Watching a cat chase a laser is arguably more entertaining for us than it is for the actual feline. If you own a cat or have a friend who does, you likely have discovered that cats love lasers. In fact, the enthusiasm, determination and overall intensity with which your furry friend lunges for the toy might have at first surprised you.
There is actually a scientific reason to explain this phenomenon, and though entertaining, there are situations in which some cat owners should consider ditching the laser altogether.
Cats Chase Lasers Out of Instinct
Cats, by nature, are hunters. They are hard-wired to stalk, kill and eat their prey. These days, most small cats are domesticated and don’t indulge their hunting instincts on a daily basis.
However, when a laser is introduced, the fast-moving back and forth of the small dot mimics live prey. Instinctually, the cat will chase it, pounce on it, and ultimately try to kill and eat it.
Unfortunately, when chasing a laser, the cat will always lose – he will never successfully catch and eat the laser pointer, which can lead to disappointment. After awhile, certain cats may completely lose interest in trying to even chase the laser anymore.
A Cat’s Eyes are Designed to Pick Up Movement
Both human and feline eyes contain rods and cones. Rods are responsible for low light vision and movement, while cones are responsible for details such as color. Unlike humans, a cat’s retinas contain more rods than cones.
In other words, they are masters at detecting movement, and it is virtually impossible for them to ignore the incredibly appealing red dot. Even from their peripheral vision, one quick glance of the bouncing, dancing light will kick their hunting instincts into high gear.
Are Lasers Safe?
While lasers can provide both physical and mental health benefits, a few points should be taken into consideration.
Physical Exercise – Because most cats are indoor pets, they don’t frequently get a lot of exercise. Playing with a laser can be a great way for kitty to release her inner tigress and expend her pent up energy.
Mental Stimulation – The act of hunting and focusing on “catching” the laser is mentally stimulating for Princess and can be a constructive way to help her avoid boredom.
Disappointment – As mentioned above, kitty will lose every time when chasing a laser. She will never successfully kill or eat her “prey.” For some cats, this can be too frustrating to handle and can lead to disappointment or destructive behavior.
To help combat this, always reward her with treats immediately after playtime. In this way, she still wins and is recognized for her hunting efforts.
Last but not least, always make sure to use lasers appropriately and safely. Never point the laser directly in your four-legged friend’s eyes (or another person’s eyes), as this can cause damage or serious injury.
If you own both cats and dogs, consider foregoing the laser altogether. Some experts advise that dogs, who also have a hunting instinct, oftentimes become obsessed with prey and when they are unable to catch it, this may actually lead to psychological distress and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Of course, if your cat seems to show signs of distress despite being rewarded with treats after playtime, consider giving up the laser as well. As always, if you have any questions relating directly to your cat’s health or the use of lasers during playtime, always speak with your veterinarian.
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