Are Laser Pointers Dangerous For Dogs?
Pet laser pointers are popular with many pet owners. Most of them think they are doing the right thing by entertaining their animal and depleting their excess energy. On the other hand, this game can have serious consequences for the mental health of your animals.
The dangers associated with chasing light beams, including laser pointers, are numerous. Here are the main problems these games can create :
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
We include every game of lights,r pointers or chasing red dot reflections and shadows when we talk about lase. They seem harmless to our little angel, but unfortunately, they do more harm than good to many cats and dogs.
So, this article highlights the mentioned issues above that are caused by light games.
Why Do Dogs Chase Lasers?
Before going into detail regarding the dangers of laser games, it is important to understand what happens to animals when they are stimulated by light. In simple terms, light activates the predatory instinct of the animal.
Prey drive is a natural reaction that increases heart rate and releases adrenaline. The rapid movement of light triggers the predatory instinct and activates the nervous system, which means the animal becomes motivated and ready to pursue prey.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stimulate an animal’s hunting instinct. Although our furry friends love predation games, light games are not recommended by several pet professionals, such as behaviorist Kayla Fratt and veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.
Why Are Light Games Bad For Dogs?
While playing with a pet laser pointer, your dog or cat will never win from chasing it. He can run all he wants, he will never catch his prey.
This can be frustrating and confusing to your pet when the red dot disappears without warning. He wonders where the light went without ever having an answer to his question.
According to Dog Psychology 101, the frustration caused by light games seems to change the neurology of the brain.
Can Laser Pointers Cause Mental Disorders?
The mind needs to limit uncertainty and know what to expect. Since the unknown is scary and the light has no smell, is untouchable, and has no taste, the anxiety increases. This is called the absence of cognitive closure.
Laser pointers can cause anxiety, as the lack of cognitive closure creates a growing state of frustration that can lead to anxiety and obsession in the animal.
This is why chasing prey that cannot be touched or caught is no fun for your pet.
Can Pet Laser Pointers Cause Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Unfortunately, compulsive disorders are seen in pets that play with lasers.
Pet laser pointers can lead to obsessive tendencies as the pet searches for light, reflections, and shadows outside of play. This includes the reflection of your phone, the light reflected by a car or the shadow of your child.
This condition is called laser pointer syndrome. Since the red dot only disappears, your pet remains alert to its reappearance.
This vigilance is linked to a disorder in the functioning of the nervous system that can be compared to an obsession. This disorder resembles OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) which is also seen in humans.
The difference between the disorder of an animal and that of a human is that we cannot ask the animal if he is obsessed with the light.
Which Breeds Are More Prone To Suffer From a Compulsive Disorder?
We notice this phenomenon, especially in breeds that have a lot of energy, like working dogs. However, it is also observed in all breeds.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Emma K. Grigg and Dr. Lori Kogan, indoor cats (1 to 2 years old) are more likely to develop abnormal repetitive behaviors. These behaviors are often linked to the diagnosis of feline-compulsive disorder.
According to Dog Discoveries, trainers of bomb and drug-sniffing dogs know full well that unsuccessful searches can, over time, lead dogs to exhaustion and mental illness.
To avoid this, trainers take their dogs on dummy missions so they can finally find something they were looking for and get rewarded for it.
What Canine Compulsive Disorder Looks Like and Who Can Help Me?
Certified canine behavior consultant Kayla Fratt says that in severe cases of light OCD, a dog may :
- Chase the lights for hours
- Be constantly on the lookout for the appearance of lights or shadows so that he can chase them away.
- Getting hurt as a result of chasing the lights
- Ignore his basic need like food, water, play, and rest, to chase the lights
These behaviors can also be seen in our feline friends. If your pet is exhibiting behavioral issues by being frustrated, confused, or anxious, it’s best to get rid of the laser pointer.
If symptoms persist, a veterinary behaviorist can help you develop a detailed plan to alleviate this obsession. He might even suggest medications to help your dog get back to a normal life.
How Can I Help My Pet Who is Obsessed With Light?
The first step is to throw away your laser pointer if you have one. Then, it must be impossible for them to chase out lights and shadows.
To help your pet when you’re home, redirect their attention to another activity the second they try to chase the light. You can also walk your dog on cloudy days. To help your pet when you’re away, close your curtains and give them something to chew on like a bone or an interactive toy like a Kong, which will keep your pet busy.
Yes, that is a lot of adaptations. However, it’s hard to change your dog’s behavior if he spends 8 hours a day chasing lights!
When you are home catch their attention with a squeaky toy and as soon as he looks at it, reward him with his favorite treat. By doing this, you show him the right behavior to adopt.
Remember that with any training, the better the treat, the faster your dog will learn.
Never use force. If you drag your dog by the collar to distract him or pull him away, he won’t learn impulse control.
This only makes him more frustrated and he may run away from you the next time you try to touch him. If nothing works, then it is necessary to consult a veterinary behaviorist for the well-being of your animal.
How Can My Pet Get Hurt with a Laser Pointer?
Your pet may break his teeth, tear its nails or bang its head when chasing this imaginary prey.
Do you find this excessive or improbable? Many people testify to compulsive disorder in their dogs.
Also, depending on the strength of the laser, the radiation absorbed by the eye can damage the cornea. The effects are delayed and your pet is more likely to have an eye disorder like cataracts.
Why Are They Still Selling Pet Laser Pointers if It’s Dangerous?
You might be wondering how come laser pointers still aren’t banned knowing that they can cause more harm than good.
The answer is that there have been no official or medical studies on this type of syndrome in dogs. However, several veterinarians and behaviorists with years of experience have spoken on this subject by sharing their opinions and observations based on numerous case studies.
Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and university professor explains in a Live Science article that he saw light chasing as a pathology where they will constantly chase around a light or shadow and pounce upon it. He says that they spend their whole lives wishing and waiting for the return of the light.
Dr. Caryn Self Sullivan, behaviorist and professional dog trainer, explains :
“Will playing with a laser or flashlight beam trigger behavioral issues in your dog ?…maybe not, but it has in many anecdotal cases. Will your dog get hit by a car if you let it run loose in the neighborhood?…maybe…maybe not, but are you willing to take that chance ?”
Alternatives to Pet Laser Pointers
There are several even better alternatives for dogs, but also for cats! Opt for natural stimulation instead of using artificial stimulation.
For dogs :
- Flirt pole (Recommendation #1)
- Tug of War
- Hide the Treat
- Hide & Seek
- Chase the Prey
- Agility Training
- Interactive bowls & games (Kong, sniffing mat, licking mat)
One option that keeps you seated is the flirt pole. It is a stick with a string attached to the end. You can attach a toy to the end of the rope and drag it around for your dog to chase and pull it once he grabs it.
For cats :
- Fishing Rod (easy to make yourself)
- Cat feather dusters
- Stuffed animals and mice
- Cat Balls & chaser toys
- Interactive toys & bowls
Put Yourself in Their Paws
Although animals enjoy chasing this artificial red dot, this game causes frustration, confusion, and anxiety and can even lead to laser pointer syndrome.
However, if your pet has compulsive symptoms, you will be able to help them.
Bibliographic sources :
Dog Psychology 101 (2018). «Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs”.
KOGAN, Lori, GRIGG, Emma (2021). «Laser Light Pointers for Use in Companion Cat Play : Association with Guardian-Reported Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors», MSPI Journals.
Mi Dog Guide. «Frequent Question: Why you shouldn’t use a laser pointer with dogs ?».
WOLCHOVER, Natalie (2012). «Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams (and Why It Can Drive Them Nuts)», Live Science.
LOVE, Shayla (2017). «Meet the dogs with OCD», Mosaic.
FRATT, Kayla. «What’s Up With Light Chasing In Dogs ?», Journey Dog Training.