With daylight savings time making our fall days start even later this is the time of year when I hear from cat owners that kitty complaining has reached new heights, for food that is. People tell me those plaintive meows are making 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 is more apparent in a species more recently domesticated such as a cat.
With a resource so integral to survival such as food the stress is greatly amplified. The cat cannot fulfill the desire to eat, the need to eat or a method to procure nourishment on his own and is entirely dependent on the when, what, where and how of the owner. 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. Keeping routine times to feed pets especially when those times are complimentary with what the animals might choose for themselves along with offering the best possible food will lessen the stresses surrounding feeding times. For cats this means looking at their crepuscular nature, being most active before dusk and dawn (probably when the best hunting is). 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 natures.
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 (which just passed and may have occasioned my friends’ notice of disrupted mealtime complaining) is a huge interruption in schedules.
Reset incompatible feeding expectations by keeping mealtimes the same time each and every single day and for each feeding, this is paramount to stress reduction. Begin now to alter changed or erratic schedules through a span of 15 minute adjustment periods over the course of a week. For example, with this month’s autumn daylight savings change all activities were set back one hour including cat feeding times which meant that a cat fed at 7AM was now being fed a full hour later. Allow for adapting to the change by feeding 45 minutes earlier for the first two days, then 30 minutes earlier for the third and fourth day and 15 minutes earlier for the fifth and sixth day to recalibrate timing. (You can change the increments to shorter time spans than 15 minutes just know that doing so will call for a longer span of days to fit the adjustment period into.) Offset the stresses of schedule changes by providing for more interactive play time in the evenings. A minimum of five minutes of play with a fishing wand toy (experiment to determine preference and remember to draw objects away from and across your cat’s line of vision) will really do wonders.
Domestic cats are descended from the African wild cat. This species is more territorial compared to the Scottish or European wild cats which made the African wild cat the more likely candidate for domestication. Francis Galton, writing about domestication in 1865, noted that the domestic cat was not necessarily gregarious or easy to take care of but “retained by its extraordinary adhesion of the house in which it is reared.” This extreme attachment to place comes with attachment to what occurs in that place. The cat’s welfare is directly and forcefully impacted by routine and environmental events. A ground breaking study done in 2011 found that disruption to routine resulted in sickness behaviors in healthy cats and that providing an enriched environment to sick cats resulted in a significant decrease in the number of sickness behaviors and/or symptoms exhibited. The study found that keeping the time the same every single day for each feeding was paramount to stress reduction. Other factors were providing for the same caregiver, playing classical music (no rap or heavy metal please) offering playtime including the interactive kind, keeping clean litter boxes in the same locations and avoiding manual restraint.
Putting together a recipe for cat contentedness includes providing an enriched environment for your feline companion with consistency and routine. To get there make sure your home offers cat perches like window seats or cat towers, enough cat scratchers, classical music, toys to play with and human interaction—make time for cat play and petting time and pay attention to what time kitty gets to eat to make everyone in the family happy.