Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

  • By:

    Dr. Edele Grey
    Dr. Edele Grey

    Author: Dr. Edele Grey

    Dr. Edele Grey is a veterinary surgeon with seven years of experience. She professionally works mostly with horses but has treated pets of all sizes including terrapins, llamas, and others. Dr. Grey graduated with honors from the University College Dublin, Ireland, has completed further education in Equine Sports Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys writing about pet ownership and educating people about veterinary care of animals and preventing disease.

    View all 10 articles Learn about our editorial process and veterinary review board.
  • Viewed: 92

  • Updated on: 11/23/2020

Dog food is dog food, right? Well, no, size does matter when it comes to man’s best friend. Small and toy breed dogs have higher metabolic needs than their larger counterparts, so they need more energy per pound of bodyweight.

best dog food for small dogsPhoto by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

The challenge is that we need to pack this extra energy into small portions for their tiny tummies. The goal is to provide the best nutrition we can in small packages while also being yummy tasting for the pickiest of pups!

Top Rated Small Breed Dog Foods

Product

Features

Rating

Link

Our TOP Pick


blue buffalo life protection formula small breed senior chicken and brown rice dry food

Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula - Small Breed Senior
Chicken and Brown Rice Dry Food


  • No corn, no wheat, no soy

  • 23% protein

  • Supports joints health

4.8 out of 5 stars

Price: from $15.19

Runner-Up


Royal Canin Size Health Nutrition Small Dog


  • Grain-included (corn)

  • Supports skin and coat health

  • For picky eaters

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $15.19

Best Dry Foods


blue buffalo blue wilderness high protein grain free

Blue Buffalo’s BLUE Wilderness High Protein Grain Free


  • All natural ingredients

  • Supports joints health

  • Good for senior dogs

4.8 out of 5 stars

Price: from $18.98

taste of the wild appalachian valley small breed canine recipe

Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Canine Recipe


  • No grain, corn or wheat

  • 32% protein from multiply sources

  • Supports digestive health

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $13.99

hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small Paws


  • 24% high-quality protein

  • Supports skin and coat health

  • Easy to digest

4.8 out of 5 stars

Price: from $14.99

hills bioactive recipe adult small breed fit plus radiant

Hill’s Bioactive Recipe Adult Small Breed Fit + Radiant


  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • 28% chicken-based protein

  • Supports skin and coat health

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $14.99

merrick classic healthy grains small breed

Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Small Breed


  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • High fiber contain

  • Supports skin and coat health

4.5 out of 5 stars

Price: from $19.99

Best Wet / Canned Foods


blue buffalo blue homestyle recipe puppy chicken dinner with garden vegetables

Blue Buffalo BLUE Homestyle Toy Breed


  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • Chicken based protein

4.3 out of 5 stars

Price: from $34.95

merrick lil plates mini medley grain free variety pack adult

Merrick Lil’ Plates Mini Medley Grain-Free Variety Pack Adult


  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • Supports joints both growing puppies and  adults

4.4 out of 5 stars

Price: from $19.99

hill science diet adult small paws variety pack

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small Paws Variety Pack


  • Contents fiber to with help digestion

  • Real vegetables and meat

4.4 out of 5 stars

Price: from $20.92

purina beneful incredibites small dog variety pack

Purina Beneful IncrediBites Small Dog Variety Pack


  • Balanced diet with variety of flavors and contain

  • All natural ingridients

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $16.86

blue buffalo blue diving delights for small breed dogs

Blue Buffalo BLUE Diving Delights for Small Breed Dogs


  • No wheat, corn, soy, no chicken

  • Soft texture, good for seniors with missing teeth

4.5 out of 5 stars

Price: from $16.99

Best Grain Free


instinct raw boost small breed grain free

Instinct Raw Boost Small Breed Grain Free


  • No wheat, corn, soy, no chicken

  • 35% protein

  • Supports joints, teeth and bone health

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $19.99

merrick grain free real texas beef sweet potato dry dog food

Merrick Grain Free Real Salmon and Sweet Potato


  • Supports healthy joints, skin and coat

  • Real whole foods used

  • 34% protein

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $22.99

taste of the wild high prairie puppy formula grain free dry dog food

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free


  • No grain, no corn or wheat

  • All-natural recipe

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $13.99

canidae grain free pure petite small breed puppy dry raw cated formula with salmon

Canidae Grain Free PURE Petite/Small Breed Terrine Style Dinner


  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • Soft texture, good for seniors with missing teeth

4.3 out of 5 stars

Price: from $20.28

rachel ray nutrish peak grain free natural

Rachel Ray Nutrish PEAK Grain Free Natural


  • No grain, no gluten

  • All-natural recipe

  • USA farm-raised chicken

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $9.99

Best for Weight Control


hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Small & Mini


  • All-natural ingredients

  • Safe formula for weight loss

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $9.99

purina beneful healthy weight

Purina Beneful Healthy Weight


  • All-natural ingredients

  • USA farm-raised chicken

  • Good for picky eaters

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $5.67

wellness core grain free small breed healthy weight

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Small Breed Healthy Weight


  • All-natural ingredients

  • No corn, no wheat or soy

  • Formula supports bone and joint health

4.6 out of 5 stars

Price: from $13.91

hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Light Small Bites


  • High-quality protein

  • Supports healthy skin and coat

  • High protein and fiber formula helps lose weight without hunger

4.7 out of 5 stars

Price: from $14.24

purina pro plan weight management adult small breed formula

Purina Pro Plan Weight Management Adult Small Breed Formula


  • Supports strong teeth and bones

  • Balanced protein/fat  formula helps with hunger and manages weight

  • Supports digestion

4.8 out of 5 stars

Price: from $14.49

Best Dog Food for Toy Breeds Reviews

Our Top Pick

Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula – Small Breed Senior

blue buffalo life protection formula small breed senior chicken and brown rice dry food

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Deboned Chicken
  • Chicken Meal
  • Brown Rice

Key features:

  • Contains Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits which are a cold-formed blend of 7 fruits and vegetables.
  • Can be offered dry or wet by adding a little water.
  • Contains glucosamine and chondroitin to support older pets joints and mobility.
  • Specific small kibbles designed for small mouths.
  • Great mix of real meat, fruits and whole grains for maximum nutritional impact.

Analysis:

  • Calories 371Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: 23% crude protein, 13% crude fat

Back to the chart

Runner-Up

Royal Canin Size Health Nutrition Small Dog

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Corn
  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Brewers rice

Key features:

  • Special 4-pointed kibble to help prevent tartar build up and provide satisfying chewing texture for small dogs.
  • Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to help maintain healthy skin and a shiny coat.
  • Tasty to entice even the fussiest eaters.
  • Contains L-carnitine to help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reputable long-established brand.

Analysis:

  • Calories 343 Kcal/8oz
  • Minimums: 25% crude protein, 14% crude fat

Back to the chart

Best Dry Foods

Blue Buffalo’s BLUE Wilderness High Protein Grain Free

blue buffalo blue wilderness high protein grain free

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Deboned Chicken
  • Chicken Meal
  • Pea Protein

Key features:

  • Contains a cold-formed blend of 7 fruit and vegetables to provide anti-oxidant rich food.
  • Added glucosamine to help support joint health.
  • Small kibble perfectly fitted for small mouths.
  • No artificial colors or flavors.
  • Easily digested and tasty, you can add warm water if your pooch is being fussy.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 425Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 36%, Crude fat 16%

Back to the chart

Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Canine Recipe

taste of the wild appalachian valley small breed canine recipe

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Venison
  • Lamb meal
  • Garbanzo beans

Key features:

  • Added probiotics and prebiotics to help with digestion.
  • Guaranteed levels of selenium and vitamin E to support your pup’s immune system.
  • No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
  • High protein.
  • Multiple protein sources.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 370Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 32%, Crude fat 18%, Probiotic microbes 80 million/lb

Back to the chart

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small Paws

hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Cracked Pearled Barley
  • Brown Rice

Key features:

  • Contains omega-6 and Vitamin E for a glossy coat and healthy skin.
  • Easily digested and produced with high quality ingredients.
  • “Nibble” sized kibble pieces.
  • Specially formulated antioxidant blend to support your fur-baby’s immune system throughout their life.
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee

Analysis:

  • Calories – 371Kcal/8floz
  • Nutrients: Protein 24.9%, Fat 16.4%, Fatty acids 4.46%

Back to the chart

Hill’s Bioactive Recipe Adult Small Breed Fit + Radiant

hills bioactive recipe adult small breed fit plus radiant

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Cracked Pearled Barley
  • Pea Protein

Key features:

  • Perfectly balanced for a beautiful, luscious coat with coconut oil and fatty acids.
  • No artificial preservatives, colors nor flavors.
  • Includes L-carnitine for healthy metabolism and lean muscle.
  • Includes antioxidants and phytonutrients.
  • Easily digested to provide the best nutrition for your best fur-friend.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 286Kcal/8floz
  • Nutrients: Crude Protein 28.7%, Crude Fat 10.8%

Back to the chart

Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Small Breed

merrick classic healthy grains small breed

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Deboned chicken
  • Chicken meal
  • Brown rice

Key features:

  • Packed full of protein, whole grains, fruits and veggies for a rich, nutritious meal.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin included for hip and joint health.
  • Supplemented with Omega-6 and -3 fatty acids to a glossy coat.
  • Contains the fiber rich, ancient grain, quinoa to support digestion.
  • All natural ingredients.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 404Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 27%, Crude fat 16%, Omega fatty acids 3.5%

Back to the chart

Best wet/canned food

Blue Buffalo BLUE Homestyle Toy Breed

blue buffalo blue homestyle recipe puppy chicken dinner with garden vegetables

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken Broth
  • Chicken Liver

Key features:

  • No by-product meals.
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives.
  • Top three ingredients are chicken-based.
  • Formulated to meet energy needs of toy dogs.
  • Soft texture with appetising chunks of veg to satisfy chewing even in older pooches with missing teeth.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 269Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 9%, Crude fat 6%

Back to the chart

Merrick Lil’ Plates Mini Medley Grain-Free Variety Pack Adult

merrick lil plates mini medley grain free variety pack adult

Top 3 ingredients (for Itsy Bitsy Beef Stew):

  • Beef
  • Beef broth
  • Venison broth

Key features:

  • Real USDA-inspected deboned protein source (meat, poultry or fish).
  • Tasty single serve trays with meaty chunks in gravy for fresh dinner everyday.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics added to support digestion.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for hip and joint support as your pup grows.
  • Variety packs help spice up dinner choices for fussy pooches.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 213Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 8%, Crude fat 3%

Back to the chart

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small Paws Variety Pack

hill science diet adult small paws variety pack

Top 3 ingredients (Chicken & Vegetables):

  • Water
  • Chicken
  • Pork Liver

Key features:

  • Convenient, single serve packs of nutritionally balanced meals.
  • Variety for fussy pups.
  • Max water content 83%; great for fur-iends that don’t like to drink much.
  • Real chunks of meat and veggies.
  • High quality fiber to improve digestion.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 168Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 4%, Crude fat 2.5%

Back to the chart

Purina Beneful IncrediBites Small Dog Variety Pack

purina beneful incredibites small dog variety pack

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken Broth
  • Chicken
  • Wheat gluten

Key features:

  • No artificial colors, preservatives nor flavors.
  • Complete, balanced diet for adult pocket pooches.
  • Tiny, easy-to-chew bites with a light sauce.
  • No fillers, every ingredient has a job.
  • Completely traceable from farm-to-pup.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 232Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 11%, Crude fat 2.5%

Back to the chart

Blue Buffalo BLUE Diving Delights for Small Breed Dogs

blue buffalo blue diving delights for small breed dogs

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Beef Broth

Key features:

  • High quality ingredients.
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives.
  • Available in variety packs too for fussy pups.
  • Enhanced with vitamins and minerals.
  • Pâté texture, perfect for older canines with missing teeth.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 254Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 8%, Crude fat 6%

Back to the chart

Best Grain Free

Instinct Raw Boost Small Breed Grain Free

instinct raw boost small breed grain free

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken meal
  • Chickpeas

Key features:

  • Cage-free Chicken for lean muscle mass.
  • Phosphorus and Calcium to support bone and tooth strength.
  • Small kibble, perfect for tiny jaws.
  • Bites of freeze-dried real meat.
  • Completely grain free.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 975Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 35%, Crude fat 20%

Back to the chart

Merrick Grain Free Real Salmon and Sweet Potato

merrick grain free real texas beef sweet potato dry dog food

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Deboned salmon
  • Salmon meal
  • Peas

Key features:

  • Locally sourced ingredients.
  • High quality protein to build and maintain healthy muscle.
  • High levels of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to support a healthy, glossy coat.
  • Whole foods for a meal packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Grain Free, using potato and sweet potato for energy.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 379Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 34%, Crude fat 14%, Omega fatty acids 5%

Back to the chart

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free

taste of the wild high prairie puppy formula grain free dry dog food

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Buffalo
  • Lamb meal
  • Chicken meal

Key features:

  • Grain free using peas and sweet potato as digestible energy.
  • No artificial flavors, colors, nor preservatives.
  • Vitamins and antioxidants sourced from real fruits and veggies.
  • Trusted and sustainable sources of ingredients.
  • Digestive support proprietary K9 strain probiotic blend with chicory root for prebiotic support.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 370Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 32%, Crude fat 18%

Back to the chart

Canidae Grain Free PURE Petite/Small Breed Terrine Style Dinner

canidae grain free pure petite small breed puppy dry raw cated formula with salmon

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken broth
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Key features:

  • Convenient single-serve trays for freshness.
  • Soft and tasty food for picky pups with difficulty chewing kibble.
  • Natural with limited ingredients for sensitive small pooches.
  • Grain free, also carrageenan and soy free.
  • Designed for all life stages including senior pups.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 436Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 8.5%, Crude fat 5%

Back to the chart

Rachel Ray Nutrish PEAK Grain Free Natural

rachel ray nutrish peak grain free natural

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken Meal
  • Dried Peas

Key features:

  • USA farm-raised chicken is the primary ingredient.
  • Peas, beets and carrots for fiber-rich digestive support.
  • Small kibble, perfect for small mouths.
  • Cranberries as a source of antioxidants.
  • No poultry by-product meal.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 368Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 26%, Crude fat 16%

Back to the chart

Best for weight loss/ weight control

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Small & Mini

hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Cracked Pearled Barley
  • Brown Rice

Key features:

  • Clinically proven for safe weight loss with visible results within 10 weeks.
  • Suitable for long term weight maintenance and lean muscle development.
  • Clinically proven antioxidants, vitamins C & E to support immune system health.
  • No by-product meal.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 291Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude Protein 28.6%, Crude fat 11.2%

Back to the chart

Purina Beneful Healthy Weight

purina beneful healthy weight

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Whole grain corn

Key features:

  • US farm-raised chicken.
  • No artificial flavors, nor preservatives.
  • Completely balanced for tiny adults.
  • Small, easy to chew kibble with soft bites to encourage fussy eaters.
  • 23 vitamins and minerals.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 307Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 25%, Crude fat 8%

Back to the chart

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Small Breed Healthy Weight

wellness core grain free small breed healthy weight

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Deboned Turkey
  • Turkey meal
  • Chicken meal

Key features:

  • Small, crunchy kibble.
  • High fibre for satiety and weight management.
  • Supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health.
  • Grain free and protein rich.
  • Variety of recipes available to tempt even the pickiest pup.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 418Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 34%, Crude fat 13%

Back to the chart

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Light Small Bites

hills science diet adult large breed chicken and barley recipe

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken meal
  • Cracked pearled barley
  • Pea fiber

Key features:

  • Precisely calculated nutrition with L-Carnitine for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Bite size kibble for tiny mouths.
  • High quality protein and fiber to satisfy hunger.
  • Omega-6s and vitamin E for a glossy coat and healthy skin.
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 271Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 25.3%, Crude fat 8.4%

Back to the chart

Purina Pro Plan Weight Management Adult Small Breed Formula

purina pro plan weight management adult small breed formula

Top 3 ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Rice
  • Corn Gluten Meal

Key features:

  • Balanced nutrition with ideal protein-to-fat ratio for lean muscle mass while losing weight.
  • Live probiotics and prebiotic fibers support healthy digestion.
  • Crunchy kibble mixed with tender shredded pieces to encourage the pickiest of pups.
  • Fortified with calcium and phosphorus to maintain strong bones and teeth.
  • High protein to help keep hunger at bay between meals.

Analysis:

  • Calories – 346Kcal/8floz
  • Minimums: Crude protein 30%, Crude fat 10%

Back to the chart

How to choose Dog food for Small Breeds?

Choosing a food for your small dog can be a daunting task, bombarded with so much information and marketing hype it can make your head spin. In this article, we’ve detailed some brands and types of food specially developed for small dogs to help you navigate the sea of information. 

Dogs are members of the order Carnivora, a group of mammals that share tooth structures (cats, hyena, foxes), but not all are absolute meat-eaters (true carnivores), some need a combination of meat and plants in their diets (omnivores). In fact, some members of this family are herbivores (only eating plants) including giant pandas! Dogs are omnivores so should eat a balanced diet containing plants and animal foods; a meat-only diet wouldn’t meet all of your dog’s nutritional requirements. Nature even published a study showing that dogs have evolved to be true omnivores (Axelsson, et al., 2013). A dog’s intestinal tract can digest an omnivorous diet and a high-quality source of protein and fats will maximize their digestibility for your pup.

The primary goal of any pet food is to ensure it’s safe, suitable for your dog digestive system and meet all of their dietary needs. So what do you need to think about when buying your pocket pooch his dinner?

choosing right foor for my small dogImage by @skeeze from Pixabay

Nutritional Content

Dogs need a balanced diet containing carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to help them grow strong bones and muscle tissue, develop their immune systems, and keep them healthy throughout their lives. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) has produced guidelines for the nutritional requirements that commercial diets should meet in North America. These aren’t absolute requirements for your pet as illness and life stage can change these required levels. 

Carbohydrates

In human nutrition, carbs often get a bad rap and while dogs primarily use protein and fat as energy, they use carbohydrates too. Your pooch’s digestive tract produces enzymes that digest starches and carbohydrates. More complex carbohydrates (grains) can be cooked to improve their digestibility for dogs. Carbs are good for your pup, in fact, there have been some tentative links between grain-free or ‘boutique’ diets for dogs and some diseases including heart disease in pets (Freeman, 2018).

Protein

While your pooch doesn’t need a meat-only diet they need essential amino acids that are found in both plant and animal protein sources and their digestive system makes these plant proteins accessible. Too little protein in your pup’s diet can stunt their growth and ability to maintain their weight and energy levels. Puppies and nursing bitches need higher protein levels than adult dogs.

Protein levels in excess of your pup’s requirements are stored as fat and the by-products of digestion are removed by the kidneys. If your pet is overweight or has been diagnosed with a kidney disease then your veterinarian will likely advise you to reduce the amount of protein in their diet. Have you ever seen yellowed patches on your lawn where your dog has peed? Those are caused by the excess protein in their diet being eliminated through their urine.

READ MORE: How much to feed a Puppy by weight

Fats

Fat, a misunderstood nutrient whose name is spoken in hushed tones; fat has a higher caloric (energy) number gram weight (9cal per gram compared to protein/carbs 4cal/gram). Due to this, the caloric content of pet food is easily varied by the fat content and this varies widely with dry foods containing less fat while wet foods and many commercial raw diets are higher in fat. 

Fat is good, in moderate amounts; it provides energy and insulation. Fats also contain fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 which play a role in brain function, inflammation, and helping your pet to maintain healthy skin and coat. Unlike humans, fat doesn’t cause clogged arteries and heart attacks in dogs and they don’t suffer the same type of heart disease as us. However, there are some conditions such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) that can be exacerbated with high-fat foods. Overweight or lazy pooches shouldn’t be fed high-fat diets as the will gain more weight which can complicate other disorders such as arthritis. 

So, is a high-fat diet ever a good idea? Yes, very thin and active dogs can benefit from the extra energy a high-fat diet provides. Bitches that are nursing and growing puppies also need more energy than typical adult dogs so a higher fat content in their diet will help with this. If your dog is a very picky eater then higher-fat foods are tastier so this can help encourage them to eat. 

Fat is often used to replace protein and carbohydrates which can help encourage a sick pup to eat more. 

Vitamins & Minerals

Just like us, our canine companions need vitamins and minerals to help support their organ function and immune systems but human supplements are not always suitable for our fur-friends. Commercially produced diets that are labeled as “complete” or “balanced” are formulated to contain appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals to meet your pup’s dietary needs. Many homemade diets are lacking in one or more of these vital nutrients so if you want to feed your little dog a homemade diet, we advise that you formulate the diet in conjunction with a veterinary nutritionist.

Water

All foods will contain some amount of water which will impact how much your small dog want’s to drink extra. Dry foods contain as little as 10% water while wet foods commonly contain up to 80% or 90% water

Interpreting nutrition labels

Reading food labels on pet food can be very confusing as the numbers on the label represent the weight of carbohydrate/protein/fat in the food but not the percentage of the food’s total calories so you may need to use a converter to better understand the nutritional content in a commercial product. 

The ash content of a food is the inorganic part (minerals) that is left after heating removes all organic matter (protein, carbohydrate, fat) and water from the food. The ash content isn’t required to be printed on the label so that can interfere with calculations of caloric percentages (eg what is the protein percentage compared to the total food calories).

dog food for small dogs buying guideImage by @pasja1000 from Pixabay

Wet vs Dry food

The first comparison we’re faced with when choosing breakfast for our pups is wet vs dry food. Both types of food are fine but you should take into account your own dog’s requirements. 

Wet/canned dog food is great for increasing the amount of water your small dog is getting if they’re not a big drinker. This is particularly helpful if you live in a hot climate. Wet food won’t replace water though so fresh water should always be available for your little one. Dogs that are missing teeth or that have difficulty chewing can get their nutritional requirements best with wet food. Wet food is smellier than dry so sick or older dogs who can’t smell or are reluctant to eat can be encouraged with canned food.

Dry food, on the other hand, can be conveniently left out all day for your small dog to eat at their own pace without it spoiling or risking food poisoning in your pupper. Dry kibbles are often less expensive to purchase than wet foods and their crunchy texture can help with maintaining clean teeth to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Remember, dry food won’t get rid of plaque that’s already there but can reduce the amount being formed. 

Mixing and matching wet and dry food combinations is another good choice. This way your dog gets the best of both worlds, just make sure you’re feeding the right amount of calories for your dog’s ideal weight to prevent obesity. 

READ MORE: When can Dogs eat adult food

Raw vs Cooked vs Vegetarian/Vegan vs Grain-free

A ‘bone’ of contention for many is what ingredients should be in our pets’ foods. There are pros and cons to these diets, but no matter what diet you choose it should be balanced, complete, and not upset your pooch’s digestive system. 

Proponents of raw food diets use the argument that dogs are descended from wolves; however, our modern canine companions have adapted to the diets fed by humans over millennia which includes vegetables and cooked foods. There are a number of risks to both you and your pet in feeding a raw diet. 

We, humans, are placing more emphasis on a plant-based lifestyle for ourselves and our pups and contrary to popular belief, if the diet is properly formulated, some dogs can thrive on vegan diets. The caveat to this is the diet must be carefully designed with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure it meets all of your fur-iend’s nutritional needs. Unfortunately, most home-prepared vegetarian diets lack essential nutrients causing deficiencies in pets. 

One of the latest ‘fads’ for pets is the ‘grain-free’ diet claiming to prevent allergies and myriad health issues. One problem though, there’s no evidence to support these claims! Grains are added to diets, not as ‘fillers’ but because they provide required nutrients for our pups including vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As mentioned before, a recent study has shown that dogs naturally produce the enzymes needed to digest grains efficiently (Axelsson, et al., 2013). Most commercial products include cooked grains, which are even more easily digested by our canine companions. There are also claims that dogs are allergic to gluten, a protein found in many grains; this isn’t true. Food allergies are relatively rare in pooches and are even more rarely related to grains. The only confirmed case of gluten intolerance has been in one single family of Irish Setters (Daminet, 1996). Many of the products touted as grain-free simply replace the grain component with legumes (peas and beans) or potatoes that contain less fiber and nutrients and can cause upset tummies in some pets. 

READ MORE: When to switch to Senior dog food

Budget vs Premium Foods

We often think that a higher price point of pet food equates to higher quality, particularly if the label has certain buzzwords including ‘organic’, ‘human grade’, or ‘natural’. Labeling rules are based on the guidelines produced by AAFCO, who unfortunately have no regulatory power. 

By-products are a scary word for most of us, but it just means that it’s part of an animal that typical consumers don’t want to eat in certain parts of the world. Chicken feet is a good example, most American’s shudder at the thoughts of eating these, while in Jamaica chicken foot soup is a popular dish. Seeing the word ‘meal’ on the label can also be scary but this just means that the ingredient was heated, strained, and powdered. People in western countries, tend not to eat organ meats but these are more nutritious than muscle meats for our pets. Using these parts of slaughtered animals for pet foods actually reduces the waste from the human meat industry and makes it more sustainable. 

Just because a product is expensive, boutique, or produced in small batches doesn’t equate to better quality. I tell my clients to research their chosen brands to help them decide which is best for their small dog.

Life Stage Diets

After reading about ‘fad’ diets, you could be forgiven for thinking this is likely one too, however, they’re not. Life-stage diets are specially formulated to provide differing levels of energy and some vitamins and minerals depending on the requirements for your pet. Puppies need more energy and high-quality protein to help them grow strong and healthy while older dogs are slowing down and may have difficulty chewing so senior diets tend to be lower in energy to reduce weight gain, support dental health and may contain higher levels of vitamins B and E alongside essential fatty acids to help support brain function in aging pets. 

Breed Specific Diets

These diets are available as we know that some breeds are more prone to certain health conditions than others, for example, Miniature Schnauzers are prone to high cholesterol and part of this can be managed by diet. That’s not to say that this food couldn’t be given to a Maltese with high cholesterol as diet management is the same irrespective of breed. These diets are not essential and your vet will discuss the food options depending on your pet’s specific requirements. 

Protein Sources

Protein is essential for muscle repair, organ and hormone function while also being used as a preferred energy source by dogs. Proteins are composed of amino acids which are divided into essential and non-essentials. Essential amino acids are those that dogs cant produce themselves and must extract from their diet. In general, animal protein sources are of higher quality than plant protein in terms of their amino acid profile within. No protein is perfect, so a combination of plant and animal protein in your pup’s diet will give your dog the best quality diet.

The three most commonly used proteins in pet foods are chicken, beef, and pork with some exotic protein sources emerging such as ostrich, bison, and venison. Many of these are hailed as ‘natural’ and better for pets with allergies but there are some negatives to these products. Many of these are seasonally produced which can lead to shortages throughout the year, and the nutrient profiles of these meats can be more variable than farmed proteins which means that quality control is more difficult. 

Allergies to foods in dogs are uncommon, and management involves feeding a diet with limited ingredients, so one novel protein and one carbohydrate source. Feeding an exotic protein source doesn’t prevent allergies and many commercial foods with these also combine more common proteins such as chicken or beef which negates any possible benefit that the exotic protein may provide. If you suspect your pooch has a diet-related allergy, a strict food trial in consultation with your veterinarian is the best course of action. 

Weight Management Diets

Over half of pet dogs are obese and similar to humans, excess body fat can increase the risks of developing diabetes or urinary problems and can cause complications of other illnesses such as osteoarthritis. Managing your pet’s weight follows the same principle as humans, calories in vs calories out. More calories in than out will lead to weight gain. Weight management foods are marketed toward helping your pup lose weight, however simply feeding your dog a smaller amount of their usual kibble while increasing their exercise will result in the same outcome. If you’re not sure about your pet’s weight you can check the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) body condition score chart here.

FAQ

🐶 Why do small breed dogs require different food?

Small breed dogs need smaller kibble sizes for their little mouths and many brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Shih Tzus and French Bulldogs can have difficulty eating due to the shape of their jaws and may need special kibbles to help or be fed wet food. Active small dogs tend to have a higher metabolic rate than larger breeds and so actually need more calories per pound of body weight, but you should still be careful about overfeeding as obesity in small breeds is a very common health issue we see in veterinary practice.

🐾 What is the best dog food recommended by vets?

There is no one ‘best’ dog food for all small dogs. Your veterinarian knows your dog’s requirements best and is best placed to advise you about what food is best for your tiny tyke. When I discuss food with my clients, I suggest a few of what I consider to best suit that dog and owner’s requirements and suggest trying them to see which suits their pet best.

🐕 What is the difference between large and small breed dog food?

On the surface, kibble size is the main difference we see between large and small breed foods. There are some other nutritional differences as in general small breeds can suffer from increased rates of dental disease while large breeds need a slightly larger amount of calcium as puppies (though don’t need supplementation if fed the right diet).

Sources:

  1. Axelsson, Erik, Ratnakumar, A., Arendt, M. et al. . “The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-Rich Diet.” Nature, 23 Jan. 2013, https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11837.
  2. Freeman, Lisa M. . “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-Free Diets and Exotic Ingredients.” Clinical Nutrition Cervice, 4 June 2018, vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/
  3. Daminet, S. “Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in a Family of Irish Setters.” PubMed Central (PMC), 1 Dec. 1996, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1576718/

ThePets is an informational website that features articles written by qualified veterinarians and professional writers. You can learn more about our editorial process. When selecting food for your pet, use Pet Food Finder, and search for the clinic to treat your pet using Vet Clinics Locator.

5 people found this helpful.

helpful not helpful