Why Do Cats Chase Light?

Why Do Cats Chase Light?

Why Do Cats Chase Light?

 All cat parents are familiar with the eternal struggle between cat and a light. For something so small and scentless, that light can keep cats busy—in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that they never really can catch it. So why do cats chase light, and is it time to ditch the light in favor of a different type of toy?

The Allure of the Light
Light is inherently stimulating to cats because of what they represent:
fast-moving prey. Just because your cat doesn’t have to work hard for
its food (unless you count all the effort it takes to meow all morning until
you fill up its bowl), doesn’t mean that it’s not hardwired for the job.
As the dot of a light darts around the room, your cat interprets it as a
small animal trying to run and hide. As such, certain inherent feline
behaviors come out, notably the innate desire to hunt, pounce, and kill
the prey in question. The fact that it’s merely a projection doesn’t matter
very much because your cat is operating on auto-pilot, not on intellect.

How Cats See Light
There’s another factor at play here too when your cat chases a light,
and that’s the fact that it simply looks appealing. To understand why, it
helps to have a base understanding of how your cats’ eyes operate and
how they differ from human eyes.

The retina is one of the main structures of the eye. It is composed of two
key types of cells: rods and cones. Rods deal with low light vision and
detecting movement, while cones help the eye see color. Human eyes
have more cones than rods, which means we see the world with a lot of
vibrancy. Cats, on the other hand, have more rods than cones, making
them experts at picking up even the slightest of movements.
What does this have to do with light pointers? It means that they’re
pretty hard to ignore. The moment you turn a light point on your cat is
going to pick it up in its peripheral vision, and if it hasn’t quite figured out
yet that it can’t actually eat that red dot (or if it knows it can’t but doesn’t
care) then that’s all it will take to start its predatory cycle.

The Debate Over Cats and Light
It might be surprising to hear that there’s some controversy over
whether it’s a good idea to tempt your cat with a light, but the cat-light
debate is one that has been going on for some time.
The main problem noted by cat enthusiasts who are anti-light is that
having your cat chase a light is a form of teasing. Remember, your cat
is stalking and pouncing on that red dot because its brain is telling it to
catch the food and kill it. The cat’s not doing it distinctly as a form of
play, even if it’s having fun.

The light is an unattainable target, and no matter how great your cat’s
hunting skills are it’s never going to get to eat it and it’s never going to
finish out its predatory cycle. Many cats figure out the ruse and stop
interacting with the light. Others find it immensely frustrating and may
start behaving badly as a result. Frustrated cats act out in less than
ideal ways, such as by becoming destructive or aggressive. If you notice
a connection between playing with your cat and a light and bad
behavior, it’s probably time to put the light away for good.
To help make light more of a game and less of a tease, give your cat a
treat or a physical toy right when you're finished playing. That way it’ll
get the satisfaction of a “kill,” even if it’s not of the light itself.

Light Safety Tips

Provided that your cat seems to actually enjoy chasing a light and isn’t
just caught in an endless loop of hunt-pounce-disappointment, there’s
probably nothing to be worried about. Chasing a light is a fantastic way
for your cat to get some physical and mental exercise, and also lets it
tap into its kitty instincts for a bit—something that indoor cats don’t get
to do quite as often as they might like to.
Of course, you should still make sure to follow proper safety tips to
avoid harming your cat during play. Here are two big ones to note.
Don’t shine the light directly in your cat’s eyes. Even toy lights emit
an incredibly bright light, so you mustn't shine it directly at your cat (or
yourself!). If you do, you could cause vision problems and/or eye

Provide your cat with plenty of other toys. If the light is your cat’s
only outlet for play, it’s more likely that frustration will start to build up.
Make sure that it has access to a lot of other objects for hunting and
playing with, including catnip toys and wands.

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