Everyone has tried it … flashing a laser pointer across the floor or up the wall to see the reaction of a cat. But why are cats so obsessed with laser pointers? Let’s take a look at what science has to say about the passion of cats with laser pointers and whether or not it is actually an appropriate toy for our little friends.
There is a difference between the eyes of the cat and our eyes.
The retina is the light-sensitive structure at the back layer of the eye. The optics of the eye create a focused image of the visual world on the retina, which translates that image into electrical neural impulses to the brain to create a visual perception of our world. Broadly speaking, there are two types of retinal cells,
- cones that are involved with color vision and the ability to focus on and appreciate fine detail and
- rods, that are responsible for vision under low light conditions and for the detection of movement.
The human eye has more cones than cats do, while cats have more rods. This means that people can see details or colors pretty well, while cats have the ability to distinguish movement even if it is quite dark. Cats are perfectly designed to maximize the chances of catching quickly moving prey at dusk and dawn.
The color of the laser pointer does not matter to the cats, because of their poor color vision, but what matters is the intense contrast between the bright laser and the dark background.
Stimulating a Predatory Response
Though the color of the laser pointer will not make any difference to your cat, the way the bright dot light is moving, is really alluring. It darts here, then dashes over there pauses, and then, here again, it is mimicking the actions of prey, which is really hard for cats to ignore. This type of movement stimulates the predatory insticts (stalk, pounce, kill and eat) that are wired into our cats even though their survival no longer depends on a successful hunt.
However, as you might have noticed laser pointers can only satisfy the first two steps in that sequence, stalk and pounce, while killing and eating remain unfulfilled. For some cats that is no problem, as they will happily chase that little dot of light around for a while and then just walk away undisturbed, but other cats seem to get upset after hunting the laser pointer, as this predatory sequence remains incomplete.
If you are worried about your cat being frustrated while chasing a laser pointer, you should try different types of games that allow you that will fulfill the predatory sequence, or give your cat a few treats at the end of the game or a food dispensing ball to chase around for a while, and playtime will be satisfying for everyone.
Photo: Biel Morro