What is Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs?

Many people think that laser pointers will provide great entertainment for dogs. It’s an endless game where you don’t have to leave the couch to play with them. However, playing with a laser pointer can actually cause significant behavioral and mental health problems in your dog.

Beagle dog lie on a couch in living room with head on hand-rest

What Is Laser Pointer Syndrome?

A laser pointer triggers your dog’s prey drive and thus, their desire to chase. However, your dog has no ability to actually catch the little red dot. Dogs will thus simply get frustrated because the game has no closure. Dogs can keep looking for the red dot even after you have put the toy away.

This can result in “laser pointer syndrome,” in which your dog just keeps frantically searching for the light. They may stare at the last location they saw it, react to flashes of light, and develop high levels of anxiety.

Causes of Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs

Dogs don’t just need to chase something, they need to catch it. Balls, frisbees, and other toys are perfect for dogs because they can catch and “kill” the toy and then present it to the rest of the pack proudly. When your dog plays fetch they are “hunting for the pack.”

When the dog can’t catch the laser pointer, they develop massive levels of frustration. Another thing that can cause frustration is teasing your dog with a “ghost ball.” Pretending to throw a ball but not actually doing so will eventually annoy your dog.

Working sniffer dogs can also develop something similar to laser pointer syndrome if they don’t make successful finds. Because of this, they are routinely given practice sessions in which they get to actually find something.

There does appear to be a genetic component. Dogs with high prey drive are more likely to get laser pointer syndrome, and some vets believe that it occurs in dogs with an underlying susceptibility to OCD.

How To Diagnose Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs

Laser pointer syndrome resembles a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Watch out for these behaviors:

  • Staring at or constantly revisiting the last place they saw the red dot.
  • Pouncing on lights or shadows.
  • Chasing reflections to the point where they cause injury.
  • Chasing lights rather than eating or drinking.

Treatment Options for Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs

There is no straightforward treatment for laser pointer syndrome. The best thing you can do is redirect the urge to other, healthier, sports or games. If your dog is a smarter breed, then they may need a “job.” Dogs with high prey drive often enjoy lure coursing, where they do eventually get to catch the “prey.”

The best way to treat laser pointer syndrome is to keep it from developing in the first place.

Prevention Tips for Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs

The best way to prevent laser pointer syndrome is never to play with your dog with a laser pointer. If you have children and a laser pointer, make sure they don’t give in to the temptation. Young children should, in any case, not be permitted to play with laser pointers as they can damage their vision or somebody else’s.

If you play scent games with a dog, always finish the session by letting them find something. Don’t tease your dog either by only pretending to throw a ball.

If you don’t feel like throwing a ball and chasing around with your dog, a flirt pole can be useful. These are similar to fishing poles for cats and consist of a stick and string. When playing with a flirt pole with a dog, do not lift it so the dog leaps off the ground to get it; this can result in injury from too much jumping.

When to See a Vet for Your Dog’s Potential Symptoms of Laser Pointer Syndrome

You should see a vet if your dog is injuring themselves chasing lights, or if they are ignoring food, water, and social activity. Your vet can give tips for management and potentially anti-anxiety medication, which can help some dogs.

Give Your Dog Something To Focus On At Sit Now Stay

Laser pointer syndrome is most often caused by playing with a dog using a laser pointer. Because of the way a dog’s prey drive is, this can result in extreme frustration and OCD-like symptoms. You should not use a laser pointer as a dog toy, but stick to throwing them balls, etc.

If your dog has laser pointer syndrome, a good trainer can help you redirect them to healthier activities. Contact Sit Now Stay Dog Training for help.