Do Laser Pointers Give Cats Anxiety? (Safety Advice)

Do Laser Pointers Give Cats Anxiety

Laser pointers are a great way to play with a cat – especially while not getting in harm’s way or having to run around after them.

They may be fun, but laser pointers are also potentially dangerous.

In this article, I’m going to explain how laser pointers can be dangerous, as well as how you can use them safely.

Do Laser Pointers Give Cats Anxiety?

It’s no secret that cats love laser pointers. It’s almost impossible for any cat to resist giving chase to that little red dot.

It’s also great for us, as it means we can play with our cats without having to run around – or even move much at all, to be honest.

The reason why cats love laser pointer dots so much is, as Psychology Today explains, because cats see that little red dot as alive and worth catching.

Cats instinctively chase a lot of things that move. The more a target moves and resembles how some kind of prey would move, the harder they’ll find it to resist.

A red dot is a lot like a small insect to a cat’s eyes. If you’ve seen a fly or some other kind of bug running around your kitty, I’m sure you’ll have seen a similar reaction.

The good thing about a laser pen is that you can control where the red dot goes, and make it even harder for your cat to resist.

But there is a problem; in the wild, a cat would almost always capture the prey they’re chasing.

When we play with a laser pen, a cat is never going to ‘catch’ the red dot and this can cause some anxiety for some cats.

How to Tell if a Laser Pen Is Causing Your Cat Anxiety

Most cats can play with laser pointers without issues, and it can be a very positive form of play stimulation.

For some cats, however, they can get anxious about not catching the red dot.

There are a couple of key signs to look out for that your cat might be getting anxious, these are:

  • They are still trying to find the red dot long after you’ve stopped playing.
  • They are unsettled after playing; labored breathing, twitching, being vocal, etc.

If your cat appears to be anxious after playing with a laser pen, the only right thing to do is to stop using a laser pen.

It’s not fair to frustrate your cat. I know it’s not deliberate on your part, but once you find out chasing a laser pointer is stressing your cat, you need to stop.

Are Laser Pointers Cruel for Cats?

Laser pointers are not cruel for cats when used in the right way, no.

As I explained, a lot of cats love laser pointers and will not get anxious or stressed. As long as you use your pointer responsibility, you can give your cat a lot of stimulation and exercise.

There are three main health concerns when using a laser pointer:

  • Eyes – The red light a laser pointer projects is potentially very dangerous if it’s shone directly into the eyes.
    Laser pointers vary in strength, to be on the safe side you should only use pens that have a maximum power of 5 milliwatts.
    As a rule of thumb, never shine the light directly into your cat’s – or anyone else’s – eyes.
  • Hazards – The laser pointed itself isn’t a hazard, but other things in the house that your cat can run or bump into can be.
    You have to remember that you’re in control of where that little red dot goes. And, wherever that dot goes, your cat is going to run and pounce with reckless abandonment.
    It’s the source of many amusing videos, seeing cats running up walls, jumping over things, and skidding around corners.
    But it’s your responsibility to ensure your cat doesn’t run into a wall or some other furniture!
  • Anxiety – As covered in this article, some cats will get anxious or stressed by laser pointers.
    The main reason for this is because the red dot is stimulating their hunting instincts, but unless you let them ‘catch’ the dot they’ll never feel satisfied.
    Even catching the red dot is not enough for a lot of cats, as obviously there is nothing physical they can do with the dot.
    Keep a close eye on your kitty. Make sure they’re safe, having fun, and give them short bursts of play with the laser.

Are Laser Pointers Bad For Cats’ Mental Health?

A topic that often comes up is whether or not laser points are bad for cats’ mental health.

What I can say is that I’ve used laser pointers for years with various cats, and when used correctly laser pens are not bad for cats’ mental health.

Sure, some cats do not like them. Some will get frustrated or anxious at not being able to really catch the dot, so that’s something you need to be aware of.

When used in short bursts for playtime and to help give your cat some exercise, if your cat enjoys chasing the red laser dot it’s an awesome way to interact with them.

Do Laser Pointers Give Cats OCD?

Something else I’ve seen discussed a number of times is whether or not laser pointers give cats OCD.

Cats can suffer from OCD. Not in the same way as we typically do, and it’s not always easy to diagnose, but cats can get OCD.

The most common signs a cat has OCD are:

  • Overgrooming – If your cat is overgrooming to the point where they are getting bald patches or other skin conditions, this can be a sign of OCD.
  • Excessive treading – Treading, making biscuits, kneading, whatever you call it, if a cat does this excessively it’s a sign of trauma (more on why cats open and close their paws here). 
  • Looking for the dot – Your cat shouldn’t be pacing around looking for the dot when you’re not playing.
  • Twitching / Self-Mutilation – Twitching, tail flicking, any form of self-mutilation such as biting, excessive scratching, etc.

In Summary

When used correctly and as long as you read your cat’s body language, laser pointers or laser pens as they’re also called are awesome toys.

Moving that red dot around can create hours of fun for both you and your cat, it’s a great way to bond.

As long as you’re aware of the signs that it might be causing your cat anxiety and you stop using the pointer if it is, you should absolutely get a laser pointer.


Image credits – Photo by Chewy on Unsplash

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