Are Laser Pointers Safe for Cats?

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    Cats love laser pointers, which are fairly safe toys.

    Cats love laser pointers, which are fairly safe toys.

    Laser pointers used to be the sole domain of business presentation makers and public speakers, but now they're ubiquitous. As many pet owners (and pet toy producers) have realized, cats love chasing tiny bright dots. Given minimal precautions, laser pointers are safe toys that keep your cat active and happy.

    Eyes Are Off-Limits

    Don't shine laser pointers directly into your cat's eyes. As long as you avoid doing that, your cat can enjoy hours of chasing lights.
    Store laser toys in a safe place. This way, your cat can't fiddle with the device and accidentally shine the light in her eyes, which can cause retina damage.
    While most commercial laser pointers available in the United States are low-powered and pose little risk, more powerful lasers remain available. In an article on the topic, Princeton University notes that high-power lasers should be properly labeled and do, in fact, pose a higher risk of eye injury.
    Although its comments chiefly concern humans, the Princeton article notes likely effects from exposure to common laser pointer lights probably doesn't cause permanent damage -- just a few minutes of afterimages, flash-blindness and glare.

    Play Dates

    Laser pointers help you forge a stronger bond with your cat through playing and fulfill your cat's natural drive to stalk prey.
    Playing with your cat with a laser pointer is easy. Just turn on the device and move the dot around. You can get quite involved, racing around the house with your cat as you trace the laser pointer around corners and up walls.
    You can also take a lazier approach. From the comfort of your couch, you can absentmindedly offer your cat entertainment while you read, surf the Internet or watch TV.

    Exercise Lite

    Chasing laser pointer lights gives your cat plenty of exercise -- that's especially helpful for indoor cats, which can become quite sedentary.
    In an article about pet exercise, Texas A&M's Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences department recommended giving your cat 20 minutes of regular exercise each day if possible.
    "Most cats cannot resist chasing that little red dot as you make it magically move across the carpet," noted the article, which recommended interactive toys, including laser pointers, because of their wide appeal.
    The same article notes laser pointers are good in that they lack the feathers and string lining of some commercial toys that some cats ingest, potentially causing a host of issues.

    Considerations

    When you're through teasing your cat, offer her or him a physical toy. The Humane Society of the United States recommends this because it gives the animal a sense of finality and accomplishment that an illusory target can't provide.
    Some cats become anxious or paranoid after playing with a laser pointer and slink around the house, stalking dots that disappeared minutes or hours ago. In an article about cat exercise, the Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine recommends taking a break from laser pointer play or suspending it altogether if that happens.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

    Photo Credits

    • cats on the sofa image by Natalia Kosyanenko from Fotolia.com