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November 1, 2014

Is it ever OK to use laser pointers when playing with cats?

Play!

No. Well maybe… there are exceptions.

As a general rule, I recommend against using laser pointers when playing with cats. I don’t like them because they frustrate cats. Cats need to catch their prey, to have the satisfaction of feeling their hard earned prize beneath their paws.  Because cats can’t catch the elusive beam of light, it leaves them frustrated. I usually encourage people to avoid laser pointers; there are so many other exciting toys to use. But, sometimes there are situations when laser pointers are the only way cats can be played with. It’s either laser play or no play.

The best way to play with a cat is to mimic hunting by dragging the toy away from or across the line of vision of the cat. Pole type toys are perfect for this. Unfortunately, some people may find it difficult or impossible to drag the toy or flick it in the air. Their movements may be restricted for a variety of reasons, including physical challenges, or they may be living in a small crowded space. People still want to play with their cats and cats need to play. In these circumstances, laser pointers may be the best tool for the job.

Laser pointers can be played with in a way that minimizes the cat’s frustration while still mimicking the hunt. In addition to the laser pointer, soft toys and coveted cat food need to be recruited for the job.  The toys are placed strategically in the play area so that the cat will be able to “catch” the prey. Food is at the ready.  Using a variation of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s hunt/play technique, play by aiming the beam in front of the cat and zigzag it away from her. Periodically, let the cat “catch” the beam by resting it on one of the stuffed animals that is doubling as prey. The cat should be able to feel the toy solidly under her paws before moving the beam away.  Although the length and intensity of play sessions vary, don’t end abruptly. Slow the beam down until it lands on the final catch of the session. Immediately feed the cat. She will eat, groom and then take a nap.

Considerations

  • Care must be taken to play within the cat’s limitations. Consider the age, health and general condition of the cat. Play should be fun, not painful.
  • Laser beams should never be shined in the eyes of cats or any other animal who happens to be hanging around.
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