Make daylight savings time less stressful for pets
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.
In most of the United States, a Sunday in the fall or spring is usually the beginning
or end of daylight savings time. This mechanism for bringing more light to farmers
and children waiting at rural bus stops can leave city dwellers off to work and back
in the dark. Daylight savings time means scheduled activities are set back one full
hour in autumn or forward one full hour in spring, including the set times we may
feed our pets.
This change may be upsetting to companion animals that are aware only of a
sudden shift in feeding times. The disruption in schedule will no doubt stress your
animals and pets, most notably some dogs and most cats, will actively “petition”
for meals at their “normal” hour. With daylight savings time making our spring
days start even later this time of year, pets may be happy breakfast and dinner
are served earlier and stressed that food is not on offer when expected in the fall.
And while, our dogs may not be as vocal when stressed, cat owners know that kitty
complaining can reach new heights when food does not arrive on time. People tell
me those plaintive meows can make them crazy, well how do you think kitty feels
about all of this? Daylight savings time affects more than just our personal routines
it affects the routines of the pets in our lives as well.
There are a number of things to pay attention to here, with the number one being
the issue of choice and control. As much as we love our companion animals we
most definitely deprive them of much of the choice and control over the resources
in their lives; when to eat, what to eat, where to eliminate, in what, when it’s
cleaned, when to go out, when not to, what to do, what not to do and with what,
what to play with and who, where to sleep and on what and who, the list goes on
and on. Being deprived of choice and control is inherently stressful for all animals
and with a resource so integral to survival such as food, the stress is greatly
All animals have internal or biological clocks and are subject to circadian rhythms
which relate to light and dark cycles in their environment and impact behavioral,
cognitive and physical changes in the animal. Our pets do adapt to our waking and
sleeping patterns if we maintain them in our environments. A 2013 study which
compared nighttime behaviors of cats housed indoors with cats let out for the
evening (9 pm - 8 am) found that the indoor cats had established activity patterns
of rest and sleep which were in concert with their humans, the outdoor cats were,
you guessed it—mainly active at night. Another note on circadian rhythms worth
mentioning is that they are not a strict 24 hour time span; this rhythm ranges with
species and individuals from 23.5 hours to 24.5 hours more or less. Mechanical time
clocks which measure out an exact span of hours may not be keeping time with an
actual day set by circadian and biological time keeping. Along with the anticipation
of looking forward to the event, (which is also a documented factor influencing the
cat’s behavior) this time discrepancy may help us in understanding why some of
our pets may always be on the “earlier” side when it comes to reminding us of
mealtimes. It certainly goes to explaining why daylight savings time is a huge
interruption in schedules.
Cats and dogs are crepuscular animals, which means they are naturally most active
during twilight or dawn and dusk compared to humans who are diurnal, meaning
most active during daylight hours. Domesticated animals being dependent upon us
for food become accustomed to our diurnal routines. We feed according to our own
patterns of when breakfast and dinner should be. Dogs being famously more
obliging usually appear less put off by timing changes. While the change may be
vexing for them the accommodation for their humans is usually more apparent.
Why felines are more affected by waiting for a meal may be due to a number of
factors. During the history of our domestication of the cat we have depended on
this animal to partly procure its own food whether for utility, nourishment or for
its own sport. Cats are focused predators with superior hunting skills. Cats hunt
for mice to "help" us alleviate a rodent “problem”, for a meal or for the fun of it.
Foraging and/or hunting account for a significant portion of how wild animals
spend their time, leaving our pets with a whole lot of free time with little to fill it
save for what we provide. To offset boredom and provide for the opportunity for
your cat or dog to indulge those natural foraging behaviors, feeding either the
morning, evening meal or both with a puzzle feeder can be intrinsically satisfying,
from the time spent and appeal of the chewing dogs love and need to do to and
finding yummy kibble and treats in a Kong to the joy of the "hunt" when kitty
bats delicious kibble piece by delectable piece from a rolling feeder to giving your
pet that something to do that solves problem, provides control over objects in their
environment and adds to your pet's overall well being.
Along with puzzle feeders, keep routine times to feed pets, especially when those
times are complimentary with what the animals might choose for themselves,
offer the best possible food for satisfaction (if your pet won't eat their food, chances
are they don't like the taste), this too can help to lessen other stresses surrounding
feeding times. For cats and dogs this means looking at their crepuscular nature,
being most active before dusk and dawn (probably when the best hunting is).
Remember, while dogs are omnivores, like us, cats are “obligate carnivores” so feed
the best possible meat based diet, no vegetarian formulas and do feed early in the
morning and early in the evening to translate to the best feeding times for feline
and canine natures.
Focus and anticipation carry over to meal time expectations. When observing
stereotypic behavior in captive tigers (an indicator of poor welfare) pacing prior
to meal times is not classified as being stereotypic rather as “anticipatory.” This
behavior is also apparent in the intertwining anticipatory dance your own cat
may do while you open food cans or fill kibble bowls and when your puppy may
nudge or carry that food bowl towards you.
Now if you are leaving dry food down for your cat or dog at all times ("ad libitum"
or free) your pet and yourself can be blissfully oblivious to the whole spring
forward fall back routine. For free feeders, do raise the enrichment factor and
give your pet more to do by feeding with a puzzle feeder for all meals and not just
treats.) For the rest of us it will soon become apparent that your cat just did not
get the memo about daylight savings time. Depending on whatever hour kitty
expects breakfast expect a reminder at the pre-daylight savings time hour, you
know the reminders: the pat on the cheek, the plaintive cry, the books toppling
off the bookshelf.
Ease yourself and your pets into this new routine by adjusting feeding times
gradually. For instance, depending on whether you have lost or gained an hour
begin with the same time minus the time change to make your adjustment.
So, if dinner is usually served at 6 PM start serving at 5:15 PM for two days
followed by two days at 5:30 PM then serve two days at 5:45 PM and finally
at 6 PM. A breakfast feeding at 7 AM can be adjusted by serving two days at
6:15 AM then two days at 6:30 AM followed by two days at 6:45 AM until
you are serving at 7 AM. (Sounds overwhelming? Consider using an
automated feeder to help you with the time transition but do phase it out
for the much preferred puzzle feeder for needed enrichment and maximum
pet satisfaction during
A little flexibility for your pets in when you are serving and scheduling
mealtimes during this transition will make the change less nerve-racking for
your pets and less demanding for you.
Piccione, G., Marafioti, S., Giannetto, Panzera, M., Fazio, F. (2013) Daily rythm of total activity
patterns in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) maintained in two different housing conditions.
Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Published online January 7, 2013.
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|"The disruption in schedule may
no doubt stress your animals
and pets, most notably some
dogs and most cats, will actively
“petition” for meals at their
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