If you have a cat, you likely have a laser pointer, or two or even a laser emitting interactive toy. That little red dot stirs up a cat’s instinct to hunt, pounce, and be a stalking predator. Cats never seem to admit to themselves that they will not ever capture the red dot and there are two schools of opinion. Whether you are pro-laser or anti-laser, understanding the need for a cat to stalk and pounce is important and can help you find substitute toys that engage the same parts of the feline brain and provides them exercise if you decide to expand their active and interactive playtime.
Lasers are irresistible to most cats because they are hardwired by evolution to hunt.
While your cat has a life of luxury and you can pop open the can top, it doesn’t mean that cats still aren’t designed to stalk, pounce, and hunt for their food even if the bowls are filled the same time each day. It is natural and normal for a cat to chase a laser dot because your cat views it as prey. Just as cats chase bugs, the red dot is a moving target. It causes a cat to go into predator-mode and a cat will default to trying to chase, capture, hunt, and kill the red dot. If it were possible, the cat might even bring the laser dot to you after they killed it as a way of showing its affection for you and to show off their great skills. Cats are acting purely on instinct and not able to tell it is a projection of light. To cats, lasers appear as more than a red light on the carpet.
Cats do not see as humans see.
To a cat, the laser pointer is awesome and potentially tasty. Cat retinas have two types of cells used that affect what they see called rods and cones. Rods are designed to detect motion and low light vision. Rods allow a cat to see in the dark. Cones allow color vision. Human eyes have more cones compared to rods in their eyes than cats do. Humans see the world as more colorful and vividly however cats compensate for dulled vibrancy by having incredibly visible acuity at detecting even minute movements. Therefore, the laser fascinates a cat. A cat can detect that laser spot easily, even in its peripheral vision. Once a cat sees something tiny moving quickly, their predator instincts override the fact they forget they never catch the laser spot and cannot eat it.
Many people think it is cruel to play with laser pointers.
It is seen by some as wrong to tease a cat and make them engage in a behavior that is predatory and not providing any reward to a cat. A cat is chasing it because they are stalking what may be a cat treat to them and while the cat may be enjoying itself, they are hunting, not playing. Once a cat realizes they cannot catch the prey and are never going to catch and kill the red spot it spent time stalking and pouncing on, a cat may eventually become frustrated and lose interest in laser pointers. Other cats figure out the prey is an illusion and become bored with it. A bored or frustrated cat is a potentially aggressive and destructive feline. Noticing the behavior of your cat after an interactive play session with a laser pointer can help you notice if the cat seems agitated. If it is aggressive and a cat is thrashing its tail and pacing, the laser pointer should be retired as your cat’s temperament is not to be toyed and teased with. You should always provide your cat a treat or a toy after chasing the laser to provide the cat the satisfaction of a “kill” and end their automatic predator mode. A soft catnip mouse or their favorite crunchy treats will help a cat feel closure and like they are successful as a hunter and got food or the reward they were seeking instinctually.
Chasing a laser pointer projection is a good exercise for indoor cats
It allows them to exercise their instincts and provides a cat with an enrichment activity for their mind if they do not become annoyed with the endless hunt that always ends in disappointment. Always make sure that along with the laser pointer, a cat needs a variety of toys to also stimulate their other senses and encourage mental and physical activity. Cats should have catnip toys, soft toys to chew on and you can interact and play together with your cat using cat teaser wands that allow them to catch a treat-filled or catnip feathered bird. Always be careful when playing with your cat and ensure the laser if never pointed into the cat’s eyes as lasers can cause damage to the eyes in cats as well as humans. Play safe and smart and by understanding why cats may love or loathe laser pointers can help you find new ways to connect with your cat and understand the game from your cat’s point of view.