What is Laser Pointer Syndrome in Pets?

Laser pointer syndrome is more common in dogs, but that doesn’t mean cats can’t suffer from it, too. Here’s all you need to know about this condition.

Mar 25, 2024By Monika Dimitrovska
what is laser pointer syndrome in pets

We often use laser pointers to keep our pets entertained and active. However, there’s something called “laser pointer syndrome” that every pet owner should know about.

This condition is more common in dogs and less present in cats. In dogs, it can result in frustration, anxiety, and confusion, whereas in cats, it can manifest into aggression and anxiety.

In other words, this common pet toy isn’t as innocent as it sounds. It has some potential side effects that every owner should be aware of, which we’ll discuss below.

What is Laser Pointer Syndrome?

dog cat laying together
Image credit: Joy from Pixabay

Most pet owners always look for new ways to improve the health of their pets by decreasing boredom and keeping them active.

One common way of doing this is by using laser pointers to initiate play, and while it’s somewhat of a safe toy for felines (if you’re using the right kind properly), it can result in health and behavior issues in canines.

To be more specific, laser pointers can often cause laser pointer syndrome in dogs and, at times, in cats.

Laser pointer syndrome is a condition that results in OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) behavior. This condition often causes frustration in dogs, as they can’t “catch” their “prey,” suggests the America Kennel Club.

person cuddling dog
Image credit: Leighton Robinson from Unsplash

Dogs aren’t colorblind, so they clearly see red dots and literally become obsessed with “catching” them. In extreme cases, this obsession can escalate, and the dog can jump at other lights, reflections, and shadows that attract their attention.

Cats don’t become obsessed with “catching” the red dots like dogs do, but a study suggests there’s a potential link between laser pointers and compulsive behaviors in cats as well.

In other words, cats can also experience abnormal repetitive behaviors, such as fixating on a specific toy, chasing lights, spinning, and obsessively staring at reflections.

The study also found a connection between compulsive behaviors and declawing, age, and the number of cats in the household.

Laser Pointer Syndrome Symptoms

cat dog fighting
Image credit: Joel Gamboa from Unsplash

Cats and dogs have hunting instincts, and the laser activates the prey drive in them This is why dogs chase cats in the first place. So, it can be hard for your dog to escape that mental state.

Symptoms of laser pointer syndrome in pets include:

  • Obsessive behavior: Your pet is constantly on the lookout for lights or shadows so that they can chase them away.
  • Increased anxiety levels: The inaccessibility of the red dot can increase anxiety levels, resulting in red feet in dogs, destructive behavior, or excessive grooming. Cats, on the other hand, can display signs of aggression and feline anxiety.
  • Depression: Some dogs can experience sadness because of the lack of physical reward from their “hunting.” Working dogs can also experience sadness if they don’t excel at their jobs.
  • Ignoring basic needs: Your pet refuses water, food, and rest.

If your pet is exhibiting any of the symptoms above after playing with the laser pointer, ditch it and beat boredom in indoor cats and dogs with interactive toys, DIY cat toys, balls, feather wands, etc.

If the symptoms persist, ask a veterinary behaviorist for help.

Laser Pointer Syndrome Treatment

cat dog hanging out
Image credit: Danae Callister from Unsplash

Both indoor cats and dogs need daily exercise. However, it doesn’t have to involve a laser pointer. So, get rid of the laser pointer to eliminate the temptation for your pet to chase lights and shadows, then try the following methods:

  • Redirect Attention: When at home, immediately redirect your pet’s attention to another activity if they attempt to chase light.
  • Squeaky Toy Reward: Use a squeaky toy to catch their attention, and reward them with their favorite treat when they focus on it. Just make sure you practice dog toy safety.
  • Cloudy Day Walks: Walk your dog on cloudy days to reduce the allure of chasing lights during outdoor activities.
  • Close Curtains: When you’re away, close curtains to minimize exposure to external lights, even with dog breeds that can be left alone.
  • Provide Distractions: Offer a chewable item like a bone or interactive toys to keep your pet occupied.
  • No Physical Force: Never use force, like dragging your dog by the collar, as it hinders impulse control and may lead to frustration.


cat laying down
Image credit: Monica Ricci from Pixabay

Can Laser Pointers Cause OCD?

Unfortunately, pets playing with laser pointers might develop a behavior similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This “laser pointer syndrome” occurs when pets become overly focused on chasing lights, reflections, and shadows even outside of playtime, like the reflection of a phone or the shadow of a child.

The repeated appearance and disappearance of the red dot from the laser pointer can make pets stay alert, creating a behavior linked to a nervous system disorder resembling OCD in humans. The challenge is, unlike humans, we can’t exactly ask pets if they’re fixated on the light!

How Do You Fix Laser Pointer Syndrome?

For dogs, consider alternatives like a flirt pole, fetch, tug of war, and hide and seek. Indoor cats need daily exercise as well, so try a fishing rod, cat feather dusters, stuffed animals, and interactive toys. Opt for natural stimulation rather than laser pointers.

cat with toy
Image credit: Juan Gomez from Unsplash

Why Are Laser Pointers Bad for Dogs but Not Cats?

Cats benefit from laser pointers for indoor exercise, but the lack of a physical target makes them lose interest and develop behavioral issues.

Dogs resemble wolves; they’re also natural hunters, so they find the chase triggered by the laser dot frustrating, as it lacks any physical elements like smell or taste.

So, laser pointers can be problematic for both our furry friends. You can help build your dog’s confidence and keep them active in other ways.


brown dog staring
Image credit: Ayla Verschueren from Unsplash

In conclusion, though pets may like chasing the red dot, it can cause frustration and anxiety, possibly leading to laser pointer syndrome.

If your pet shows obsessive behaviors, you can try different activities to help, such as the ones mentioned above. If nothing works, consider reaching out to the experts for assistance.

Monika Dimitrovska
By Monika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.

But Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.