Why Laser Pointers Can be Frustrating for Pets

February 19, 2014

By Linda Cole

I’ve never gotten into the laser pointers people use to entertain their pets. I don’t really know why, because I can’t help but smile when I see a dog or cat chasing that little light. It’s a good way to get them up on their feet for some playtime and exercise. However, chasing that red dot can be frustrating for our furry friends, and there is a potential hazard of eye injury.

In reality, the eyesight of dogs and cats isn’t as sharp as ours when it comes to seeing distant things clearly. Dog and cat eyes are made to see best in dim light, and being able to see brilliant colors and details like we see isn’t necessary when hunting prey. Compared to our field of vision, which is looking straight ahead, dog can see 240 degrees, cats see at 200 degrees, and we come in last with a field of vision of 180 degrees. The binocular vision (where the field of vision of both eyes intersect) of humans and cats is 140 degrees compared to dogs with 30 to 60 degrees. Dogs and cats depend on movement, especially rapid movement, to see things up close. Both dogs and cats have a visual streak, which is a high density line made up of vision cells across the retina. This gives them extremely good peripheral vision for seeing motion, and dogs can see better out of the corner of their eyes than cats can.

Motion is what activates a dog or cat’s prey drive. That’s why a mouse, rabbit or small prey will freeze in place – to make it harder to be seen. Laser pointers can quickly get a pet’s attention. Not because of the little red dot, though. It’s the motion of the dot that clicks on a pet’s prey drive and catches their interest, and there’s no way they can ignore the moving light. The problem with that erratic light is that it’s impossible for a dog or cat to actually catch it, and that makes it frustrating for them. Some dogs can develop behavior problems if they become obsessed with trying to catch that darn light. Cats aren’t as likely to become obsessed because they have a tendency to lose interest faster than dogs.

Playing with your pet helps them stay fit and healthy, but there are better, more appropriate toys than laser pointers. That said, if you enjoy watching your dog or cat race around trying to catch the light, here are some tips to make it more satisfying for them.

Be careful not to overdo a play session. When a pet’s prey drive is activated, they are in full prey driven mode and can easily become overstimulated. If you’re playing with more than one pet, it could get out of hand if one pet becomes aggressive during the chase. Don’t just flash the light around, give your pet a way to succeed at catching the light to satisfy his prey drive. Lay out several of their favorite toys on the floor, couch or chair. At some point, shine the laser on the toy and leave it there so your pet can catch it. Don’t move the light away until he’s had time to actually feel the toy and attack it.

Another option is to use their favorite CANIDAE treats. Hide some treats around the room so you can pause the light on one, giving your pet a reward for catching the light. Using toys and treats gives your pet a chance to actually catch something, which can keep him from becoming frustrated.

The prey drive of dogs and cats is a natural behavior, and catching prey is something they are very good at doing. Never catching the light can mess with their heads and upset them. They need an opportunity to catch the light so they can bring closure to their innate hunting behavior. People who train search-and- rescue, drug and bomb sniffing canines understand the need to let their dogs have occasions where they can find what they have been trained to root out. If the dogs are never given an opportunity to find their quarry, it can cause frustration and emotional issues.

It’s important to remember to not shine the laser light into the eyes of people or pets because it can cause eye damage. When you’re ready to end the play session, slow it down gradually instead of just stopping. Lead your pet to one last toy and give him a chance to catch it. Then feed a small amount of his regular CANIDAE food or some treats. This way, your pet can satisfy their prey drive and feel like they accomplished the task of catching their prey. Then they can settle down on the couch for a nap knowing their hunting skills are superior and that the crazy light can be caught.

Top photo by jeffreyw
Middle photo by Szapucki
Bottom photo by Arria Belli

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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