Can cats work out the source of the laser pointer dot?

Can cats work out the source of the laser pointer dot? Some can and some can’t, would seem to the answer. The smart ginger tabby-and-white Maine Coon below did work it out and he is described as smart by his caregiver. He looks smart too. He is one of those Maine Coons that look like a wise old man. My research tells me that other cats have also worked this out but it did not stop them enjoying the hunt.

A smart Maine Coon. He is not described as a Maine Coon by his owner but his appearance is classic for this breed
A smart Maine Coon. He is not described as a Maine Coon by his owner but his appearance is classic for this breed. Image:

RELATED: Laser Pointers Can Cause OCD in Cats. True or False?

The owner says this about her intelligent looking and genuinely intelligent cat companion:

As I was playing with him with the laser pointer about a week ago, he happily chased the red dot over the floor as always. But when he sat down to look at me, he suddenly looked over to my hand where I held the pointer, then back to the red dot and my hand again. His enthusiasm for chasing the moving red dot was suddenly gone. As if he understood that it was I who made the dot move and that wasn’t as interesting for him as a red dot that’s kind of “magically” moving on its own. – All About Cats

Why should the discovery put him off chasing it? His hunting instincts made him chase that irresistible moving light dot. Most cats love laser pointers. But when he discovered that it was not real, he realised that it was not a prey animal which switched off his instinct to chase it! This seems farfetched and too intelligent for a domestic cat to me even though I dreamt up the reason.

The real reason for losing interest might not be linked to the discovery that it is controlled by his owner. He might simply have become bored with it which is the weakness of laser pointers: they can’t be caught and killed.

The best cat toys are those that can be caught and destroyed by a domestic cat i.e. shredded. The worst toys are probably hard plastic which can’t be ‘killed’. They’ll be interesting for a while but they have a limited ‘interest lifespan’.

RELATED: Do big cats play with laser pointers?

Can laser pointers harm cats?

Although I am sure that there are very few instances of laser pointers harming cats, it can happen. It might happen indirectly if a cat becomes obsessed with chasing the light dot (and they can) and runs into something.

And if, inadvertently, the laser pointer is directed at the eyes of a cat it could potentially cause eye damage. For that to happen the laser would have to go directly into the eye and impinge upon the retina. It has always been said that it is important to avoid shining a laser pointer directly into a cat’s eyes or any other animal and indeed a person’s.

In order to avoid boredom for the cat (sorry but I can’t help with the boredom endured by the cat’s owner) it’s probably better to combine laser playtime with home-made toys which can be physically captured and destroyed.

In fact, this method of play may extend the life of the laser pointer in terms of a cat being stimulated by it.

Some tags on related topics:

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Cat bed den infographic

A compact infographic on the cat bed den. This is the place where your cat sleeps. They might use it during the day when their owner is more active. The infographic is centred around a picture I just took of two cat bed dens side by side; one made with cheap materials, made for shipping an Amazon product and free and the other made for the purpose and expensive. My cat prefers the free one.

Often homemade cat products are the best. The classic example of homemade cat products is the cat toy. You can buy plastic ones online or use a bit of string or a ball of paper. Or perhaps make your own cat tease – a feather on a stick. Note: string should not be left on the ground.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Why does my cat’s back twitch or ripple when I touch it?

Cat back rippling in a healthy cat
Cat back rippling in a healthy cat. Image by MikeB

If your cat is clearly healthy as observed in a non-expert’s way, it is not abnormal or a sign of a health problem if their back ripples when gently touched. It is more likely to happen if your cat is unaware of what is going on. It simply means that your cat is slightly irritated by being touched on their back for whatever reason. And this is also linked to another form of feline behaviour which is instinctive.

Back ripple a general sign of displeasure

The ‘back ripple’ is a general sign of irritation of dissatisfaction. There is an overlap in these emotions. You’ll see it sometimes when a walks away from a bowl of food which displeased them for instance.

Back muscle

Under the skin of the back there is a large flat muscle called the cutaneous trunci. It twitches involuntarily in response to being touched on the skin resulting in this twitching action. I believe this is very similar to what we see with many animals who twitch their skin to remove flies on their bodies. It’s simply a form of removing a source of irritation.

Slight irritation or dissatisfaction

And looking at the video it is hard to deny that my assessment is correct. Look at the face of the cat at the end of the video and she looks a little bit irritated. She is resting calmly and then her owner comes up behind her and gently touches her back. She was unaware that this was about to happen and did not link the feeling with the person. It may have felt like an insect landing on her back.

It her owner had stroked her back it would not have rippled like this because she would have known it was her owner and that she was being petted i.e. stroked which is the equivalent of allogrooming (mutual grooming).

Happens sometimes

A cat will not ripple their back like this every time you touch it. It probably depends upon the mental state of the cat at the time. Cats are sentient animals. They have emotions. They might be in a particularly relaxed state of mind and are slightly irritated because of a disturbance on their back.

But if they are active and interacting with their owner their back muscles would not ripple in this way if you touched that area. This is because a touch from their owner is predicted and a known form of activity.

Human equivalent

So, this is a perfectly healthy, normal reaction. It is the equivalent of a human brushing off an insect which has landed on their bare arm.

Dogs and other animals

Dogs might do the same thing and it will be a normal reaction with no health issues. It depends on whether there are ancillary symptoms. Straight back rippling when touched and nothing more in a healthy dog can only be a benign, instinctive reaction about which the owner should be unconcerned.

Feline hyperaesthesia syndrome

This disease is an entirely different kettle of fish. The interesting point about this question is that Google search results only point to a little understood and rather disturbing condition suffered by some cats called feline hyperaesthesia syndrome as the cause for the rippling that we see in the video.

This is simply untrue. A cat does not need to suffer from feline hyperaesthesia syndrome for their back muscles to ripple when it is touched in this gentle way as we see in the video. I am stressing the point.

The symptoms of feline hyperaesthesia syndrome include rippling or twitching of skin on the lower back for no apparent reason and, sometimes, after being touched. The syndrome also includes symptoms of: dilated pupils, jumping and running, excessive meowing and other noises. The cat might chase their tail or bite and lick their lower back and sides. They might experience pain or discomfort when petted or touch and they might be tired.

These symptoms are not presented by the cat in the video on this page. So, there is a difference here between a bona fide medical condition which is little understood and a simple reaction to being touched which is slightly irritating.

I welcome the input of visitors and their first-hand experiences which are always useful. Please comment below. Just tell me what happens.

What causes feline hyperesthesia?

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