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Why do cats chase lasers?

Kitten chasing laser

Lasers are a great toy for cats

© mediaeugene - Shutterstock

Ah, the laser. As any cat parent can attest, a laser is a cat’s arch enemy! But why do cats chase lasers and is this as harmless an activity as it seems?

By Natasha James

Published on the 27/04/2021, 17:00

For something so small and inconsequential, a laser dot elicits a big response from our feline friends. Cats seem to adore chasing lasers and that little red spot can wake them from even the most peaceful looking slumber. But, what is it about lasers that drives cats so crazy?

Here, we dive deep into the many reasons why cats love lasers and whether, as a responsible cat parent, there are anything we should bear in mind when using a laser to engage our kitty in energetic play.

Why do cats chase lasers?

Lasers are super stimulating to cats. To us, it looks like a red dot, to our cats, it looks like fast-moving prey. As the laser dots darts and whizzes around the room, a cat’s natural hunting instinct takes over and the cat natural predatory response is stimulated. Your cat isn’t thinking but instead operating out of natural, inherent feline behaviour.

What do cats see when they see a laser?

Cats think prey when they see a laser but that’s not all, they also simply like looking at it! Cats eyes differ greatly to humans and they are highly sensitive to even slight movements. The red dot is very visible to your kitty and even though they probably do understand that the laser's not food, that darting dot is too tempting to resist.

How do cats’ eyes differ from ours?

Cats have unique vision that differs greatly from ours. The eye is composed of two main cell types: rods and cones. Rods deal with low-level light and fast movement, while cones help us see colour. Humans eyes have more cones than rods which is why we see such a vast array of colours and shades. Cats’ eyes, on the other hand, have mainly rods, meaning they see the slightest movement. Cats also have great peripheral vision so they can spot their prey (or a red dot) in the corner of the room far more easily than we can.

Is it cruel to play with a laser with a cat?

Lasers aren’t cruel but there are a few things to bear in mind when playing with your cat. It’s wise not to shine a laser pointer into your cat’s eyes. While it’s unlikely that the laser will cause any harm (most cat toys feature lasers between 1 and 5 milliwatts so are considered safe for humans and cats), do look out for lasers that are certified safe for pets.

Some cat behaviourists are critical of laser pointers and point out that cats can become frustrated at endlessly chasing something with no chance of reward. After a session of laser pointer play with your cat, turn off the light and throw a toy into the spot where the laser last was so that your cat can finally "catch" their prey.

What are the benefits of laser pointers for cats?

A laser can be a wonderful toy for your pet. Here are a handful of the benefits of lasers for cats:

Lasers are great exercise for cats

A laser is almost irresistible to your cat and it can move large distances and at height, encouraging your cat to run, jump and climb. A great work out for your moggy while you stay on the sofa!

They’re great mental stimulation, too

Lasers are great for indoor cats or cats who stay home for long periods of time. If your cat rarely chases mice around fields, this little red dot coud be the next best thing.

Playtime helps you to bond with your cat

Looking to develop a closer bond with your kitty? Laser play is a great exercise for the two of you to do together.

The final word

All in all, lasers are a great toy to invest in if you have a cat. Choose a laser that’s suitable for pet play and avoid shining the light directly into your kitty’s eyes. Then have fun. Your cat will be mentally and physically stimulated and you get all the joy of watching your cat play. It’s win-win!

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