How Daylight Savings Time Affects your Pet

It’s time for our twice-yearly clock adjustment to save energy and eliminate excuses to wake up earlier.  Everyone in U.S., with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii, sets our clocks forward one hour at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of each March. This inevitably causes millions of Americans to miss worship the following morning and millions more to be sleepy for the next couple of weeks. While we pour an extra cup of coffee on Monday to shake off the lost sleep, what effect does daylight savings time have on our pets?

The reason we change our clocks originates with Benjamin Franklin who observed people burned candles to work into the night and sleep during the morning sunshine, wasting valuable oil, wax, and free light. Franklin suggested in an essay, “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” that we adjust our clocks according to the seasons to save resources and maximize productivity. In 1916 the Germans became the first country to officially implement the idea.  The U.S. followed during World War I in 1918, resulting in almost a century of grumpy Americans complaining each March about a “lost hour.” This 60-minute modification really throws our body’s natural rhythm out of sync resulting in insomnia, moodiness, and lost focus and productivity. Our pets also feel the effects of the time change, although not in the same ways we do.

Dogs and cats are creatures of light. That is, animals are closely tuned to the cycles of light and dark in terms of their physiology and behavior. Cats tend to be more active and eat at dawn and dusk while our dogs tend to wake when the sun rises and sleep after sunset. Many pets have precise patterns; they do the same things at the same time every day like clockwork. Except they can’t read clocks. Because most dogs and cats can’t read time, arbitrary movements of the hour hand should have less affect on their daily routines. Or does it?

What really disrupts our pet’s lifestyle during daylight savings time changes are the sudden differences in our daily our routines. Your dogs will probably be awakened an hour earlier or later to go potty. Their meals will be served at a different time; walks are rescheduled and it feels different when human family members come and go. Mornings get brighter and come earlier and evening walks warmer and later. For most pets, these changes are abrupt, unexpected, and challenging. They may ponder, “Why am I eating now? Why do I have to get up so early?” We need to ask how we can help our pets adjust to time changes?

For most pets and people, the time switch is no big deal. Sure, the first week may be a little unsettling but nothing an extra shot of caffeine or an additional walk can’t correct. Here are few tips for super-stubborn sleepers:

  • The key is to have a routine and stick to it. Even though you may not be tired because the clock says 9 p.m. and your body feels like it’s 8 p.m., it’s important to put your pet to bed at its normal time. Let your dog outside and try to get them to relax at their regular time. They may stare at you quizzically and tell you they’re not ready. Don’t listen to them. The sooner you lock into the new schedule, the sooner they'll be acclimatized and rested. And who couldn’t use a little more sleep after "springing forward?"
  • If you have a pet that has difficulty sleeping or is extremely sensitive to time changes, ask your veterinarian about using a nutritional supplement such as melatonin or relaxing scents.
  • Longer walks or additional playtimes, even for cats, can help improve sleep quality and restore healthy sleep patterns.
  • Most cats seem to ignore our schedules anyway and won’t have any issue with you tipping the clock one way or another.
  • Meals should be fed at roughly the same time each day, year round. Avoid high carbohydrate or sugary foods or treats, especially two to three hours before bedtime.
  • I’m a big advocate of daily routines, especially morning rituals. Wake, walk, feed, and walk again before leaving for work or school. Dogs and cats are true “creatures of habit” and relish routines.

Because our pets are closely connected to the environment, the prolonged days of spring and summer naturally encourage them to become more active. Many dogs and cats will behave friskier after the spring solstice. I call this the “Springtime Rally” in many of my older patients, as they seem to gain renewed vigor as the weather warms. 

The take home message is to be aware that your response to daylight savings time directly impacts your pet. Grumble if you choose, but take solace knowing your pet welcomes the time change. They welcome longer days because that means more playtime, longer warm naps, and extra time spent together. And that’s always good.