Cats and Laser Pointers: Does The Red Dot Make for Purrfect Prey?

Cats and Laser - Feline Behavior SolutionsCats and Laser - Feline Behavior SolutionsI get this question all the time: are cats and laser pointers a good combination?  Is it okay to play with cats using a laser pointer?  These are great questions because when you understand a few things about cats, you’ll know the answer.  And it’s always good to understand more about the tiny, adorable, carnivorous, semi-wild, predatory beastie that’s living in your home, right?  So let’s find out: does The Red Dot make a good prey item for your kitty?

Cats and Laser Pointers: The Good Stuff

As with many things cat-related, the issue of cats and laser pointers is not always black and white.  Many cats LOVE to chase The Red Dot because it’s quick, moves randomly, and resembles one of felines’ favorite prey items: flying and crawling insects.  Laser pointers can get your cat running, jumping, and leaping into the air and provides them with a great form of exercise…plus, it’s FUN for them and the humans who take joy in watching them.  Especially for indoor cats who may not get enough exercise, laser pointers can provide cats with much-needed work-outs. 

Additionally, hunting The Red Dot can be a form of mental enrichment that cats miss out on if they aren’t given the opportunity to “hunt” on a regular basis.  Where did the dot go?  Oh, it’s under the chair!  No, wait, it just went behind the sofa…maybe I’ll stalk it here…and, you get the idea.  Hunting The Red Dot is all about mental strategy, and that keeps your kitty’s mind active and healthy, too.  So, there are many positive reasons for incorporating the laser pointer into your cat’s play routine, if she enjoys chasing (or even watching) it!

The Prey Sequence: How well does The Red Dot measure up as prey?

To answer the question regarding whether or not cats and laser pointers make a good team, it’s important to understand something about the prey sequence.  This is the sequence of actions every cat takes when they hunt for a prey item.  Cats who live outdoors spend about 30% of their time hunting, and eat about 8-10 small meals per day, so they hunt A LOT!  They are among nature’s most efficient predators, but feral “domestic” cats still only catch (on average) about 32% of the prey that they go after.  

The prey sequence consists of four steps: 1) staring, 2) stalking/chasing, 3) pouncing/grabbing, and 4) performing a kill bite.  When cats hunt, they go back and forth among the steps in the prey sequence until the prey escapes, or it dies and they decide that it’s lunchtime (or that their guardian would like a gift).  So, now it’s time for a POP QUIZ!  It’s only one question:

What steps in the prey sequence can the laser pointer fulfill?

Staring…check.  Stalking/chasing…yes and yes.  But let’s see – pouncing/grabbing…yeah, the cat can pounce, but there’s nothing to physically grab.  And kill bite?  Not so much.  So, the laser pointer is GREAT for engaging you kitty in at least the first two steps of the prey sequence, but not the last half, which can leave your cat feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.  An interactive wand toy really is the only type of toy that can fulfill all four steps of the prey sequence; if you’d like to see the toys I recommend for this, please visit my recommended toys page.

We’re dealing with biological instincts folks, stuff that cats have evolved over thousands of years to enable their survival!  So when The Red Dot disappears at the end of a play session, your cat will be left wondering what happened.  She’ll be riled up and still ready to go.  And she may decide that playtime is not over and that maybe your foot (or some other body part) would make a good substitute prey item.  But that’s probably not something you would choose voluntarily, amIright?

The Best Way to Play with Your Cat and Laser Pointers

I’m all about giving your cat what she enjoys.  And if your cat loves playing with the laser pointer, go for it!  But try these suggestions to make sure that your cat has a fulfilling play session:

  • Start your play session off with the laser pointer, but then transition to a wand toy after a few minutes.  You’ll let your cat go through the first two steps of the prey sequence with The Red Dot, but then switch over to a physical toy where she can execute the last two steps (or even go back to the first half, if she wants).  
  • You can also incorporate other types of cat toys in the play session.  Start with the laser pointer as described above, but have several cat toys (like little balls, mice, or kicker toys) scattered around the room.  Use the laser pointer to direct the cat to each toy so that she can pounce/grab and perform the kill bite on a physical object.
  • End each play session with a treat or a meal, as this rounds out the hunt-catch-kill-eat process that cats follow as predatory beasties.

Are Laser Pointers Safe for Cats’ Eyes?

One last thing.  We all know that it’s not a great idea to shine lasers into anyone’s eyes, (humans, cats, whatever).  But if the laser ranges from between 1 and 5 milliwatts (the range of most pet toy lasers), they’re fairly safe (but still, don’t shine them in the eye!).  Please do look for the “safe for pets” label on any toy with a laser on it and for the power of the laser because countries outside of the US may have different standards for safety (or no standards).  It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

I hope this answers your questions about whether cats and laser pointers are a good match.  Bottom line: if your cat likes them, use them! But always supplement their use with a physical object that your cat can use to complete the prey sequence.  

If you want, here’s a short video that explains the prey sequence and includes my favorite laser pointer for cats (hint: it’s rechargeable through USB!).  Have fun playing with your kitty! – marci 🙂

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