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Laser Pointers for Dogs – Do They Hurt? Is Blindness a Risk?

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Laser pointers for dogs can cause obsessive-compulsive behaviors and permanent blindness.
  • Laser pointers should never be pointed directly at a dog's face or eyes.
  • Dogs can develop unhealthy light fixation and destructive tendencies from playing with laser pointers.
  • Laser pointers can cause temporary or permanent blindness in dogs.
  • It is recommended to use physical exercises and stimulating mind games as alternatives to laser pointers for dogs.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Monday 12 July 2021
Last updated on
Monday 24 July 2023
laser pointers for dogs
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In the past, you might have used a laser pointer to play with your dog, thinking it’s harmless fun. However, this seemingly innocent game can actually cause problems for your furry friend. Laser pointers for dogs can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors and even permanent blindness, especially when untested lasers are used.

To ensure your dog’s well-being during playtime, it’s important to be aware of alternatives to laser pointers. By using other methods, you can protect your dog from potential injuries. But what exactly makes laser pointers dangerous, and what are the best alternatives? Read on to find out!

What Are Laser Pointers?

A laser pointer is a handheld device made up of a laser diode and a battery. In most cases, the pointer emits a narrow, low-powered laser beam of light intended to highlight something of interest. Their other applications include use in research, amateur astrology, entertainment, and weapons systems. And, perhaps most importantly, laser pointers have found use for play with our pets.

In most places, laser pointers are restricted to a maximum power of 5 milliwatts (mW). They come in different colors, with the earliest versions emitting deep-red light. Nowadays, you can find laser pointers in green, yellow-orange, blue, and violet colors. These pointers operate at different wavelengths, with the blue and violet ones being the most recent additions.

Safety Tips

Laser pointers can be harmful to our furry friends, so you must make sure to use them safely. First and foremost, never point your laser pointer directly at your pet’s face or eyes. As much as possible, avoid situations where your dog will directly look into the beam. When aimed at a human’s eyes, laser pointers can cause temporary or severe visual disturbances, with some rare cases of permanent injury to the eye as a result. To reduce this risk, only use your laser beam for a limited amount of time. As always, pay close attention to your dog – if they appear stressed out from your use of the laser, make sure to stop immediately. Lastly, avoid using a laser beam around your pooch where possible. This is the best way to prevent harm to your pet’s eyesight.

Risks of Laser Pointers for Dogs

Laser pointers for dogs do not come without risks. After playing with a laser pointer, some dogs develop an unhealthy light fixation. They also experience frustration and anxiety. And, perhaps most concerningly, laser pointers can cause temporary or even permanent blindness in your dog.

Unhealthy Light Obsession and Frustration

Many dog breeds have intense hunting, tracking, and herding instincts. As such, these dogs are highly sensitive to the movement and light associated with a laser pointer. Unfortunately, Playing with your dog using a laser pointer is a well-known trigger of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Dogs can become obsessed with lights, reflections, and shadows to the point of developing obsessions that arise from frustration. Because your dog cannot achieve the result that they want, they may seek out other ways to vent their frustration. This means that a dog might chase or obsess over any object that emits light, whether it be a reflective watch or light shining through glass. In turn, this gives rise to extreme anxiety and arousal.

Destructive Tendencies

Similar to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, a laser pointer can cause your dog to develop destructive behaviors. This arises from frustration and obsession over the inobtainable light of the laser beam. In their attempt to vent their frustration, your dog might turn to breaking furniture, carpets, and even walls as an outlet. This ties in with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. As your dog chases other light-emitting objects, they might chew on and break those objects or others to get to said object.

Vision Problems

Your laser pointer is not simply a beam of light – it can cause serious problems with vision if exposed to the eyes. Depending on the wavelength, exposure time, radiation power, and spot size, a laser pointer can cause photothermal injury to the eyes. This can lead to blindness, according to studies on the matter. Furthermore, while the blink reflex and aversion response are protective mechanisms against this damage, not all dogs can be expected to react accordingly when faced with a laser pointer. Dogs who are developing obsessive-compulsive behaviors around a laser pointer may not have an aversion to the beam and may look right at it. And, while most laser pointers are regulated and comparatively harmless, those that are untested and incorrectly classified pose a greater risk of harming your pet.

Physical Injuries

Aside from causing temporary or permanent eye damage in dogs, laser pointers for dogs can also inadvertently cause other physical injuries. Whether it be temporary or permanent, a visual disturbance can confuse and disorient your pooch. In turn, they will not be able to see what they are doing or where they are going. This is especially a problem for dogs who get over-excited during play. If your dog is enthusiastic about play, they could easily harm or injure another family member whilst frantically chasing the laser pointer. Other injuries could occur if your dog trips or slips whilst chasing the pointer, and damages to furniture and objects can happen along with this.

Laser Pointer Substitutes

As always, prevention is better than cure, and there is no better prevention than finding a laser pointer substitute! Instead of using a laser pointer, you can provide physical exercise and stimulating mind games for your furry friend. While these options are not without their own risks, they are safer in many cases.

Physical Exercises

Nothing can replace physical exercise. As a doting dog owner, you want to give your dog enough exercise to be happy and healthy. Depending on your breed of dog, they could benefit from 30 minutes to hours of walking each day, so take advantage of this! Use this requirement to take your dog hiking, jogging, or exploring in a new location. Your dog might enjoy playing on the beach for a few hours or could accompany you on a well-known woodland trail. Whatever you choose, make sure that your pooch gets enough exercise for their breed and energy levels. For example, while Bulldogs and Pugs only need up to an hour of exercise a day, a German Shepherd should get up to 2 hours.

physical exercises for dogs
Make sure your dog gets enough physical exercise.

Stimulating Mind Games

Stimulating dog toys are an excellent way to get your pup physically and psychologically moving. Not only do they get your pup thinking on their toes, but they also provide hours of fun at the same time. Such toys include puzzle toys and treat balls. Also, playing fun mind games with toys can help to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Other fun mind games include hide-and-seek and finding treats hidden around the house. These games encourage your pooch to get active whilst also seeking out a reward. Games like these even encourage your dog to use their innate tracking instincts! This way, your dog can express their natural behavior and receive a reward for it. In contrast, playing with a laser pointer offers no reward or payoff for their innate behavior, leaving them frustrated and confused.

Laser Pointers for Fogs – FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about laser pointers for dogs? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about using laser pointers for dogs, ask your vet about your options.

Why do dogs love to chase lasers?

Dogs love to chase laser beams because their movement triggers their innate predatory instincts. Although the intensity of each instinct varies from breed to breed, many dogs have strong herding, hunting, and tracking instincts that give them a high prey drive. To express this drive, many dogs will chase moving things like laser pointers. However, it is questionable if dogs “love” to chase laser pointers. If anything, chasing a laser pointer gives rise to frustration and anxiety once your dog realizes that they cannot “catch” or “herd” the beam of light.

Can a laser light hurt a dog?

Although laser pointers are regulated, those that are untested and incorrectly classified can cause significant harm to your dog. Laser pointers can cause damage to your dog’s eyes, particularly the retina, through photothermal damage. A laser pointer can also inadvertently cause injuries through temporary visual disturbances. If your dog cannot see what they are doing, they are more likely to run into things or collide with other dogs or people. They may also cause damage to objects around the house that can harm them.

How long before a laser pointer damages the eyes?

According to a 1997 study, a laser pointer could damage the eyes in as little as 10 seconds. However, because the eye makes a lot of tiny movements, it would be almost impossible to achieve this 10 seconds of continuous exposure. More recently, a 15 year old experienced permanent, moderate vision loss after shining a laser in their eye by accident. This laser pointer was unregulated and had a power output of at least 150 mW, compared to the 1 to 5 mW usual power seen in laser pointers. So, in theory, an unregulated laser pointer could cause eye damage to a dog after just one direct exposure to it. Another teen faced retinal injury after looking into a laser pointer. This laser pointer was designed for playing with pets.

Are blue laser beams dangerous to the eyes?

Blue laser beams are dangerous to the eyes. In fact, at least 14 cases of eye damage in humans have been reported between 2012 and 2013. All 14 cases involved perforations of the retina, and some involved retinal bleeding. These high-powered lasers are more dangerous because they act much faster. To compare, a low-power red laser pointer is safer as it emits a weaker current that is blocked out by the blink reflex. A high-power laser, on the other hand, penetrates the eye before the blink reflex can shut it out. Also, blue lasers may be more dangerous because blue light is more easily absorbed by the retina, thus damaging it more than red or green lasers.

Can a laser pointer make a dog behave differently?

Yes, a laser pointer can cause your dog to behave differently. This is largely because playing with laser pointers gives rise to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Because your dog cannot “catch” the beam of light, they experience more and more frustration over time. With no way of expressing this frustration towards the laser beam, they might become destructive. This means that your dog might attack light-emitting objects or chew through things to get to sources of shadows and light. If severe, these problems lead to anxiety disorders.

Unfortunately, while at first a fun idea, laser pointers for dogs are not a good choice for play. Laser pointers cause frustration and anxiety that can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors and destructive chewing. At the end of the day, nothing beats spending quality time with your pooch in a fun, non-risky way. Consider other forms of exercise and puzzle toys instead!

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