Did you know food for small breeds is different than regular dog food, and not only in kibble size?
Small and toy dogs have a faster metabolic rate, so they need more calories per pound than larger pups. Their stomachs are also smaller, which means their food needs to be packed with more nutrients.
While they can eat food meant for larger breeds, in the long run, they need food tailored to their specific requirements to remain healthy.
- Top 10 Dog Food for Small Breeds Review
- How Tall and Heavy Are Toy Dog Breeds?
- What Are the Most Common Small Breeds?
- What Common Health Issues Can Small and Toy Breeds Encounter?
- Small Breed Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food
- Tips for Feeding a Small Breed Canine
- Frequently Asked Questions About Small-Sized Dogs
This guide will help you find the perfect formula for your tiny canine companion, and it will guide you through potential problems he may face.
Also check our selection of best rated dog food.
Top 10 Dog Food for Small Breeds Review
Our Top Pick
|Blue Buffalo Dry Food|
Our Top Pick
|✓ Deboned chicken|
✓ Chicken Meal
✓ Brown rice
|Taste of the Wild|
✓ Lamb Meal
✓ Garbanzo beans
|✓ Deboned turkey|
✓ Turkey Meal
✓ Chicken Meal
✓ Chicken Meal
✓ Brewer’s rice
✓ Split peas
✓ Whole brown rice
|✓ Deboned salmon|
✓ Turkey Meal
✓ Menhaden fish meal
✓ Lamb Meal
✓ Red lentils
✓ Menhaden fish meal
|Instinct by Nature's Variety|
✓ Duck Meal
✓ Chicken Meal
|✓ Deboned beef|
✓ Beef broth
✓ Chicken broth
✓ Beef liver
|Go! Sensitivity + Shine|
|✓ Deboned duck|
✓ Duck Meal
✓ Chicken Meal
✓ Cracked pearled barley
✓ Ground white rice
Blue Buffalo Dry Food – Our Top Pick
Blue Buffalo’s brand has a formula for small breeds built on chicken and brown rice, and this recipe gets our highest recommendation if you want the best food for your small pooch.
The formula is based on deboned chicken, so it has all the protein your small dog needs. It also contains whole grain, making it extra easy on the digestion, and at the same time full of all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your petite furry friend may need in his daily life.
It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin to help preserve your pet’s joints, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids for his skin and coat, and it all comes in small breed kibbles so even the tiniest canines can enjoy this food.
The diet is also free of corn, soy, and wheat, so it should be safe for pups with allergies or sensitivities.
This is overall the best-rounded formula for small breeds. It contains the increased protein and carbohydrates they need, as well as all the nutrients and supplements, and that makes this diet the best choice for your toy dog.
Taste of the Wild – Best Grain-Free Formula
If your small breed dog has occasional digestive problems, and you suspect it may be due to food sensitivities, Taste of the Wild’s Appalachian Valley recipe might be the choice for you.
This formula doesn’t contain grain, wheat, corn, or soy, so it should be perfect for sensitive pups. It also doesn’t include any artificial ingredients, such as flavors, colors, or preservatives, and it contains probiotics, making it even easier to digest.
Its primary ingredient is venison, which means your pooch is getting all the protein and amino acids he needs to stay healthy. The formula includes other sources of protein, too, such as lamb, duck, or fish so you can be sure he’s covered in that department.
It also contains fruits and vegetables as a source of antioxidants for a healthy immune system, while omega-3 and 6 fatty acids keep the skin healthy and the coat soft and shiny.
This is overall the best formula for small breed canines with food sensitivities. It doesn’t contain harmful ingredients, and it includes everything a balanced daily diet should provide.
Wellness CORE – Perfect for Everyday Feeding
Wellness CORE’s small breed grain-free formula based on turkey and chicken is our choice for a well-balanced daily diet. Sourced from deboned turkey with the additions of turkey and chicken meals, it provides the extra protein the smaller breeds need.
It also includes probiotics for easier digestion. Glucosamine and chondroitin care for the health of your pet’s joints. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids keep their skin and coat healthy. It also contains all the antioxidants they need for a healthy life. All these ingredients make this diet well-rounded and balanced for your small breed canine companion.
The formula is also free of fillers and grain, as well as artificial ingredients, flavors, colors, or preservatives, so it should be easier to digest and safe for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies.
So, if you’re looking for a well-rounded protein-based diet for your small furry friend, this formula should have you covered.
Nutro – Fit for Senior Dogs
When your pet starts showing signs of old age, it may be time to switch his food to a senior formula. Nutro’s Wholesome Essentials line of products contains such a recipe, and our choice is a formula based on chicken, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, which should provide everything your elder doggie needs.
The primary ingredient comes from chicken, and it provides the elevated protein needs your elder requires. It also contains natural fiber to help with the slowing metabolism of your aging pup and to ensure the proper absorption of all the useful nutrients.
The formula also contains glucosamine and chondroitin to protect your elder’s joints, as well as omega fatty acids to protect their skin and coat, both of which are even more necessary for old dogs.
This formula should provide everything your elderly puppy may need to make sure they maintain the quality of life in their advanced years.
Nulo – Best for Metabolism
Nulo’s FreeStyle recipe based on salmon and red lentils is a formula high in protein, and low in carbohydrates, all to make sure your small breed dog can maintain the health of his faster-than-average metabolism.
Most of its protein comes from fish so you can be sure your pet is getting all the amino acids they need to remain healthy and energetic. The carbohydrates come from chickpeas, sweet potato, and lentils, all of which are low glycemic ingredients.
The diet is free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, colors, or flavors, so it should be safe for dogs with food allergies. It is also free of grain, such as wheat, soy, or corn, so it should be appropriate for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
It also includes probiotics to help with digestion and supplements like L-carnitine help with the regulation of their weight. The food further contains miscanthus grass, a source of fiber to assist the absorption of all the nutrients this formula includes.
This high-protein, low-carb diet helps your pet maintain proper weight while keeping their metabolisms running optimally.
CANIDAE – Best Limited Ingredient
For dogs with a sensitive stomach, you might need a formula with a limited number of ingredients. We recommend CANIDAE’s PURE Fields based on chicken, as it is a grain-free recipe specially made for small breeds with food sensitivities.
It contains chicken as a primary source of protein, and along with that, it also contains whole foods to help with the digestion and to cover the daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. Among the ingredients are probiotics to ensure gentle absorption.
The formula is free of grain, corn, soy, or wheat, so it’s safe for dogs with sensitivities or allergies. There are no artificial ingredients, preservatives, colors, or flavors, as well, making the diet even safer.
As this recipe has only 9 main ingredients, all of which are clearly identifiable, it is a safe bet for dogs with food allergies or sensitivities. Even if your dog doesn’t have such problems, he can enjoy all the taste and nutrients this diet can provide.
Instinct by Nature's Variety – Best Raw Food
We highly recommend Instinct by Nature’s Variety’s Raw Boost small breed grain-free recipe with real duck to anyone looking for a raw food diet for their small breed dogs. The formula is not cooked and is minimally processed all to ensure the ingredients remain intact.
It contains freeze-dried duck meat as a primary ingredient and the main source of proteins and amino acids, and whole foods as a source of carbs, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
It is free of artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors, making it safe for dogs with sensitive digestion. It also doesn’t contain any wheat, soy, or corn, and it’s made without meat by-products.
Amidst all that, it also includes glucosamine and chondroitin to maintain your pet’s joints, as well as omega fatty acids to keep his skin healthy and his coat soft. It contains probiotics, as well, to help keep your pet’s digestion moving.
Overall, if you’re on the market for raw food for your small breed canine companion, this formula has our highest recommendations.
Merrick – Best Canned / Wet Food
For pets that prefer canned food, we recommend Merrick’s Cowboy Cookout grain-free formula. Deboned beef as a first ingredient provides all the proteins and amino acids your small dog needs, and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables provide all the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals he requires from a balanced diet.
All those meats, fruits, and veggies are mixed in beef broth to provide all the moisture your pooch needs.
The formula is free of grain such as wheat, corn, or soy, and it doesn’t contain any gluten, so it should be safe for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies. It is also free of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, making it even safer for your sensitive pets.
This is the best overall canned food for your small breed furry friend, and even if he doesn’t prefer wet food to dry, you can still use this formula as a kibble topper.
Go! Sensitivity + Shine – Best for Dogs with Sensitivities
Dogs with food allergies or sensitivities require a special diet, and Go! Sensitivity + Shine’s recipe with limited ingredients is our choice in that category. Based on deboned duck as its primary ingredient, it provides all the proteins and amino acids your small pet needs.
It is free of grains, glutens, and potatoes, as well as artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and it doesn’t contain any by-product meals, growth hormones, or common allergens, which eliminates most of the ingredients dogs can be sensitive to.
At the same time, it contains all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber for a balanced daily diet. It also contains antioxidants to preserve your dog’s immune system and omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
Built on a high-protein, low-carb formula, this is the best overall diet for dogs with allergies or sensitivities to chicken, beef, grain, gluten, or wheat.
Diamond Naturals – Ideal for Balanced Diet
For those on the market for a diet balanced for small breeds, we highly recommend Diamond Naturals’ recipe built on adult chicken and rice. It is based on chicken as its primary ingredient and source of protein and amino acids.
The recipe also contains peas and eggs to maintain your tiny dog’s health, and it also contains whole foods rich in antioxidants to preserve his immune system. Fruits and vegetables add vitamins and minerals to the mix, making for a well-rounded diet perfect for your small breed companion.
It also contains plant-based omega fatty acids to maintain the health of your pooch’s skin and coat. The diet also includes probiotics to keep your pet’s digestion going, and to further help with that, it also contains sources of fiber such as dried chicory root, pumpkin, and coconut.
Along with all that, it is free of corn, soy, and wheat, as well as artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, making it safe for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
This diet is specifically balanced to provide all the nutrients small breeds need in their daily life, and it is the best choice in that category.
How Tall and Heavy Are Toy Dog Breeds?
Toy breed dogs encompass the smallest members of the canine family. Generally, to be classified there, they need to be 12 pounds or lighter, and shorter than 12 inches. Mostly, however, their weight falls between 5 and 7 pounds.
The dimensions vary by breed, however. On the smaller end of the spectrum, chihuahuas can be anywhere from 6-9 inches tall and weigh about 6 pounds. Maltese are usually around 10 inches tall and weigh under 7 pounds, and Pomeranians are normally under 11 inches and weigh less than 7 pounds.
On the larger end, a Bichon Frise or a Havanese breed is normally under 12 inches in height and can weigh between 7 and 13 pounds. Similarly, Shih Tzus are usually about 12 inches tall, while their weight can reach up to 16 pounds.
What Are the Most Common Small Breeds?
Small dogs usually weigh under 25 pounds. Their appearance or height can vary between breeds, and the category encompasses a large and diverse assortment of dogs. They are popular mostly for their portability and the small space they need, making them ideal for cramped and small apartments, and city living in general.
The most common small breeds include:
- French Bulldogs are less active than other pooches but still spirited and energetic.
- Poodles are famous for their curly coats, intelligence, and playfulness.
- Dachshunds are known for their cheery natures and make great family pets.
- Corgis are usually relaxed and cheerful active pups.
- Pugs are tiny, lively dogs perfect for families.
- Pomeranians are most known for their long hair and confident stride.
- Cavalier King Charles are gentle companions with a beautiful and fluffiest coat.
- Beagles are agreeable and pleasant dogs, but they can be loud.
- Yorkshire Terriers are small, curious, and active small dogs.
- Chihuahuas are among the smallest breeds and are known for their temperament.
- Boston Terriers are intelligent and great with kids.
What Common Health Issues Can Small and Toy Breeds Encounter?
Small breeds can have specific problems larger dogs don’t face, and in this section, we present a selection of those. This doesn’t mean your little pup will develop these problems. It merely lists all the possible diseases which affect smaller breeds more than larger.
With any of these ailments, it is crucial to consult your vet as soon as you notice the symptoms.
Hypoglycemia is a state in which your dog’s blood sugar levels are lowered. His energy levels may decrease, and he may become disoriented or anxious. It is usually linked with side effects of diabetes therapy. But sometimes being extra small is enough for hypoglycemia to develop.
When that happens, you must raise your dog’s blood sugar levels, primarily through food. It is also important to treat the underlying causes so that hypoglycemia doesn’t happen again.
A proper diet (check our picks for best dog food for diabetic dogs) is the most important part of the treatment; it is the most reliable way of maintaining your dog’s blood sugar levels.
Small breeds can be more sensitive to allergens such as dust or pollen, especially if they have Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, which affects short-nosed breeds such as pugs or French bulldogs.
Food allergies are more common. They may manifest as itchy skin, foot or ear infections, or as digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, or vomiting. In any case, you should consult your vet to see what ingredient your dog is allergic to.
Read our recommendation for: Best Hypoallergenic Dog Foods
Pancreatitis is a condition in which your dog’s pancreas is inflamed. That is usually a result of other problems, such as obesity, metabolic disorders, trauma, or such. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or dehydration.
In this case, prevention is the best cure. If you maintain your dog’s weight within healthy boundaries, you are reducing the risk. Furthermore, his diet should be lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates. Hydration is also crucial in recovery.
Legg Calve Perthes Disease
This is a disorder in which the femur and the hip start to lose bone mass, eventually leading to decreased muscle mass of the hind legs. It usually manifests itself at the age of 4-12 months, and it is more common in small breeds. It starts as a lameness, and from there, the pain starts getting worse.
It is a congenital disease, and it is treated by surgery, followed by rigorous exercise.
Whelping complications affect smaller breeds because of their build – they have smaller birthing canals, and not as much room to hold puppies as the larger breeds. This can lead to complications which can risk the mother’s life, so a Cesarean section is recommended.
For more information about pregnancy period and what can you expect during it follow our guide for dog pregnancy.
Smaller breeds are known for their intolerance of extreme weather conditions. That can lead to sudden drops of their body temperature if they are exposed to cold air, or sudden spikes if they’re exposed to hot air.
The best course of action is prevention. You should pay attention to the weather and be careful when exposing your small pets to extreme conditions.
Patellar luxation is most common among smaller breeds. It means the kneecap is dislocated, and it moves in and out of its proper position. It can manifest itself as a congenital defect, and it can be a result of a trauma.
Depending on the severity, it can be treated surgically, or with anti-inflammatory drugs. Food supplements are also essential, especially vitamins and minerals to heal the connective tissue, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin for the health of the cartilage.
Intervertebral Disk Disease
Intervertebral Disk Disease, or IVDD, is a condition in which the cushion between the dog’s vertebrae is touching the spinal cord. Symptoms can vary from mild sensitivity to heavy pain. In more extreme situations, the condition can lead to paralysis.
It is usually remedied with steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs, but in the more severe instances, it is only treatable surgically.
In any case, prevention is an important aspect, especially with breeds more prone to IVDD, such as dachshunds. That means you should pay close attention to their weight, and make sure to feed them higher-quality foods.
Upper Airway Problems
The most common upper airway problem affecting smaller breeds is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. It typically troubles small breeds with shorter noses and flat faces, and if the symptoms are not life-threatening, there is no need for treatment.
If, however, the symptoms get more severe, for instance, in hot and humid weather, they may need medical care. That usually involves oxygen masks, passing a tube through the mouth and windpipe, and in the more extreme cases, corrective surgery.
Prevention is important for breeds prone to this disease, and it includes watching their weight and avoiding hot and humid weather.
Small Breed Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food
You may be wondering, why does my little dog need special food? Why can’t I feed him regular dog food? Is there something different about him, something that requires a distinct formula?
It turns out, small dogs have faster metabolisms. Not only that, they burn calories at a higher rate per pound than larger breeds. In addition to higher calorie counts, small breeds need more nutrients packed in smaller packages, as their stomachs aren’t as big.
If you feed a small dog regular dog food, there is a possibility that he will have problems with digestion, or with proper weight maintenance. Ultimately, they could develop other issues and diseases because of poor diet.
Additionally, dog food for small breeds comes in reduced kibble sizes, which are more appropriate to small dogs’ decreased mouths and jaws. Formulas specializing in smaller breeds exist precisely because of these factors, and we highly recommend choosing one for your miniature furry friend.
Tips for Feeding a Small Breed Canine
Since smaller dogs are different from their larger counterparts, their nutritional needs also vary. This section will give you all you need to know to choose the right food for your tiny dog.
As smaller breeds have faster metabolisms than their larger cousins, there are differences in the way they process food. Since they require more calories per pound and their stomachs are smaller, their diet needs to have a higher caloric value.
Their food also needs to have a different nutrient distribution. When it comes to dry food, you should make sure it has at least 20 to 30% protein, and 10 to 20% fat. Canned food should have between 5 and 8% protein and 3 to 5% fat.
Along with protein and fat, your dog also needs carbohydrates, which should come from easily digestible sources. He also needs vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Other useful components include omega fatty acids for his skin and coat and glucosamine and chondroitin for his joints.
And, as small dogs have longer life-spans, they need more antioxidants to keep them healthy and energetic longer.
How to Choose A Dog Food?
Choosing the right food for your small companion is not always easy. This guide should guide you through the common factors which can affect that choice.
Toy breeds have smaller jaws and mouths, and they may encounter problems if they try to chew kibbles meant for larger dogs. That’s why dog food meant for small breeds contains tinier kibbles.
While regular kibbles are usually about half an inch wide, those meant for small dogs are half their size, a quarter inch. Kibbles for toy breeds are even smaller, as little as an eighth of an inch.
Caloric needs vary from breed to breed, and further by their age and activity level, but generally, they need about 40 calories for each pound of their weight. For example, a 5-pound chihuahua may need 200 calories each day, while a 20-pound Boston Terrier might require 800 calories.
Additionally, inactive and older dogs need fewer calories, while working dogs need more. In any case, you should consult your vet to see how many calories your dog may need.
Small breeds need more protein to build and maintain their muscles, as that prevents them from gaining weight. Because of that, you should make sure their formula includes at least 20% protein for dry and 5% for canned food.
You should also make sure the protein comes from named sources, such as chicken, beef, or lamb, and not from anonymous meat, usually labeled simply as ‘meat,’ ‘meat meal,’ or ‘meat by-product.’
Your small pet needs fat as a source of energy to keep his fast metabolism running. That’s why you should ensure his formula has at least 10% fat if it’s dry food, and 3% if it’s canned. Like protein, it should come from natural, animal-based sources.
Vitamins & Nutrients
In addition to protein and fat, your dog’s daily regime needs vitamins and minerals to make sure he stays healthy. They should largely come from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables.
Furthermore, additives can help with certain aspects of your pooch’s overall health. Glucosamine and chondroitin help with joints, omega fatty acids help with skin and coat, probiotics help with digestion and antioxidants with health and immune system.
How Much and How Often Do You Feed Them?
As smaller dogs have reduced stomachs, they can eat a humbler amount. And since their metabolisms burn faster, you should feed them smaller meals more often. Generally, the amount of food they receive depends on the breed and the weight, as well as the caloric value of the formula.
As a rule, you can allow them to eat as much as they want as long as they aren’t gaining weight. Puppies normally eat 3-4 times a day, and that should be reduced to 2 or 3 times a day when they reach adulthood.
Frequently Asked Questions About Small-Sized Dogs
What is a good brand for a sensitive stomach?
If your dog has food sensitivities, you should consult your vet for help with choosing the right formula. Go! brand’s Sensitivity + Shine line of products is geared towards sensitive dogs, and it comes in a variety of flavors, so it should be easy to find one your dog will like.
What are the healthiest homemade recipes for them?
To ensure your pet gets all he needs from a homemade recipe, you should pay attention to the ingredients. Generally, you should include a source of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water, as well as other additives you think are necessary.
Proteins, fats, and amino acids normally come from meats, and that is their healthiest source. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants should come from fruits and vegetables, or grains if your dog isn’t sensitive to them. Additives are ingredients like omega fatty acids, L-carnitine, or glucosamine.
What happens if you feed them large breed dog food?
In the short term, nothing will happen. They may have problems chewing larger kibbles, but if they manage to eat them, they should be fine.
In the long term, however, it may not be the best idea. Since food for larger breeds contains fewer calories in a larger kibble, and the nutrients are less dense, they may not provide all your small pooch needs, and that deficiency can lead to other problems down the line.
Small and toy breeds have their peculiarities, attitudes, and eccentricities, and their fast metabolisms and tiny stomachs require a different approach to feeding. Despite all that, small breeds remain popular, especially in the urban areas, as they make perfect apartment companions.
And, after reading this guide, you should have all the information you need to take better care of your small furry friend. Even if you’re only thinking about getting a little dog, you should now have all the facts you need to help with your decision.