Written by Anna Hollisey
Twice a year, in countries all over the world, people reset their clocks and adjust their daily routines. How does it affect mammals’ biological functions, and – the big question – how do our dogs respond to daylight saving time?
It’s been practised for over 100 years. Daylight Saving Time was originally proposed by a New Zealand man who wanted to enjoy more sunshine time after work. Officially adopted in Europe and the US in the early twentieth century, Daylight Saving Time was intended as an energy-saving measure.
Doubters argue that the practice causes human and environmental problems, and the states of Hawaii and Arizona have stopped it altogether. But for now, Daylight Saving Time affects most of us – including our dogs!
Dogs can’t read clocks to see when it’s time to eat or go to bed. But they still seem to know if you’re late serving up their supper. How?
Like people, dogs have a built-in circadian rhythm. It’s a body clock which triggers biological processes like hunger, digestion, and sleep. It’s common to lots of mammals, actually – that’s why you don’t usually see foxes during the day.
The circadian rhythm is internal, but it’s affected by our environment and especially by daylight. During the day, light signals waking hours and keeps us feeling alert. Nightfall triggers the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is why many people prefer dim lighting during the evening, as their bodies prepare for an 8-hour shutdown.
Research suggests that circadian rhythm also helps to keep metabolism and blood sugar regulation operating at the right times during the day, pausing certain functions while the body is asleep at night.
Our dogs find comfort in routine. It’s understandable when they depend on their human owners for food and exercise; they have very little control over meeting their own needs and they rely on our attentive care. Missing a meal, or being left alone for longer than expected, can cause extreme distress to our dogs.
Routine means that their biological functions (such as metabolism) will become regular and convenient. It’s one reason why dogs have become such good pets – their internal clock can be programmed to require feeding, exercise, and urination at predictable times. For instance, routine helps our dogs to sleep all night without barking to go out in the yard!
When we humans suddenly adjust our daytime routine by an hour, dogs can be disturbed. They could be waiting an extra hour to be let outside to urinate (that’s a long time for a full bladder to wait). Or their supper could be an hour later or earlier (which means their digestive system is active when it should be restful).
As a result, when Daylight Saving Time kicks in, our dogs may suffer from anxiety, sleeplessness, or disruption to their digestive system.
Dogs can adjust to Daylight Saving time, but you can help them to avoid consequences by taking it slow and steady. (If you noticed they had gastro-problems last time the clocks changed, it’s worth trying this!)
One or two weeks ahead of the clock-change, begin to shift their mealtimes, exercise-times, and waking-times by 5-10 minutes each day. Keep track of your changes by writing them down – it can get confusing! By the end of your programme, you should have brought your dog’s routine into line with the “new” time with minimum disruption.
We have lots of helpful content on the blog to support you and your dog, whatever difficulties you’re facing. See Dr. Jamie’s top tips on creating a successful routine for your dog. At times like Christmas, when your dog’s routine is disrupted, there are things you can do to protect them from distress. Learn how to help a restless dog to settle at night, and how probiotics help to support a healthy routine.