Q: Why is this app called the “Fat Dog Diet”? Frankly, I think it’s a little offensive.

I agree that it’s offensive to call anyone “fat.” Our dogs, however, don’t really care so much. All they know is they don’t feel as good when they’re overweight. Plus, as plenty of veterinarians have learned, there’s nothing like using the word “fat” or "obese" to let a dog owner know we mean business. It gets results!

Q: The app says my 12 year-old dog needs only 5 minutes of exercise a day. That doesn't sound like very much.

When most veterinarians talk about exercise in terms of minutes, we're talking about really active, aerobic exercises like ...

  • Playing fetch
  • Playing keep-away games
  • Playing with other pets
  • Walking or jogging
  • Running off leash
  • Swimming (this is great for arthritic dogs)
  • Doing tricks (for low-calorie treats, of course)
  • Playing tug of war (careful with teeth, though!)

Remember, five minutes is a whole lot for a couch potato. And as your dog loses weight, the app will automatically increase the amount of exercise he or she needs.

Q: Should I feed my dog the app's recommended amount once a day or split it into two feedings?

Always defer to your veterinarian’s recommendation on this issue. But most veterinarians believe there’s little metabolic difference between feeding dogs once a day and twice a day unless very specific health concerns are in play.

Q: Do I have to pick just one food and one treat? What if he likes a combination?

I know, I know. The trouble with technology is that it’s not always easy to make it do exactly what you want it to. Adding another variable would have made the calculations much more complex. I promise I’ll work on this functionality in advance of The Fat Dog Diet’s next overhaul.

Q: I can’t find my dog’s food (or treat) listed in the app’s menu? What should I do?

So sorry! I tried, but it’s not easy to include everyone on the first go-‘round. All you have to do is call the company and ask them to give you your brand’s calorie count per cup or container. (Check out the "Call Pet Food Manufacturers" page for their telephone numbers.)

Then all you have to do is select a food that approximates yours in calories. Just be sure you select from the dry foods if you feed kibble or from the wet foods if you feed a canned or pouched diet. And if you feed a wet diet, be sure you’re comparing calories for the same sized containers!

And be sure to contact me and let me know that The Fat Dog Diet is missing your brand. I'll include it in the app's next build.

Q: I cook for my dog and I’m not sure how many calories are in his food. How can I find out?

Congratulations on all the hard work you do! I happen to know it’s not easy to cook pet food at home. Hopefully you’ll have gotten your recipe from your veterinarian or even from a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, in which case you might already have a calorie count available (if you ask nicely).

If you don’t have a calorie count, the first thing you should do is refer to your recipe and make a list of all the ingredients and their amounts. Armed with this data, head over to the National Institute of Health’s calorie counting PDF so you can add up all the calories in your ingredients and divide by the total number of cups the recipe yields.

Now all you have to do is head over to the “Homemade or Miscellaneous Food” list in the Dry Foods category and select the one that comes closest to your food’s calorie count. 

Q: One and seven-eighths cup? Are you serious? How do I measure that?

A: Unfortunately, using exact measurements like these is how weight loss works best. In this case, all you have to do to get to the right amount is to put two cups of food in the bowl and remove one-eighth cup before you set it on the floor. And consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to divide a can into eighths!

Remember: Being persnickety pays off!

Q: Why won’t the app let me include an age lower than 1?

A: You’ll also notice there are no puppy diets included in the list of foods. That’s because this app is designed only for healthy, adult dogs. Puppies have a long list of nutritional concerns that are outside the scope of this app. As we learn more about pediatric nutritional needs and as this app gets more sophisticated, puppy stuff may well work its way into The Fat Dog Diet.

Q: Why does the Body Condition Score (BCS) only allow me to choose from a scale of 3.1 to 5.0?

A: The Fat Dog Diet is only for dogs who need to lose weight. So even though the BCS scale goes from 1 to 5 (3 is ideal), this app is only for dogs with a starting weight between 3.1 and 5.0. Makes sense, right?

Q: When I use the Body Condition Score scale on the app, my dog’s target weight is different than what my veterinarian recommends. Whom should I believe?

A: Definitely believe your veterinarian! The BCS scale included in The Fat Dog Diet is a tool designed to get you in the right ballpark. But nothing beats the recommendation of a real live veterinarian!

Q: Why does the Fat Dog Diet recommend zero treats for my dog?

A: It does this because the treat you selected is too high in calories. No treat should ever make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. If it did, your dog probably wouldn’t be eating a balanced diet –– and that’s definitely not healthy!

Q: My dog is SO used to getting treats. But it’s not just an indulgence. It’s part of his training, too. How can I feed treats and still get him to lose weight?

Consider changing your treat selection to meet his treat habits. For example, many of the “human food” treats listed in the app include multiple tidbits in one serving. Does air-popped popcorn sound appetizing? Cheerios?

Broccoli? Carrot nibblers? Pick those instead!

Q: I can’t stand looking at her when she’s obviously upset that her dinner isn’t as big as it usually is. What can I do?

A: Redirect her attention! Here’s how: Offer a little play session at the end of the meal, introduce a new toy, or initiate a cuddle session. You’ll be surprised at how quickly eating habits change when simple canine-human interactivity gets added to the mix!

Q: My dog isn’t losing weight! What am I doing wrong?

A: Probably nothing a quick look at the basics of his or her nutritional intake and exercise regimen won’t solve. Truth is, this app is inexact. It’s designed to help — a lot! — but it’s no substitute for your own common sense.

While future versions of this app (already in the works) will include automatic re-calculations when dog weights aren’t dropping like they should, this one starts with the basics according to the available science but relies on your basic intelligence to help you make adjustments.

Weight not dropping? Feel free to start eliminating an eighth of a cup or container of food per day — per week — until you start seeing results.