Are laser pointers bad for cats?

Kitten stalking laser dot
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are laser pointers bad for cats? It’s a question you’ve likely found yourself asking given the mixed messages that abound about these popular toys. But, the good news is that just like with any of the best cat toys, as long as you’re using a laser pointer in a safe way, it can be a super enjoyable plaything for your feline friend to engage with. 

Cats are natural predators, so it’s no surprise that there’s nothing they love more than an unpredictable toy that lets them tap into their innate instincts to stalk and pounce. And far from being bad for cats, when used correctly, laser pointers offer a range of benefits.

The best laser toys for cats offer your feline friend both physical and mental stimulation and they’re a great option if you’re out of the house a lot during the day and are looking for something to occupy your kitty and banish boredom until you return. 

Below, we answer the question ‘are laser pointers bad for cats?’ in a lot more depth, exploring both the potential risks and benefits as well as walking you through the best way to use a laser pointer with your beloved bundle of fur to ensure they stay happy and healthy. Let’s dive in!

Are laser pointers bad for cats?

Whether you’ve chosen a laser pointer that you need to manually control and move about or you’ve invested in one of the best automatic laser cat toys, you’re likely aware of the debate that goes on as to whether or not these playthings are actually safe.

When used correctly and in line with the manufacturers instructions, laser toys are both fun and stimulating, providing your kitty with a vital source of physical and mental enrichment. That being said, there are risks to laser toys that are worth being aware of:

1. The strength of the laser

Did you know that the light from a laser pointer can burn the tissue in the back of the eye known as the retina? It’s true! According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the higher the light’s wattage, the more likely it is to cause damage. That’s because once the power output of a laser exceeds five milliwatts, the eye loses its ability to blink, meaning it can’t look away. 

“The natural protective mechanisms of the eye – such as the blink reflex – are ineffective against lasers with an output power greater than five milliwatts, and severe retinal damage may occur, even after momentary exposure.” 

To avoid doing damage to your cat’s vision, stick to low-wattage laser toys with a maximum power output of five milliwatts.

2. The risk of injury

There’s no denying that laser toys are fun, but if your cat becomes too engrossed in their game, they run the risk of injuring themselves by running into glass doors and furniture or knocking something over. Laser toys are always best used in open spaces where there’s little chance of your cat bumping into something and hurting themselves. 

3. The potential for loss of confidence

Believe it or not, laser toys can actually be bad for a cats mental health if they’re never able to ‘catch’ the laser beam successfully. If you’ve ever played a game that you can never seem to win, you know that’s not a fun experience and the same is true for our feline friends. It’s important they get the opportunity to ‘win’ their laser game from time to time as not only will this keep them interested but it’s great for building confidence. 

4. Too much activity

While exercise and play are super important for your cat’s health, if you have an older feline or one who has health issues or is very sedentary, don’t overwork your cat by going too fast too soon with the speed of the laser toy. Start slowly and then gradually increase, giving your kitty a chance to get used to their new plaything. 

Why do cats like laser pointers?

If you’ve ever had your feline friend bring a mouse or bird into the house as a gift for you, then you’re likely very familiar with what a high prey drive these little fur balls have.

Cats are natural hunters and they love nothing more than having an object to stalk, chase and pounce on. And that’s exactly why laser pointers are so appealing. The light from a laser moves in unpredictable ways, which mimics how their prey would move. 

Can laser pointers benefit cats? 

Cat playing with laser dot

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’ll find that most cats love laser pointers and as we’ve already mentioned, as long as they’re used correctly, letting your feline friend play with a laser toy can actually bring them a whole host of benefits. Here’s a few of our favorites:

1. Reduces boredom

Is your cat bored? If you’re out of the house quite a lot or just don’t have as much time to play with your cat as you might like, investing in a laser toy can be a great way of helping to reduce boredom in those times when you’re not available. Bored cats can often get up to mischief and become destructive, so a laser toy is ideal for keeping them occupied and amused.

2. Helps with weight loss

Obesity is one of the most frequently diagnosed health issues in our fur babies and regular exercise is vital for helping to assist with healthy weight loss for cats. Laser toys offer an outstanding physical workout because your cat is constantly on the move, so if you have an indoor cat who’s largely sedentary, a few sessions each day with a laser toy can really help them to shed those unwanted pounds.

3. Boosts mental health

Just like us, cats can suffer from low mood, depression and anxiety when they don’t have enough enriching activities to amuse themselves with. Laser toys are brilliant for keeping your kitty’s mind sharp and giving them something interesting and stimulating to engage with. If you’re at all worried about your cat’s mental health, our vet’s piece ‘is your cat sad?’ delves deeper into this issue and offers a range of helpful tips on how to manage depression in cats. 

4. Increases bonding

While a huge range of laser toys are automatic, meaning your cat can use them independently without you needing to be there to turn the toy on and off, they’re also great for strengthening the bond you and your feline friend share. 

In fact, deepening the relationship between you and your cat is one of the main reasons why cat play is so important. But, it’s not just your relationship that can improve by using laser cat toys, if you have a multi-feline home, investing in toys that your cats can use together can really help cement their fur baby friendship. 

How to use a laser pointer with your cat

As you can see, there are a range of physical and mental health benefits to using laser pointers that make them well worth having in your feline friends toy box.

The pros of laser pointers far outweigh the cons when this beneficial toy is used correctly, here’s a few safety tips to help minimize the risks and make play time more enjoyable:

  • Make sure the laser pointer has a power output of 5 milliwatts or less to prevent damaging your kitty’s eyes.
  • If you’re not able to supervise your cat’s play time, purchase an automatic laser toy that will switch itself off after 15-20 minutes and that has gaps of around 2-3 hours between each session. This will help prevent overstimulation.
  • Set the laser pointer up in a room that has a lot of space and few objects that your feline friend could bump into. The goal here is to reduce the likelihood of them injuring themselves while chasing the laser beam.
  • If you have a senior or largely sedentary cat, be sure to start slowly. Keep the laser toy on the slowest setting and only increase it when you’re sure your cat is up for the challenge.
  • Let your cat win their game from time to time. This is super important, not just for building confidence but also for reducing the likelihood that they’ll get frustrated and give up. 

It’s a good idea to be on hand to monitor the first time your cat uses their laser toy as that way you’ll be able to gauge whether or not this is the right toy for them. Most cats love chasing laser beams, but there’s always the odd feline who’s not that keen. 

If that’s the case, you might like to check out our guide to the best automated cat toys which offers a range of other interactive options that are just as fun and may be more to your cats liking. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.