How To Tell an HO You Think Their Pet Might Be Unwell

I’m currently on a great sit, in a really nice house with a lovely dog. The HOs are a sweet couple who dote on their old dog. However, the dog has some mannerisms which are worrying me and I really think she should be checked out by a vet. The HOs think they’re just personality traits and maybe they are… But in their shoes, I’d want to be sure.
But I don’t want to offend them by implying they’re not taking good care of their dog.
Hints? Ideas?

Probably, the vet could not do more than giving a diagnosis.

You: “You know…this is really ringing a bell for me. I was on a sit once with a dog that did the exact same thing, and it turned out he was (X odd disease), which can eventually cause (Y serious issue) and just needed (Z certain medication or treatment) which totally helped! I’ve been wondering if that might be what’s going on with Fido! Gosh, he’s a great ol’ guy!”

Google the symptom you’re seeing to fill in X, Y, Z.


HO: “Which one of your sits was that?”

Why would they even ask? It’s an offhand remark, which they can take or not. The OP was trying to come up with a way to bring it up without being insulting. That’s one way. They could frame it as “I had a friend once whose dog…”. Why does it matter? I’m telling a white lie, hoping to engage the owner without making them dig their heels in because they feel insulted, in aid of a dog who is at their mercy.


I had this recently where I simply mentioned it in my end of sit wrap up: “We noticed kitty was doing a behaviour that could be a sign of asthma, just wanted to let you know in case you wanted to get it checked out.”

And then we let it go. It can be difficult, but all we can do as an outside source is share our opinion. The owner has the responsibility to follow up or not. And whether or not they do isn’t our business.

Obviously if a pet was showing life-threatening symptoms while in my care I would go to the vet, but otherwise all I can do is share my observations.


Years ago I was sitting a friend’s cat. The friend had mentioned that the cat hadn’t been eating much. He’d taken the cat to the vet. The vet had done a teeth cleaning and said no worries. As soon as I saw the cat I knew. The behavior also – hiding mostly. He was shy weird guy who didn’t know me well, but this was off. I told my friend as soon as he got back to go another vet ASAP. It was cancer. Pretty advanced. The cat was put down. My friend feels guilty about it to this day.

When you live with a pet – or a person – you don’t always see the changes. Someone new to the situation does. I would tell the owner what you observe. I would be very specific. I would phrase things like: I’ve noticed that___________. Has he always _______ or is this new?

There may be things someone is well aware of, especially with aging pets. I used to find it annoying when strangers would comment on my elderly dog’s gait. She had some arthritus. It was being dealt with. Thank you very much. But there is a difference between the obese pet that the owner knows is obese and is working on it with the vet and the owner who never weighs the pet and is completely unaware that the pet now weighs 50% more than it used to.


Hi @fledermaus could you just send a text saying “hey, I am noticing Xyz…is there anything I should be doing? Is Xyz usual? If you think a vet visit is in order, I’m happy to help with that…”

remember to ask if they have an account set up at the vet or something should that come to pass…

Keep us posted.
I appreciate your concern for their pets…

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I did the exact same thing recently. I didn’t bother them on vacation. I took some observations down- like breathing rate during rest and exercise- and put some possible causes and left it for them at end of sit.
It’s not our responsibility, I’ve told owners how easy inhalers are, but it’s their pet and they can decide

I really like that idea. The only slight hitch is that because I’ll be leaving before the HOs get home, I’ll have to put it in writing… And that “previous sit” white lie is much easier to drop into general chit-chat than put on paper. But not impossible… I also like it because although I haven’t genuinely had first-hand experience of the kind of health problems the dog might be demonstrating, I do know from my general reading that the indications might not be great.

As for “Which sit was that?” … Plenty of us sit through agencies other than THS. It might even have been an informal sit for a friend. It doesn’t matter.

What is the problem with sending a straight message?

Just wait until after the review if it could be sensitive. That is what I did when I wanted to tell the HO that the puppy was outgrowing its harness.


My POV: If I think a pet might be unwell, I bring it up when I see the problem. That’s because I don’t want the pet to continue to be sick or worsen, and/or suffer. Plus, what if it sickens significantly while I’m sitting?

Bigger picture, we all have the opportunity to advocate for pets — they can’t speak for themselves. If a pet parent can’t see that I’m raising something out of concern, that’s unfortunate, but I’ll live.

A few things I’ve flagged during sits, for example:

• One of my elderly sit dogs favored one of his legs, so maybe he’d just injured it. How would I know? His humans said it was an existing issue.

• One of my sit cats developed a sore on her head. They can get infected, and if her humans had wanted me to apply antibacterial ointment or such, I would have. They said she scratched herself like that routinely, no treatment needed.

• One of my sit dogs had a pre-existing cough and it started worsening despite five rounds of medication daily. Her humans asked me to start tracking how many times a day on average she had coughing fits, because maybe we’d have to increase her dosage. Within a few days, she had catastrophic seizures that ended up with her having to be put down. Her coughing was connected to her long-standing heart condition.

In all such cases, if I were their primary humans, I’d want to know. And I wouldn’t take it askance, because why wouldn’t I want a sitter who’s careful with my pets?


I sat for a family whose lost one of their cats shortly after a sitter had been there…
Some speculation of care but not going further…

So when my sit came up with them/cat a couple months later, I was hyper vigilant. I noted the kitty was not drinking water and was in diabetes remission.

I started putting water in with the food but also informed the family. They appreciated the update. Said the water in food was ok but they were sure she was drinking.

I lined the water up to a marking in the bowl and at the end of the day… no water gone.

All worked out long after my sit as far as I know but I definitely wanted the family to be informed and wanted their input.

As a host…I want to be contacted if there is concern…not from a place of “your pet is xyz…” but rather…“I’m noticing abc…is that usually?”


Yup, similarly, I sat a cat who’d nearly died a year before, from colitis. So I closely monitored how much he ate and drank and how he peed and poo’d, and kept my hosts informed, because it was the first time they’d gone away for so long since he’d been sick and they were anxious. I could totally understand, because I would’ve been worried in their place.


Thanks very much for the thoughts. The trouble is, apart from some “mannerisms”, the dog seems OK. e.g She whines a lot, for no obvious reason. The HOs said she’s just “chatty” - and sometimes, the whining does seem to be just - communication. But sometimes it has a tone which I associate with discomfort and that worries me. I’m not as experienced with dogs as with cats, so I’m hesitant of seeming like I’m creating drama out of nothing. But I’ve decided to take @pietkuip 's advice and drop the HOs a message - after review stage. They’re caring people, but they’re also young and possibly not much more experienced with dogs than I am. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t pipe up and it turned out something really was wrong.


As a home owner, I would appreciate a note from our sitters if they’re worried. I would rather spend time on a video chat, if it is possible to do so, so that I can see what is going on and provide advice. I also would like to suggest that you ask who is the emergency contact, someone who is familiar with the pet, and more local, if there needs to be more in-person attention, if a point of contact is not indicated in the guide. I have my daughter and my neighbor, for example, who are on call should there be concerns. I would not want a sitter to have to make difficult decisions and incur costs. Pets have their own peculiar habits so I also am perhaps a bit too exhaustive but I give a detailed description of my pets and their habits. To me, if you’re worried, you’re worried. My responsibility as a pet owner is to reassure you and to give you advice so that you have a good sit. Hope my thoughts are helpful.