Are Laser Pointers Bad for Cats?

You may want to try these more satisfying methods of play instead.

gray kitten staring at laser pointer light with feline fine logo
Photo: Daniel Rodriguez / Adobe Stock

Every frisky feline loves playing with her laser pointer, right? Not always says Samantha Bell, Cat Behavior and Enrichment Lead at Best Friends Animal Society. Laser pointers can be a good option for kitty cardio and human laughs, but they might leave your cat feeling frustrated and wanting to pounce on the next best thing (like your feet). This has us wondering, "are laser pointers bad for cats?"

It depends, Bell says. With a few simple tweaks, playing with a laser pointer and your cat doesn't need to end in anxious feelings. Here's Bell's breakdown of why laser pointers can be bad for cats and how to make laser pointer play fun and enriching. Plus, fear-free certified experts share their favorite methods of play with cats in place of the never-ending red-light saga.

Do Cats Like Laser Pointers?

Cats have an inherent predatory drive, and the little red light has just the stuff to ramp up their feisty instincts. Lasers can slither up walls, rapidly change speed, and zigzag every which way. It looks like living prey to your huntress and kickstarts your cat's predatory sequence (stalk, capture, kill, eat).

"Cats feel their happiest and most confident when they feel like predators," Bell explains. So, yes, they can love the thrill of hunting the laser pointer light. But, as we all know, your cat can never actually capture the red dot and fun could quickly become frustration.

Why Laser Pointers Can Be Bad for Cats

Because your cat can't catch and "kill" the laser pointer light, she can't complete the predatory sequence. This, Bell says, could leave your cat feeling unsatisfied. "If a cat is riled up in predator mode, has been "hunting" the laser, and isn't provided something appropriate to attack or bite, they may attack the closest thing to them that moves—like you or another pet."

As for automatic toys with lasers, Bell says they're just not safe. A curious feline approaching the toy could look right at the light or a sporadic beam could shine into her eye, potentially causing permanent damage.

How to Play with Your Cat and a Laser Pointer

If you're not sure if your cat has become frustrated when playing with her laser pointer, you're not alone. "Cats are quite subtle with their body language and sometimes play mode body language looks quite similar to annoyed body language," Bell says.

But, she adds, this doesn't mean you need to toss your cat's favorite laser pointer in the trash. "If you always follow laser pointer time with wand toy time, your cat will be able to physically catch the 'prey' they've been hunting and feel satisfied," Bell says. "Another little trick I love is aiming the laser at a treat at the end of wand toy playtime. Then they can eat their 'prey!'"

3 Fun Ways to Play With Your Cat Instead of Using a Laser Pointer

Ready to ditch the laser and try something new with your feline? We asked fear-free certified cat behavior experts to share their tried-and-true ways to play with cats in place of the laser pointer.

1. Wand Play

It seems that cat experts agree—wand time is the best method of play when it comes to replicating prey. "My absolute favorite wand toy that most cats love is Da Bird," says Shannen McNee, CCBC from the Toronto Humane Society. "It makes a really cool fluttering sound and movement when you 'fly' it around in the air that your cat will go crazy for!"

2. Play Without Toys

Molly DeVoss, CFTBS, CCBC, FFCT, CRM, is the founder of Cat Behavior Solutions and her cat Pico de Gato doesn't always need a toy to enjoy play. "My cat and I play hide-and-seek! He follows me around the house and when I go into another room, I look back at him, make eye contact, then dart behind the wall or door," DeVoss shares. "He always knows where I am, but he likes to jump out and 'get' me." To complete the predatory sequence, reward your avid hunter with a treat once he finds his prey—aka you!

3. Interactive Toy Play

DeVoss is a fan of motion-activated toys for solo play when the humans are away—and joins the thousands of reviewers who say their cats are obsessed with the popular Potaroma Flopping Fish Cat Toy. When choosing a motion-activated toy for your cat, she says, look for one that allows your cat to catch and bite it.

Whichever mode of play you and your cat choose, experts recommend following playtime with mealtime. "This helps complete the predatory cycle of 'hunt, catch, kill, eat' and helps them feel as satisfied as they can be", Bell says.

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