How to manage a missing or frozen mouse cursor in OS X

MouseIconXYour mouse cursor in OS X is one of the main controls on your computer; however, there are times when you might find yourself searching all over your screen for it, or finding it will not respond to any input. In these instances, you might resort to moving your mouse around in large fast circles to try locating it, or perhaps end up pushing it to a reference point such as the far corner of your screen; however, this can inadvertently trigger configured hot corners and add more frustration to the situation at hand.

There are several services and features built into OS X that will allow you to more easily locate your cursor, and perhaps reveal it if the cursor is frozen, or has been hidden and will not show on its own.

  1. Cursor Size
    If you find the Mac cursor to be relatively small and are always fishing around for it, then you might find yourself using a lower display resolution to make everything slightly bigger on screen; however, this is not the most optimal approach. You can instead use Apple’s Accessibility (or Universal Access) system preferences to change the size of the cursor to be up to around nine times larger than its default size.

    Even if you do not need the cursor to be exceptionally large, by even edging it only slightly larger in size (such as one tick on the adjustment slider), then you can make it far more visible.

    Accessibility system preferences showing cursor size

    The Display and Zoom options in the Accessibility system preferences have options for screen zooming and mouse cursor size.

  2. Screen Zooming
    Another approach you can take to locating your cursor is screen zooming, where you can have OS X zoom in on your desktop around the point of your cursor. There are a number of options for configuring screen zooming in OS X, and it first must be enabled so you can trigger it, but when done, you can quickly hold down the Control button and scroll up and down to zoom in and out, and you will be able to pinpoint where on the screen your cursor is.

Managing a missing or hidden cursor

While in most cases you should see the cursor appear on screen when you move it or scroll, there are times when this might not happen. This is likely due to a bug or two in the program you are using, but could also be an unseen problem in OS X. Either way, you may move the cursor or zoom in on it, and not be able to locate it. While sometimes clicking the cursor will trigger it to appear, this might not always happen, and in addition it may trigger some function on your Mac that you do not intend.

To manage a missing cursor, try simply switching applications by pressing Command-Tab, and then switch back by pressing Command-Tab again. This usually is enough to trigger a hidden cursor to reveal itself again.

Nonfunctional cursors

A final situation you might find yourself in is where your cursor does not work at all. You might see it on screen but when you move your mouse or trackpad, it simply does not function. In these cases, first see if your Mac is responsive at all, by pressing Command-Tab to switch applications, or Command-Space to invoke Spotlight. If these functions work properly, then you have several options instead of holding the power button to shut the system off:

  1. Try a different USB mouse
    Every Mac has at least one USB port that you can use to connect another Mouse, and see if that will be properly recognized and allow you to regain mouse functions.
  2. Use keyboard navigation
    You can use several common hotkeys to switch apps, close them and windows for managing whatever you currently have open. If presented with a window dialogue box, you can press the Tab key to change focus to different controls, followed by the space bar to activate any selected control (e.g., to activate a button that is not highlighted blue by default).
  3. Use Screen Sharing
    If you have Screen Sharing enabled, you can use another Mac to connect to yours and supply mouse input.
  4. Soft-restart your Mac
    Holding down the power button for only several seconds and then releasing it should bring up the power menu where you can sleep, shut down, or restart your Mac. Doing this will have OS X automatically close programs, or present you with Save dialogue boxes, where you can press Enter to save documents.

6 thoughts on “How to manage a missing or frozen mouse cursor in OS X

  1. Lloyd

    The first thing one can do if they have the dock on the right side is to simply keep dragging to the right until one of the items in the dock shows a hit. Big help if you are using a dual monitor setup.

    I have been using an accessory for a number of years and all the way through 10.10 non-release. Named Mouse Locator. Can be set so that when time passes, two broken circles appear where the cursor is located. Can also set for mouse button press or select a F key as a hot key, or strike a caret (cap – 6). I have my trigger delay set for three minutes.

    I also used one of the suggestions: Slightly increased the size of the cursor. Works great.

    If you are using a USB mouse and you see that it is frozen, unplug then quickly re-plug to the USB port. Saves a lot of messin’ around.

  2. Al Canton

    If you have a Magic Mouse and if it gets very slow to track or does not track at all, pick it up, turn it over, hold it about 4-6 inches from your lips and blow a puff or two of air into hole. Most often there is a hair or a microscopic pice of lint in there or across the hole and it screws up the entire mouse.

  3. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    On today’s high resolution computer screens, a cursor can be really small at it’s default setting. Most people don’t even know you can increase the cursor size, but this is a good solution, especially for those with aging eyes that don’t see as well as they once did. A good, or even a cheap pair of drugstore reading glasses can also help.

    For many years I’ve been using Mouseposé to find my cursor with a keyboard shortcut to invoke it. It grays the screen around an adjustable spotlight highlighting the cursor location. It has other features and functions but this is the one I use most. It can also show your keyboard strokes in large letters on screen, which can be a big help to seriously visually impaired persons. On the MacUpdate page for this app (é) you can also see similar apps recommended by users.

  4. Joe Colling

    I have been using MAC since Lion and now have El capitan and still the disappearing cursor bug exists…..Is Apple ever going to fix this issue? I almost feel like I’m dealing with micro suck windows…..sheesh..This bug is very annoying. It is definitely a OS problem and not an app problem….Apple support doesn’t seem to care either. There answer is “wait for an update”…Really? How long? I noticed this problem has existed even before Lion…I have seen forum posts that date back to 2008….. >_>

  5. Rae Batcheler

    I thought this was my mac dyng!

    Lately since updating to el capitan its almost twice a day and the hard reboot has killed my extra hard drive now that I only bought in january….. cheers apple!

    Im glad not to be alone but really I dread any new fabulous updates cos theyre so much ****!
    No wonder they’re free!
    #weareguineapigs Id rather pay for one that actually was glitch free!

  6. awq

    if ur trying to move your mouse but its not moving at all, just try moving it on a saturday night

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