There’s nothing like the bright red dot of a laser pointer racing across the floor or wall to get a cat’s attention. Many dogs also are fascinated with and will chase laser pointer toys. Even fish often follow the red dot, at least until they get bored or something startles them. Some birds and small pets also show interest. But are laser pointer toys safe for your pets? Stories of retinal damage due to looking directly into a laser abound on the web and in “My cousin told me that her grandmother’s college roommate’s aunt’s dog’s sire was blinded by a laser pointer,” form.
The Real Risks of Using Laser Pointer Toys
A Pacific University College of Optometry study found that the alleged dangers of laser pointer toys have been largely exaggerated. For a human to sustain retinal damage, the study claims, the person would have to willingly look at the laser pointer beam for at least ten seconds. If that doesn’t sound like a long time, try holding your hand under scalding hot water for ten seconds! Most people would look away from a laser pointer long before staring at it for ten seconds.
However, this study tested the effects of laser pointers on humans, not on pets. Cats might well stare at the laser pointer for a few seconds. Also, there remains some possibility that eye damage occurs in pets at lower levels of exposure. Therefore, many pet owners continue to avoid laser pointer toys despite data indicating that they are relatively safe.
Safer Laser Toy Use
If you do choose to use laser pointer toys with your pets, a few basic precautions are in order:
- Never let children play with laser pointer toys. Kids of a certain age may willingly stare into the laser beam for extended periods of time, or shine it intentionally into the eyes of a pet.
- Avoid ever shining the beam directly at a pet’s face. Point the toy at the ground, not at your pet.
- If your pet becomes obsessed with the toy, stop using it to play with your pet.
- To avoid obsessions before they start, have the laser pointer appear and disappear at the same spot— for example the toe of your shoe. Most pets are able to grasp the idea that the laser pointer comes from a particular spot and then goes back there when it leaves. This prevents the continual searching for the red dot that some pets practice habitually after playing with a laser toy.