Severely Underfed Cat? - How to bring up to HO?

I just started a sit watching a cat that both looks far too thin, and the amount of food is far under the amount recommended on the can.
This cat looks thin enough that if I found her on the street, I would call her malnourished. According to the HO, she is also very food motivated, will get into any food that is left out, begs frequently, and will shred any paper or plastic bag that smells like food. HO said that I can give her as many treats as I want while she is away - she doesn’t care. I am concerned that the cat doesn’t need treats - she needs more real food.
I looked on the can when feeding the cat her dinner. Following the HO’s instructions gives the cat the recommended amount of food for an animal HALF her weight. I am wondering if this may be a misunderstanding on the HO’s part - I found a couple of larger cans in the cabinet that would be appropriate using the HO’s feeding instructions, but the small cans she is using now seem far too small.

I read in another thread that most sitters would not say anything when witnessing extreme overfeeding. I don’t feel comfortable not saying anything. Nor do I feel comfortable continuing to feed this cat what seems to be far too little. I like to be very strict in following the pet owner’s instructions for all animal and home care, so this leaves me no option that feels good to me but to bring it up to the HO.
I would like to recommend that the HO discuss how much they are feeding their cat with their vet. Any suggestions on how to do that in a way that might minimize defensiveness?

Thank you!


You could try something non-confrontational like, “I gave Kitty x percentage from the can as per your instructions, but it didn’t seem like very much food. I thought I better confirm, were those instructions based on the small cans or the large cans?”

It might trigger the HO to realize their instructions are outdated or to at least think about it.


I had a similar issue with a housesit for 2 cats (not on this platform) who were supposed to eat far less than stated on the tins. I messaged the owner to check the amount she had written on the notes was correct and she confirmed it was. I explained, as you mention, that according to the tin they should be eating far more. I received no response to that and left the sit before they returned. I can only hope the owner took note and has increased the cats’ food intake.

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My dog is a healthy weight according to my vet. She doesn’t get anywhere near what the feeding guide on her food bag recommends. Every pet is different. She’s also food insecure and begs a lot. She gets a lot of tiny treats during the day. Friends kept her for 3 weeks. They went through the food, the extra week of food I left if I got stranded, an entire box of treats, and was eating their cats food and a new box of treats when I got home.

She had gained 4 pounds in 3 weeks, a 10% gain, and was visibly fatter. Vet had me food restrict her to get her weight back into range.

Verify the instructions with the HO. You’ve got a perfect chance since there are two can sizes in the home. You can even say that your reason for asking is that the cat looks a little thin.


How long is the sit?

I have told an HO very gently (but by text message) after the sit and after reviews that they might consider getting their dog a larger size harness, that they might not have noticed that he gradually had grown out of it.

And they appreciated that I had said that.


I’d agree to check the breed. One of those naked sphinx cats (or a rex cat) might eat less and look skinnier than, say, a hearty tabby. But then yes very good advice from everyone to use the different sized cans as an excuse to ask!


@Elsfaire thank you for not ignoring your concern. As others have said, amounts on cans/bags are arbitrary - how much food an animal needs depends on many factors - including how many rodents they might be snacking on! But if this kitty is thin and clearly very hungry, I’m glad (and so will she be!) you’re raising it.

Wellbeing issues can arise, from minor to serious. Sometimes it’s as subtle as owners appearing to misinterpret animals’ behaviour in ways that have an impact on wellbeing.

I offer observations in a friendly, gentle way and HOs don’t (outwardly) take offence. Often they see sitters as animal experts! We might not all be that, but our experience clearly counts for something. Then of course it’s up to them what they do - except in cases of obvious cruelty, which I’ve never heard of on TH.

We recently met a couple whose sitter had alerted them to a potential thyroid problem in an obese dog. They got it checked out, and their beloved dog is still with them, three years on and counting. They couldn’t be more grateful…

I hope it works out well. Let us know how it goes…


Yes yes yes. Cats can have the same thyroid disorders that humans can. I know this because I have Graves’ disease. I was in Milan and I managed to leave my anti thyroid medication at home. Lucky me. I was staying with a host who had a cat with Graves disease and I was able to take the cats meds until I could get a prescription!

Graves causes hyperthyroidism and weight loss. It’s not inconceivable that the cat has an undiagnosed issue.


This is exactly why I try to adhere to the HO instructions. I am not a vet, and as a (human) nutritionist, I know that everyone’s metabolism is different.

I had another sit with a very overweight cat (due to another cat in the household having a medical problem) who was also extremely calorie restricted, with good reason. The HO had complained that the cat had stopped losing weight. After the sit, I reassured the HO that I had followed her feeding instructions exactly, then mentioned that with humans, I had a number of clients who, before coming to see me, had restricted calories too far when trying to lose weight and their body went into conservation mode. This made them maintain weight even at fewer calories than needed for basal metabolism. I suggested that she talk with her vet about the possibility that this may have happened with her cat. But that overweight cat did not act anywhere near as hungry as this one does.


I can use the can sizes as an excuse to ask, though it will make me look like an idiot. There was a portion of a remaining can left in the fridge for last night, and the HO did show me at the handoff. I was still frazzled by having been late for traffic and worried I was making her and her partner late for their flight, so it did not occur to me to ask that the can was so small.

As a nutritionist for humans, I am very understanding of bioindividuality and everyone having different metabolisms. That is part of why I try to be so strict about following the HO’s instructions about feeding - they have had plenty of time to sort that out and optimize it. If this cat were healthy-appearing and not so thin and bony, I would not question the small amount of food regardless of what the container said.

But I do need to ask, and get over my anxiety about making the HO defensive.


I think you can get by with using the can size difference as a reason to ask the question. You can say that your concern is that there is an undiagnosed medical issue as the cat appears thin and ask if she wants you to take the cat to the vet.

Yes yes to the massive diversity of circumstances. I’m sitting here with a T4 of zero. Just the thought of food and I’ve gained 18 pounds in 2 months.

Hi @Elsfaire
As someone that has looked after 10’s of cats for decades I appreciate your concern. I think you need to raise the issue carefully as there may be a medical reason or genetics the cat is thin. One of my brother’s cats was always very thin. He had lots of tests done to begin with but everything was fine. She remained that way her whole life yet her sister from the same litter my brother also has is the complete opposite.
Hopefully the cat is ok.

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I will say that the can feeding recommendations can be way off. I feed my cats canned food exclusively. They are bordering on overweight and I feed less than the recommended amount. I had a sit a few weeks ago where a cat was overweight. No need to mention it as the owners were clearly aware, and working on it! I might have had some advice based on my own experience, but no need to give it.

In your case, you don’t know what the pet parent knows or doesn’t know. It is entirely possible the cat has lost weight over time due to a medical issue and if the pet parent does NOT weigh the cat then they might not have noticed. If you are concerned that you are literally starving the cat during the sit and want to feed the cat more, I would definitately run it by the owner.

You can do this tactfully and carefully. “I notice that ____ looks bony. (Be specific: There isn’t a lot of muscle mass in his backside.) Has he lost weight recently?” This might prompt the owner to say, “He’s always been skinny.” Or “Maybe, I haven’t noticed.” You can take it from there. Maybe ask if there is a scheduled wellness check coming up soon. Maybe ask if it would be okay to add some more food. Don’t act like an expert. Don’t give unsolcited advice. Just state what you observe.

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So I texted the HO, apologizing for asking for clarification and making the excuse that as a nutritionist it is hard for me to not double-check when things don’t seem to add up to me in case there is an undiagnosed health issue (Thanks for that suggestion, @anon42826925!). I mentioned all the things I was seeing, including 2 different can sizes, and asked her to confirm the feeding instructions.

HO said that her vet has reassured her multiple times over the last 2 years that the cat is being fed the appropriate amount and she is just small, and said, “but that’s why I have no issue with her getting lots of snacks.”
Personally, I still have doubts and if it were my cat, I would want a second opinion from another vet, or to ask questions differently. But as long as the HO is aware and the vet is overseeing the situation, I feel better about following the HO instructions, including the “lots of snacks.” :wink:


Well done. You can do more, but it might give the owner pause for thought

Just tactfully but firmly point this out. Are you able to weigh the cat? Collect your evidence and present it in a sensitive way. The cat’s welfare is paramount.

Yes, I weighed the cat. Digital scale in the apartment- I weighed using the method of weighing myself first, then myself holding the cat. I wanted to see the weight before I even tried to bring it up.

I did not need to mention actual weight to the HO. In another reply I stated how I brought it up to her. She is quite aware, in communication with her vet, who has reassured her multiple times that the cat is fine.
You can see other details in that reply.

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It seems to me that the HO is giving “lots of snacks” because she, too, thinks the cat is underfed. I think I’d try to lightly and tactfully suggest another vet’s opinion might be in order, or perhaps she could inform the vet that the cat is getting lots of snacks, something to give pause.

If it were me, I would just play it very nicely and say “Shoot. Sometimes I think our pets know more than the people writing the information on the silly labels. I was going through the same thing with one one of my cats, where he always seemed to be hungry and was constantly pawing at bags of food and even plastic bags, like he was still hungry. And I questioned it, but it wasn’t until I spoke to my Vet that I realized that the labels aren’t always accurate and it’s really more about what each pet needs. She told me to increase his intake. I was so glad that I asked. Problem solved. Now he’s on the right track!

That takes the possibility of her need to feel defensive out of the equation. Hope this helps. Good luck.

I’m sitting for the opposite, a vast cat, she must be 50%, maybe 100% overweight. She does whine for food but when you ignore her, and keep out of the kitchen, she stops, and settles down. The owner says they’re trying to reduce her weight - if so either it’s not effective or she was even larger before. Welcome pack says this cat never sees the vet (the other one has health issues, and does see the vet) - that doesn’t seem a good sign - I’m concerned for the cat’s welfare but not quite enough to report the owner - what would others do? The owner is clearly aware there’s an issue but isn’t taking it seriously enough IMO.
Also another dirty and over-stuffed house :frowning: