Most of you know that I use a laser light toy to play with my kitties. Recently the kitties received an automated laser toy as a Christmas gift from one of their many fans. Naturally, everything the kitties do is chronicled in their videos and shown on their YouTube channel. Numerous times I’ve been asked about the safety of the laser toys for cats. Until now I’ve pretty much blown it off with one platitude or another. In general I feel that “we” (that means us silly humans) are over eager to flock to the worst possible scenarios and ignore the “real” dangers. The media and Internet certainly don’t help this paranoia. Example: growing list of Christmas dangers published each year to terrorize pet caretakers.
About lasers toys. I finally decided to do a little research on this so I could answer this question with a modicum of intelligence. Here’s what I discovered:
By law, lasers are classified and labeled by wavelength and maximum output power. There are four classes with sub-classes ranging from the harmless to the most harmful. The labeling system accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on laser products imported into the U.S. is based on accessible emission limits (AEL) that are defined for each laser class. This is usually a maximum power or energy that can be emitted in a specific wavelength range and exposure time. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to provide the correct classification of a laser, and to equip the laser with appropriate warning labels and safety measures as prescribed by the regulations.
The laser pointers sold as toys are among the weakest. The label on my handheld laser toy states that it is rated at 2 mw (milliwatts). The new automated laser toy states that it’s less than 5 mw. Laser toys and laser pointers are generally in the 1 – 5 mw range and are classified as Class IIa lasers. Class IIa lasers emit light in the visible wavelengths (0.4 to 0.7 mm), and are not intended for prolonged viewing. They will not produce a hazard if viewed directly for periods not exceeding 1000 seconds (apprx. 16 minutes. I don’t have an attention span THAT long, let alone my cats). The exposure will not exceed MPE’s (max permissible exposure) if viewed for less than this amount of time. (Ref: http://www.asu.edu/radiationsafety/laser/appn_C.html)
So, as with many things, moderation and supervision is the key. Just don’t be stupid about it.