when I did he became OVERLY excited and exhibited a little panting and rapid breathing (I had had him checked at the vet after I had noticed that and he was fine). He was well under a year old at that time.

    I didn’t use one for a few years and just reintroduced it a number of months ago and he ADORES IT. I am even lazier…uh-oh…I use the Frolic cat which is automatic…(ok, don’t yell at me! lol) I use it when I am working in my office and it runs for almost 15 minutes. Cody absolutely adores it! I do need to bring back his other dangly toys and get off of my lazy butt! Actually I am going to cut myself some slack, it is because i am super busy….he gets TONS of loving and cuddles!

    I also NEVER point it at his eyes…….that is a major NO-NO as you mentioned.

    • Ingrid says:

      I don’t want to spoil yours and Cody’s fun, Caren, but I’d worry about the Frolicat pointing the laser at Cody’s eyes.

      • thanks much Ingrid!! No worries, I don’t leave him unattended….the room is small and the way it is usually situated it usually just bounces off of the wall and the carpet…….I will make sure that when I use it again that I closely watch that. Thank you!

  6. Thanks for this and shared. We use laser pointers as just one of many toys in our toy box. It’s always concerned me that uninformed or mean people might misuse the product. I’d like to see a big warning label and clear instructions for use on every manufacturer’s laser toy.

    • Ingrid says:

      I agree, Layla. It seems like everything else we buy comes plastered with warning labels, so it would make sense to have something that could actually do some harm covered!

  7. I get the laser out once and a while…Maui especially loves it because the can chase it a LONG way, all around the catio! It’s actually more effective for burning off energy for him. I get him running laps. But I will give him a toy (to kill) afterwards from now on. The Baby loves to leap and she enjoys the red dot on the wall to jump at, she won’t chase it on the floor, though.

  8. Pam says:

    My cat isn’t interested in the laser dot at all :-(

    Now, my 85 lb. dog? He goes WILD for it! Imagine that running around the house!

  9. CinnabonsEbby says:

    My husband and I use the laser every once in awhile, Cinnabon (My precious tortie baby) goes crazy for it, but after awhile I’ll put it away. Her favorite toy, is a fishing pole type, but at the end it has a feather boa kind of attachment. Cinnabon will often grab it by the boa part and drag it to us while meowing in a loud manner, it’s as if she’s telling us that she wants to play, and that we should stop what we’re doing and attend to her. I wonder if any of ya’ll have seen this kind of behavior before in your own furry babies.

    • Ingrid says:

      I wouldn’t be suprised at all if that was Cinnabon’s way of telling you pay attention to her! I recently described behavior similar to your Cinnabon’s in a post titled “Allegra’s Baby,” and if you read the comments, you’ll find that others have also had the experience of cats dragging a toy while vocalizing. Here’s the link: http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/07/allegras-baby/

  10. Dobson says:

    The laser came with the whole adoption kit so we used it for a bit, but then decided to go with something tangible like a mouse toy. Plus we worried about accidentally lasering the eyes. So, no more lasers! Also, now that summer’s here, it’s outdoor play all the time.

  11. Tom says:

    Thanks for posting this, good thoughts from everyone. We’d considered maybe getting one of these for our three month old kitten Saul but think we’ll probably just stick to the fishing pole which he loves.
    In actuality there is probably a maximum power output that you don’t want to exceed for these things to be safe but I do not know what it is, I may do some research on this. However we are both visually impaired and so we are concerned about accidentally getting him or one of the other four cats in the face with the laser so we probably won’t get one. He has a cloudy cornea in his right eye from feline herpes as it is so he doesn’t meed any more issues.

    • Ingrid says:

      It sounds like you’re better off with other interactive toys, Tom. They’re safer, and more fun for cats anyway. You can also use a flashlight with a narrow beam; some cats will chase it like a laser, and you don’t have to worry about safety.

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