Spring Forward: Preparing Your Pet for the Clock Change

DrPaul -

Spring Forward: Preparing Your Pet for the Clock Change

The clocks are due to change again for British Summer Time on Sunday March 31st 2024 but your pet thrives on its routine, so what can you do?


The change


The spring change sees the clocks move forwards an hour and, as well as affecting us humans with what’s often known as ‘social jet lag’ (Professor Kevin Morgan, Loughborough University) losing that hour during the night can affect our pets too.


This is because popular pets, like dogs, cats and rabbits, have very similar internal body clocks to us humans. Known as the circadian rhythm, this 24-hour body clock aligns with sunlight and the production of melatonin (the hormone associated with sleep). Whether we’re a pet or a person, this combination stimulates our natural rhythms for sleeping and waking.


The routine


As our pets rely on us for the timings of daily routines, such as mealtimes, playtimes and bedtimes, it stands to reason that the clock change might affect us all. Although we can clock-watch, our pets won’t spot the difference in the actual time but they’ll instantly notice changes to their usual routines. For example …




Dogs generally enjoy feeding and walking at regular times so an hour’s change is enough to push the schedule along in a way that’s confusing. The clock might show 8am, time for that usual morning walk but, because their internal clock hasn’t changed, our dogs may remain snoozing. Additionally, after gradually lighter mornings since the winter solstice, the clocks going forward often means an initial return to darker mornings and artificial light at wake-up time - another confusion!


None of this is ideal if routines for toileting, feeding, garden play and walking are organised to fit our own work-eat-play-sleep schedule. When your first activity in the morning is letting the dog outside for toileting, this can create issues if the dog is still firmly napping! Then there’s breakfast and confusion when you go to work because, to your dog, all these activities are happening ‘early’. This may cause anxiety and even unwanted behaviours - particularly if they haven’t eaten or toileted before you leave the house, because as far as the dog is concerned, it’s not time yet!




Cats tend to be more relaxed about their routines - but they’re always aware of their mealtimes! With the clock going forward this spring, you’ll be bringing breakfast forward and interrupting their sleep cycle.


Small furries


Outdoor furries such as rabbits and guinea pigs are likely to adjust quite well, as they have direct exposure to the daylight which dictates those circadian rhythms.


Supporting your pet


Many of us humans feel a little ‘out of sorts’ as a result of clock change and this can be no different for our pets. Their rhythms may also be upset and changes to routines may cause them anxiety, physiological and psychological stress, particularly when an hour is lost.


Happily though, it’s possible to help your pet to adapt by making an early start for the upcoming change. As the hour moving forward will make our routines start earlier, stick to the usual schedule as much as possible but start making small adjustments beforehand:


  • Depending on your own routines, activities and your pets’ personalities, adjusting timings early on, at least a week before clock change, can make a real difference.
  • For instance, begin shifting the bedtime routine by starting 10 to 15 minutes earlier than usual. Whether it starts with your dog’s last walk or toilet trip, a kibble and cat flap check for the cat, a handful of hay and locking up the rabbit hutch etc, aim to start your pet’s nightly routine slightly earlier.
  • To compensate, on the week before the change begin waking / getting up 10 -15 minutes earlier and starting morning routines promptly.


Shifting the timings in that week before the change means you - and your pet - will be ready for the clocks going forwards at the end of March without having to shift a whole hour at once, which can lead to stress and anxiety.


Remember too, if your pet is on medication which relies on specific, regular timing, speak to your vet for individual advice before the change occurs.


If you experience issues after clock change, that extra hour of daylight at the end of the day might help. Dogs particularly may struggle with the spring clock change, but taking a longer (or extra) evening walk in the daylight can help reduce stress or anxiety and improve behaviour and wellbeing.


A few extra cuddles may be needed to alleviate confusion but, by taking small steps beforehand, hopefully both you and your pet can avoid that ‘jet lag’ wrench to circadian rhythms this clock change and spring forward into summer without stress.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.