What is Laser Pointer Syndrome?

By WagWell Team
February 06, 2024

Many pet owners feel tempted to take their cat’s favorite play toy – the laser pointer – and turn it into an exercise tool for their dogs. The joy resulting from the dance of the red dot has solidified the laser pointer into the dog toy lexicon. But this toy is far from innocent; every dog owner should know the potential side effect – Laser Pointer Syndrome. This OCD-rooted behavior emerges from prolonged exposure to play with the toy and can be life-long. 

How Is It Safe For Cats and Not For Dogs?

Harm from laser pointers has nothing to do with intelligence. Deep stereotypes about dogs and cats typically show cats as aloof and intelligent, while dogs are as loyal to a fault. Cats benefit from this toy as it provides indoor exercise. They also receive mental stimulation as the light bounces off walls, floors, and even the cat! They eventually lose interest as laser pointers don’t mimic their hunting process.  


On the other hand, dogs are natural hunters and cannot give up the chase. The swift movements of the dot trigger their instinct to pursue. Laser pointers are completely intangible: no smell, no physical object to catch, nothing to hear, and nothing to taste. The intangibility translates the chase from enjoyable to frustrating for our canine friends. 

To The Point

Laser Pointer Syndrome is an OCD-like disorder characterized by obsessively chasing reflections, lights, and shadows. This behavior results from the dog feeling frustrated, anxious, and confused by the inaccessible red dot. The laser activates the prey drive in your dog, and it can be difficult for your dog to remove themselves from that mental state.


Typical behavioral issues that can develop are:

 

  • Obsessive Behavior: Dogs may fixate on any flickering light, extending their obsession beyond the laser pointer. 
  • Heightened Anxiety: The inability to catch the red dot may elevate anxiety levels, which leads to restlessness or destructive behavior.
  • Compulsive Action: Some dogs may develop compulsive behaviors, such as tail chasing or excessive grooming, due to to prolonged exposure to the laser pointer game.
  • Potential Depression: Continuous engagement without a tangible reward may leave dogs feeling unfulfilled, potentially leading to depressive tendencies. 

High-energy dogs are more likely to develop this condition. Severe cases result in chasing lights for hours, being constantly on alert for lights or shadows to appear, injury due to pursuing, and even ignoring their basic needs in favor of pursuing lights. 


Working dogs can suffer similar side effects if they don’t succeed at their jobs. Scent detection and rescue dogs need periodic wins to feel satisfied and happy with themselves. The successful findings stimulate their training; regular successes aren’t guaranteed, so handlers will set up simulated missions so the dog can find what they’re searching for.

How to Safely Fulfill Your Dog’s Need to Chase

There are many other games to play with your dog that are safe and engaging. Not only does playing games with your dog provide enrichment, but they also strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend. Some alternatives to laser pointers include:


  • Having them chase you
  • Playing fetch with tennis balls, toys, or sticks
  • Creating a scavenger hunt with a treat
  • Hide and seek
  • Tug of War
  • Flirt Poles

If you want more budget-friendly enrichment ideas, check out our blog!

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