One click of that laser pointer button and Whiskers bounces out of whatever coma he was in to stampede down the hall to play. So why does this little strange gadget betwitch your kitty so?
The answer is pretty simple: The moving red dot triggers your cat’s intense hunt and kill instinct. Felines perceive that small darting light as prey they can catch, maul and eat. So, it’s not quite “playing” with the red dot as it is “destroying” the red dot. Your cat also has more photoreceptor rod cells than humans, which means that as lazy as Whiskers may act, he also kinda has a couple super powers: He has excellent peripheral vision, can see well in low light and is impeccable at tracking movement. Therefore, a laser pointer is the perfect stimulus for both a cat’s instincts and its eyeballs.
So cats and laser pointers go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Well…kind of. According to feline behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, laser pointers get cats riled up with absolutely no reward. They track the target, stalk the prey, pounce on the meal, but there’s nothing to catch. This can cause extreme frustration and confusion in cats who trust their hunting skills only to find there’s nothing tangible at the end of the game. You’re basically giving your cat an existential crisis.
A simple solution is to set up toys around the laser zone and strategically navigate cats toward these props when you play. Give ’em treats when they capture that light. Anything to simulate the pride at the end of a successful hunt works.