Plan Ahead to Help Your Pet: Spring Forward During the Time Change

It's about that time of year again when the “big time change” happens. Daylight Savings Time is usually accompanied with a cheer or a groan. No matter if you look forward to more sunlight in the morning or being able to enjoy the natural light a little longer after work, adjusting your clocks means a change to your daily routine. It not only affects people but it can cause stress and confusion in pets too.  

Do you have a dog or cat that can tell you when meal time is to the minute? Does your dog wake you up every day at the same time to go out to eliminate? Does your cat know when it is treat time? Just like humans, animals have internal clocks that tell them when it is time to eat, sleep and wake up. This is called a circadian rhythm. Everyone has their own rhythm.

Before cats and dogs were domesticated, they were more naturally active during twilight (dawn and dusk) and their circadian rhythm was a lot different than it is today. With domestication, cats and dogs became dependent on humans for food. They also became accustomed to human’s daily routine which took place during the daylight hours rather than during twilight. 

In nature the circadian rhythm is set by natural sunlight. Schedules in the modern world are set by artificial light, work schedules, time clocks/alarms and the demands of human life. Daylight Savings Time can cause confusion and stress in many pet’s lives by changing their schedule, even by an hour. 

There are a few things you can do to help pets adjust to a new schedule. 

MEAL TIME

Varied meal feeding times can help pets adapt to an unpredictable life.  When bringing a new cat or dog into the family, do not set a feeding time. Some dogs and cats have an uncanny ability to know to the minute it is feeding time and will remind you if you are late.  Some even act out by chewing up things, getting into the trash or being vocal and pestering family members. Vary the feeding times over the hour. Example: One day feed at 5:50pm then next 5:05pm, the following day at 5:38pm. This sets up an expectation that there is no set feeding time and makes it easier for your pet to accept an unpredictable schedule. 

Break up feeding time with puzzle toys and interactive feeding toys. This gives your cat or dog a chance to unleash one of their natural instincts: working or hunting for their food. It adds a layer of enrichment to their daily routine. Many pets find it not only fun but rewarding too. Using their brain also helps wear pets out. It stretches meals out over a period to time. Focus is now on the activity rather than just the act of quickly eating the food.  

Here are a few of our favorite puzzle toys

(Always be sure to separate your dogs and cats from each other when using puzzle toys to help prevent resource guarding and possible fighting. Puzzle toys should only be available to one pet in a room without other pets.)

In the weeks prior to Daylight Savings Time, slowly feed your cat or dog a few minutes earlier or later than the normal feeding time until you arrive at the new regular feeding time. This helps ease the effects of a new schedule.

POTTY TIME

Dogs and cats who do not have access to a pet door rely on you to let them outside to eliminate. After a good night’s rest they will need to go out to relieve themselves. Don’t get mad if they wake you at their normal time. Their bladders have not learned the new schedule yet.  Always give them a chance to go out and eliminate right before bedtime. Always have a clean litter box indoors for your cats in case they need to eliminate in the middle of the night.  As with gradually changing your pet’s meal time, gradually change the time to let your cat or dog go outside to eliminate by a few minutes a day. Never ignore their pleas if they need to go out. And always allow for regular trips outside to eliminate throughout the day.

MEDICATION TIME

Diabetic patients usually receive insulin based on mealtime. Insulin doses should be given as close to 12 hours apart as possible. For this reason, it is best to slowly change feeding times over a couple of weeks prior to the time change in order to avoid sudden changes in insulin dosing.

Dosing times are not as critical with most other chronic medications such as heart, thyroid, or pain medications. If you are normally giving meds every 12 hours, it is not a problem to have an interval of 11 or 13 hours on the day of the time change.

FAMILY TIME

Like with any new schedule that disrupts routine activity and together time, time change can cause stress in pets. Try to keep routine activity (such as going for walks, playtime and cuddle time) as a normal part of the day. It is important for both pets and their families to have time to enjoy each other’s company during any change in a pet’s routine. Even adding a little more interaction during this time can greatly decrease the stress a cat or dog feels during the adjustment period after Daylight Savings Time.

Be patient and understanding. Spend quality time together and ease yourself and your pets into the new routine. And don’t forget to change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.