Laser Pointers: What's Good for the Cat is NOT Good for the Dog!

Most cats love laser pointers. You can press the button and let the red laser land in a pinpoint on the floor, or the wall - just out of reach of your cat - and watch him pounce. It’s entertaining to watch, and it’s fun for your cat. They’re not so good, however, for your dog.  


Benefits of Laser Pointers for Cats

1) Exercise

Considering the typical domestic feline’s exercise routine often consists of moving from napping spot to napping spot, they may need a bit of encouragement to incorporate aerobic exercise into their routine. That’s where the fast moving light can prove beneficial. As you know, kitties are natural predators and love capturing things. The laser pointer provides an outlet for your normally sedentary kitty to have fun chasing and pouncing the moving dot.


cat and dog laser pointer behavior

2) Mental stimulation

Many cats stay home alone most of the day, without a lot of stimulation or activity.  Cat laser pointers can provide key stimulation and keep them from becoming overly bored. The laser beam bounces off the wall, the floor, even your kitty itself, mimicking fast moving prey. 

In fact, you can use the laser pointer to lead your kitty on a "chase" to its "prey" - a treat or a favorite toy hidden somewhere just out of sight. When Kitty finds the reward, turn the laser pointer off so it seems like the "prey" has been caught. This can be repeated as often as your cat (and you) are willing, and it gives Kitty a  sense of accomplishment after chasing the "uncatchable red bug!"


Drawbacks to Laser Pointers for Dogs

It may not seem like it, but for dogs, laser pointers trigger something much less beneficial.

"The lack of closure in laser-beam chasing could be messing with your dog’s head," according to  Dr. Nicholas Dodman, animal behavior expert and professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.  Dodman explains that your dog instinctively chases laser beams simply because they move. Movement triggers a dog’s innate prey drive, which explains why smaller prey animals often freeze in their tracks. Dogs have a highly-developed ability to detect motion with their eyes.

According to Dr. Dodman, the continuous movement of a laser dot stimulates dogs’ predatory systems such that they cannot NOT chase it. “They can’t help themselves. They are obliged to chase it,” he says. The same is not true of cats - they have been known to grow bored of the laser pointer, and some simply ignore them altogether.

Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Dog Trainer, Karen B. London Ph.D concurs. “A lot of dogs become obsessive about the light from laser pointers, and there are many cases of dogs who were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after (and perhaps partly as a result of) this activity. Dogs become preoccupied with the light, then transfer that interest to similar stimuli, sometimes developing a behavior problem in which they chase lights and shadows. It may look fun and entertaining to people, but it’s usually anything but fun for dogs.” She also says that working dogs, such as bomb-sniffing dogs, require a “win” to stay happy in their jobs. Essentially, they thrive on closure, and laser pointers never provide any which is frustrating for your dog.


Alternatives to Laser Pointers and a Caution

So now that you know how laser pointers affect dogs vs. cats, if you have a multi-breed household, you may opt NOT to include laser pointers out of respect for your pooch.  Also, if you do play with a laser and your cat, be sure to NEVER point it at your cat's (or anyone else's) eyes as they can cause serious damage.

What are some alternatives?

For your cat, there’s always toys stuffed with catnip, poles with toys on the end that you can move around, feathers and string. For your dog, there’s fetch, different types of balls, and chew toys. While the types of activities your dog or cat will enjoy is partly based on their age and breed, the important thing is to engage your dog or cat in some sort of interactive physical activity on a daily basis. It helps prevent boredom, gets them moving, keeps them healthier, and enhances the bonds they have with you.

If you’d like to discuss types of cat toys or the benefits of laser pointers for cats, please schedule your appointment here.


The blog originally appeared on North Elm Animal Hospital and has been adapted with permission for reposting. 

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