Resolving the Mystery of a Disappearing Mouse Cursor in Mac OS X

Jul 19, 2013 - 36 Comments

Mac OS X Mouse cursor In an unusual and fairly rare situation, the Mac cursor can randomly disappear from OS X. More accurately, the cursor itself becomes invisible, because you can still click around on the screen but without being able to see what the mouse or trackpad is focused on.

This seems to happen out of the blue, and although it is difficult to reproduce reliably, it does seem to happen more often when a Mac is running low on available memory and is using multiple monitors. Thus, you may be more likely to lose the cursor when using apps like Photoshop, or Chrome and Safari with tons of browser tabs open, especially with an external display connected. After running into this bug repeatedly I discovered a few ways to resolve the problem and make the cursor visible again.

If your mouse cursor has mysteriously disappeared in OS X, try the following tricks in descending order to bring it back:

  1. Hit Command+Tab to switch back to the Finder or to another app, then switch back to the active app
  2. Summon the Force Quit menu by hitting Command+Option+Escape, there is often no need to actually force quit anything as just summoning the menu is often enough to make the cursor return
  3. Quit and relaunch the app, or quit all apps if the cursor is gone everywhere
  4. Adjust the size of the cursor, found in System Preferences > Accessibility > Display to make it reappear
  5. Reboot

The force quit window in OS X

Typically using the Command+Tab app switcher or Force Quit trick are enough to bring the cursor back for most apps, but if it’s consistently missing in a single app you may need to relaunch that app itself. Very rarely the cursor will be missing everywhere, which requires either every single application be quit or the computer to reboot.

This is obviously a bug, which means it’s probably an easy fix for Apple. In fact, it may already be resolved in OS X Mavericks as I have yet to run into it using the developer preview builds of 10.9.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

36 Comments

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  1. Les Bannister says:

    Hi Paul I have downloaded Mavericks and since doing so my mouse regular disappears ,often it does not appear when starting.I have to keep on rebooting computer until its visible on boot up.Other times it just disappears if allowed to sleep.

    • Sami Jarvinen says:

      Hi Paul,

      I have exactly the same problem on my Macbook Air, both on Safari 6 and 7 – with both OSX Mavericks and my previous operating system! It’s a rather frequently recurring problem, several times a day at least, and though there are fairly easy workarounds, I find it funny that Apple hasn’t managed to fix it altogether yet.

      The cursor disappears regardless of the number of applications open (i.e. there shouldn’t be a low memory problem) and reappears when I CMD+TAB onto finder or any other application than Safari. Sometimes it finally reappears in Safari after a few switches back and forth.

  2. Les Bannister says:

    I take it all back had my pen stood on tablet DOH!

  3. Bill says:

    I just experienced the problem and I’m using Maverick. I doubled-clicked a book in iBooks, and when it launched in Preview (it’s a PDF), the mouse disappeared. Quitting Preview brought it back. I couldn’t duplicate the problem, though.

  4. Russell says:

    No, it’s not fixed. I never experienced the problem until I installed Mavericks. Now it happens routinely. Most often in Lightroom 5, with which I use dual monitors. But it has also occurred in Safari with multiple windows open.

    I have not found a solution. So far I have navigated blind (usually saving work) and shortly the pointer returns. No consistent reason observed yet as to what brings it back.

  5. Brent says:

    This has not been solved in Mavericks. It happens just as often as before the Mavericks upgrade.

    Why doesn’t Apple fix this?

    In the mean-time, an app called Moom helps significantly. Although its main purpose is to move the pointer using the keyboard, it also has the ability to map a keyboard shortcut to show the pointer. In so-doing, it also makes the invisible Pointer visible again!

    I’ve mapped it to Ctrl-Enter. Whenever I find myself jerking the mouse around trying to get it to appear, a simple Ctrl-Enter displays it.

    • Chas says:

      Just bought Moom but can’t see how to dedicate a shortcut to show the mouse pointer as you suggest. Sorry for being thick! How do you do that, please?

  6. Jim says:

    Thanks for the tip. My mouse disappears quite frequently even in Mavericks and your tips work to get it visible again. Also with Mavericks I am unable to scroll in mail with the magic mouse. Hope Apple fixes this soon. It’s frustrating.

  7. Jarik says:

    I have found that flipping to a hot corner (a feature of ‘mission control’ previously ‘exposé’ ) tends to restore visibility to your cursor when it disappears. Would be nice if it where fixed. In terms of cause, It seems to happen the most to me in relation to video playing in web browsers. (mousing across the video when focused in another application vanishes the mouse?)

    • Reedly says:

      This is exactly what I’ve noticed too. Just a few moments ago the cursor disappeared, I tried the top left hot corner which didn’t work, then the bottom left, and the cursor came back.

      It still seems hit or miss as to which one will work.

  8. Jane Watson says:

    I never had this problem before I bought a new computer with Mavericks installed. It’s a bug in the new system as far as I am concerned. Been using a Mac for 25 years plus, never encountered it before. Thanks Apple! You know about this – how about fixing it!!! This is not what I expect from Apple. Steve must be turning in his grave….

  9. Nancy says:

    We recently replaced a worn out wireless Magic Mouse with a wired one and started having this problem. We’re using Mountain Lion. Called the Apple repair shop who sold us the new mouse and he suggested we replace our colorful mousepad with a solid color one. Problem gone.

  10. Bruce says:

    My Macbook Pro is running 10.8.5 and the disappearing pointer problem has been increasing in frequency. A couple of months ago it happened once every couple of weeks – now it is daily or several times a day. Mostly happens to me when using Firefox.

    Frustrating!!

  11. Amin Ghadesi says:

    how change color Mouse Cursor?

  12. Grant says:

    This problem is at its worst in PDFs and WORD in text that is in italics – it appears and disappears as you enter/leave such text. This has been going on for over a year, well before Mavericks.

    Incredibly annoying when you need to select a phrase of a few sentences.

  13. raeven says:

    Happens to me constantly- more frequently when I am streaming something or there is a form of Flash running- it seems to be an error that occurs while running 3rd party apps or plugins. The Mac OS has just fallen apart due to whatever background processes run now. Don’t be so naive as to think you can expose them all, either. Please don’t insult my intelligence with any ‘YU so paranoid’ responses. I have things complete fail to respond and then take me back to login- a lovely way to gain access and implement changes. I wish they would at least provide a sense of false confidence!

  14. Chris says:

    TIP #1,162 – Works every time for me.

    When the mouse cursor goes invisible, scroll blindly to/past your dock (at the bottom of the screen), then then back up again. It will appear.

    This works every time for me. As soon as you begin to scroll up again, it should appear. I was hoping things would change in Mavericks, but I believe it goes invisible more. I just came to the forum to see if anyone had the full proof solution, but what I’ve been doing seems to be the easier of all I just read.

    Good luck.

  15. Suze says:

    I am having the same problems. This is really frustrating! my old 2009 MBP was not troubles at all, now buying a new macbook air with maverick the mouse is disappearing all time time!
    come on apple – fix it!!

  16. Josie says:

    Thank you that worked (the first one)… love the internet with all the friendly helpful people…. you all rock

  17. Tobia says:

    Thanks Jarik,
    even with no hot corners configured, opening Mission Control (even if you close it right away) seems to restore the missing cursor.

  18. Ed says:

    Still a problem with Mavericks 10.9.4

    It’s pathetic that Apple continues to leave this bug unfixed through many OS releases.

  19. Daniel Felipe says:

    When this happen to me, I just press F9 or F10and then the mouse reappears.

  20. Johnny says:

    My cursor disappears each time I boot up my MacBook Pro running Mavericks. By accident I discovered that if I do a three-finger swipe to the right on my Trackpad (so that I get the Widgets screen), wait 3-4 seconds, then do a three-finger swipe to the left to get back to the Finder, the cursor suddenly reappears!

  21. Michael says:

    Guys this is a simple issue that needs to be adjusted by the programmers.

    A missing cursor is mainly due to a lack of feedback code to maintain critical systems… its location or importance in the code needs to be elevated to the same level of memory allocation as things like the playback buttons.

    For example if there are 10 levels of memory allocation within a computer. A one is the lowest needed items… something rarely used & stored in the HDD & a 10 would be things used every day all the time, mission critical systems like the display or the playback buttons.

    Thats my $0.02 but computers are not as complicated as people want you to believe.

  22. gerard says:

    How does one launch system preferences without a cursor?

  23. janet says:

    Awesome. Did #1 and #2 (without having to actually force quit anything) and it worked.

  24. Cristofer Reyes says:

    Hey guys,

    I have the same problem in Mavericks, and is really annoying when I’m programming in XCode .The faster solution so far for me is just to move the mouse to the top left corner and shake it if is neccesary, then the pointer is back. If not the CMD+TAB is a good solution, in case you want to keep in the same application after the CMD+TAB, just keep pressed both bottons and with the mouse pointer select your actual app again.

    See ya!

  25. James Demers says:

    In my case, it’s Firefox where the cursor vanishes consistently. I can get it back by sloughing off to the edge of the monitor, where (usually) I’ve got a sliver of the desktop showing. Click there, and I’m back in business.

  26. Sandi says:

    Rare my butt.

  27. Mike the Pom says:

    The only thing that worked for me was a restart. Pain in the arse.

  28. Andrew says:

    Not rare – existed in Mavericks since upgrading and exists in Yosemite. I can hit command tab and back to get the cursor back. But very annoying. Similar problem is losing window focus while in the middle of typing. I keep thinking i hit a key combo, but I think it may be a related bug.

  29. Don says:

    Every solution listed above has a common denominator that most people seem to be overlooking. The tricks above, the moving to hot corners and moving to the dock all require that the OS interact with the cursor. Notice that clicking in the application (and sometimes Finder) does not bring back the visibility of the cursor. But clicking on an OS menu will.
    My “trick” (that is faster than any other mentioned), is to jam my cursor all the way up to the top of the screen so that it should be located on the menu bar, and click. Invoking a menu click always bring my cursor back.
    And I agree with Sandi – rare my butt! I am running two 50 inch 4k monitors on my MacPro and that cursor is hard enough to find even when it is working! This happens way too often. Hoping Yosemite will fix it finally.

  30. Darla says:

    I’ve been using Macs for 20 years and I’ve had this disappearing cursor happen ever since I’ve been using photoshop regardless of OS. I’m in Mavericks now but it was happening in Leopard and Snow Leopard and even before that. If you click off the app giving you issues it should reappear, I usually click on Safari and then back to PS and the cursor is there. In my case it’s only Photoshop that causes this and usually only when I initially open the app. After the first time I don’t have an issue for the rest of the time I use it. I have this issue every time I open it. I don’t think Apple will be fixing this any time soon since it’s been going on for years.

  31. Aakash says:

    I recently switched to Mac(Thank God) and encountered this issue.. i started off directly with Yosemite…so idk much about the previous versions, but yes i face this problem quite frequently.

    I mostly work on Chrome, so till now that where i have experienced this, but i am sure it would be happening for other third-party apps and softwares too.

    Switching the windows(Command+Tab) always brings it back for me..so thats the fastest work-around i believe we have for now.

    Hope Apple fixes this once and for all…

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