Food For Small Breed Dogs


Do small breed dogs need special food?

Small breed adult dogs require more calories-per-pound than large dogs, and they also need smaller kibbles, which is why diets especially formulated for small breeds are usually best. However, while small dogs might need more calories per pound than larger dogs, that does not mean that owners should overfeed them.

Food For Small Breed Dogs

The best small breed dog foods are designed to provide balanced nutrition for dogs whose ideal adult weight is under 20 pounds.

That’s because small dogs tend to benefit from food optimized for their higher rate of metabolism… and their smaller physical size.

On this page…

We’ll share The Dog Food Advisor’s safest and most recommended small breed dog foods… and we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions we get about feeding small dogs.

Editors Choice Logo for Best Small Breed Dog Food Page

The Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

Here are The Dog Food Advisor’s top best small breed dog foods.

Taste of the Wild App Valley Dry Dog Food

Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Recipe


Appalachian Valley Small Breed is one of 9 dry recipes included in our review of the Taste of the Wild product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Venison, lamb meal, garbanzo beans, peas, lentils
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

Appalachian Valley Small Breed derives the bulk of its animal protein from fresh venison and lamb meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 36% protein, 20% fat and 36% estimated carbs… with a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

A fully balanced, grain-free recipe containing no artificial colors, flavors or toxic chemical preservatives. Highly recommended.Sample buyer review… “I realize that pugs eat just about anything you put in front of them, however, this small kibble really fits their mouths to a ‘T’! Sometimes when I want to spoil them, I’ll mix in some cooked chicken breast, and a little hot water to make a gravy. They love this! The small kibble is easier for them to eat, and they are healthy as small horses! Never had a problem, and vet visits are always top notch! I highly recommend this food for small breeds with small mouths!”

Merrick Real Beef Dry Dog Food

Merrick Classic Small Breed Dog Food


Classic Small Breed is one of 13 dry recipes included in our review of the Merrick Classic product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, barley, turkey meal
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, barley, oatmeal, quinoa)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

This Merrick Classic recipe takes the major portion of its animal protein from fresh chicken as well as chicken meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 30% protein, 17% fat and 45% estimated carbs… resulting in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

Merrick Classic Small Breed is a solid grain-inclusive recipe with fiber-rich quinoa to help maintain digestion. Easily recommended.

Nom Nom Turkey Fare Fresh Dog Food

Nom Nom Fresh Dog Food


Turkey Fare is one of 4 fresh wet recipes covered in our review of the Nom Nom dog food product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Ground turkey, eggs, brown rice, carrots, spinach
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice)
  • Design: All life stages
  • Best for: Small breed adults and puppies
  • Price: $$$$

Nom Nom Turkey Fare derives most of its animal protein from fresh turkey as well as whole eggs. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 37% protein, 17% fat and 39% estimated carbs… creating a fat-to-protein ratio of about 45%.

If you’ve ever wished you could serve your small dog a fresh home-cooked meal… but without all the fuss… then Nom Nom makes a smart choice.

Top level, human-grade ingredients and a balanced recipe designed by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Not cheap. But highly recommended.

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed Dog Food


Freestyle Small Breed is one of 9 dry recipes included in our review of the Nulo Freestyle product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned salmon, turkey meal, menhaden fish meal, salmon meal, red lentils
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: All life stages
  • Best for: Small breed adults and puppies
  • Price: $$$

This Nulo formula gets the lion’s share of its meat protein from fresh salmon as well as turkey and menhaden fish meals. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 34% protein, 19% fat and 39% estimated carbs… creating a fat-to-protein ratio of about 55%.

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed is designed to support the higher metabolism and energy levels of smaller dogs. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “My Corgi/Ruby Spaniel mix just turned 9 and has lost a couple of teeth. This small kibble works GREAT for her- she only has to bite once– she loves the flavor and I love the formula. It’s good for her joints and skin with the Omegas in this formula. Easy to digest and this brand has NEVER had a recall. Highly recommend this for small breed fur babies!”

Instinct Original Small Breed Kibble

Instinct Original Small Breed Dog Food


Original Small Breed is one of 5 dry recipes included in our review of the Instinct Original product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, chickpeas, tapioca, chicken fat
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: All life stages
  • Best for: Small breed adults and puppies
  • Price: $$$

This Instinct Original formula derives the greatest part of its animal protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 39% protein, 22% fat and 31% estimated carbs… which creates a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

Instinct Original Small Breed provides an optimal balance of protein, fat and calories to ensure a balanced nutrition for your small dog. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “I love this dog food, and so does my dog. I like all of the ingredients and trust the company. My dog begs for it and devours it. He’s doing very well on it. His coat is shiny, his muscles are defined, and his stools are firm. I rotate this brand with a few other brands so he has some variety, but I’m very picky with which foods I include in the rotation, and only choose brands and formulas of the highest quality.”

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dog Food

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Adult


Life Protection Small Breed Chicken and Brown Rice is one of 21 dry recipes as well as 5 small breed formulas included in our review of the Blue Buffalo Life Protection product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, oatmeal, barley)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed derives the bulk of its animal protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 29% protein, 17% fat and 46% estimated carbs… which results in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 58%.

A small breed formula boasting a fully balanced blend of minerals, antioxidants and vitamins to promote a healthy immune system.

What’s more, Blue is one of the few major brands offering multiple flavor options specifically designed for small dogs…

Which makes Life Protection an ideal choice for those who like to routinely rotate their pet’s diet.

Highly recommended.

Best Dog Food for Small Breeds

The assumption that small breed dogs are low maintenance and easy to feed due to their small size is dangerous. Small breed puppies, especially toy breeds, require careful feeding to prevent a condition called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the scientific word for low blood sugar, and small breed puppies are prone to developing this condition as a result of high metabolic rates and low sugar and body fat reserves. This means they need to be fed a calorie-dense, small breed puppy food anywhere from four-to-six times a day and watched closely for symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures

Most complete and balanced small breed puppy foods contain the appropriate amount of nutrients for small breed dogs. They also have smaller kibbles, which are easier for small breed puppies to chew and are less of a choking hazard. Talk to your vet about the risks of hypoglycemia and what you can do to prevent it in your small breed puppy. If you suspect your puppy has hypoglycemia, call your veterinarian immediately.

Best Dog Food for Small Breed Adults

Finding the best food for small breed adults is tricky. There are a lot of options claiming to offer your dog the best nutritional package in a variety of price ranges. You can narrow your search by asking your veterinarian what brands he or she recommends. Veterinarians have access to the latest research on dog nutrition as well as pet food recalls, which makes them a valuable resource during this decision-making process. Depending on your dog’s health, your vet might recommend a specific food or several brands that he or she feels offer the best food for small breeds.

Small breed adult dogs require more calories-per-pound than large dogs, and they also need smaller kibbles, which is why diets especially formulated for small breeds are usually best. However, while small dogs might need more calories per pound than larger dogs, that does not mean that owners should overfeed them. One of the biggest concerns regarding dog nutrition is obesity. Obese dogs are more prone to a variety of health issues, and it is estimated that obesity takes as many as two years off of our dogs’ lives.

Diseases associated with obesity in dogs:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart and respiratory disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Cranial cruciate ligament injury
Best Food for Small Breed Senior Dogs

Small breed dogs typically live longer than large breed dogs. This means that your small breed dog could be eating the same food from the time she graduates from puppy food for more than 15 years. A diet rich in antioxidants could help prevent free radical damage over her long lifespan, so ask your veterinarian about the best foods for small breeds that contain plenty of antioxidants.

Both adult and all other life-stage formulas are appropriate for senior dogs. Currently, there is no senior, geriatric, or mature dog food nutrient profile recognized by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Dog foods that cater to seniors do not have to meet specific senior nutrient requirements, and they may not have undergone any clinical trials to test their effectiveness. This does not necessarily mean that senior dog foods for small breeds are a bad choice for your senior pet, but it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about a senior diet before you buy, in order to make sure you get an effective formula.

Senior small breed dogs may develop health problems that require special dietary restrictions or prescription diets. Prescription senior diets, unlike commercial diets, are specially formulated and clinically proven to help treat certain conditions. Your vet may recommend a prescription diet for your senior pet if he or she feels it is necessary.

Dog Nutrition 101: 
Nutritional Needs of Small Breed Dogs

Dog Nutrition 101 is the topic of this page, especially how it relates to small breed dogs. 

Dogs need a balanced diet that consists of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements to keep their bodies in top shape and healthy.  

There seems to be some controversy over dog nutrition in recent years. 

Some people feel that dogs are carnivores and only need to eat meats where others think dogs are omnivores and should eat a wide range of foods including meat, vegetables, fruits and grains. The omnivore theory dates back to dogs in the wild. 

Early dogs would eat the entire carcass of an animal including the stomach contents, organs, skin and meat, providing them with a wide variety of nutrients.

Much research has been done into canine nutrition, but unfortunately a lot of the studies are done by the pet food industry.  Just like humans, dogs need certain items in their diet in the right amounts and in forms that can be digested by dogs.

Subscribe for updates from this site

Subscribe to Small Dog Place!

Get updates on the latest posts and more from Small Dog Place straight to your inbox.SUBSCRIBEI consent to receiving emails and personalized ads.

To be a informed consumer of dog food, there are a few topics on dog nutrition 101 that you should know.

For this Dog Nutrition 101 page, we will look at six essential items that all dogs need.

  • Water
  • Protein
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins

Dogs must eat foods containing the right amounts of all of these six diet components in order to stay healthy.  

A dog food that meets all of the requirements for complete canine nutrition is called “Complete or Balanced”


We often forget to consider water as an essential part of the diet, but you or your dog would not live long if you were deprived of water. 

An adult dog’s body is made up of about 50 to 60 percent water.  A puppy is about 80% water. 

Dogs need clean cool water at all times.  Dogs that eat dry food will require more hydration than dogs on a moist diet.

Pregnant and lactating dogs need more water.  You need not worry about providing too much water.  Dogs will drink what they need.

Small Dog Nutrition 101:  Proteins Explained

Proteins are needed to grow all body tissue—bones, muscles, hair, nerves and everything else.  Often referred to as the building blocks of tissue, Proteins are complex organic molecules that are made up of one or more chains of amino acids, 23 of them to be exact. 

Dogs produce some of those amino acids within their bodies but others must come from the diet.  Those that are required to be in the food are called essential amino acids because the body cannot produce them.  Nonessential amino acids are those manufactured within the body.

Essential Amino Acids

The 10 essential amino acids are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Those essential amino acids needed by dogs come from both animal and plant sources.  Protein in the diet from animal sources such as eggs, meat, and fish is considered a higher quality complete source. 

Plant sources of protein are considered incomplete and come from vegetables, fruits, and grains. 

Digestible Proteins

Even though it might appear that dogs would do better on a 100% meat diet because it provides protein, in actuality, it is not that simple.  They need both kinds because they work together to keep the dog healthy ensuring that all normal parts of the body function properly.

Digestibility of the protein source is a major factor.  A dog food can have a high protein content but if the type of ingredients that comprise that protein cannot be easily digested, it is of little value to the dog.  A digested food is able to be used by the body.  The most digestible sources of protein in the diet are eggs, muscle and organ meats. 

Non digested sources of protein are excreted without adding any nutrient value to the dog. 

You can determine the amount of crude protein in a dog food by looking at the guaranteed analysis on the label.  Unfortunately, that will not tell you anything about digestibility. 

A food could have a crude protein value of 32% but if only 55% of it is digestible, the dog is being starved of the amount of amino acids needed by his body.

According to the National Research Council, a growing puppy requires a diet that is about 29 percent protein (by weight).

This protein should provide about 20-25 percent of his dietary calories. Adults need about 18 percent dietary protein.

If there is more protein in the food than is needed by the dog’s body, the extra protein is metabolized and used as an energy source. 

Small Dog Nutrition:  Fats Explained

Fats provide the body with energy and add to the flavoring of the food. Fats vary in nutritional value with both the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids being high on the list.  They are considered essential fatty acids because the body cannot synthesize them.  The must be obtained through the diet. 

The Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids should be present in one form or another in dog foods, although the AAFCO does not recognize them as essential nutrients.  If they are present, they should be in the right quantity and proper ratio. 

Better foods will provide them in a higher quantity such as 2.2% Omega-6 to 0.3% Omega-3. 

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Examples of Omega-6 Fatty Acids include:

Linoleic Acid (found in corn, soy, canola, safflower, sunflower oils, whole grains, body fat

Arachidonic Acid (found in body fat of poultry, lean meat, egg yolks, some fish oils

Gamma Linoleic Acid:  (found in black currant seed oil, borage oil, evening primrose oil)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Examples of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

Alpha linoleic Acid:  (found in Flaxseed oil)

Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid:  (found in cold water fish and their oils)

Small Dog Nutrition 101:  Carbohydrates Explained

Next is the carbohydrate group that includes both the simple sugars found in fruits and milk to the starches and fibers found in grains.  Carbohydrates provide energy for the dog and assure that the intestinal tract functions smoothly and efficiently.

Common carbohydrate sources in dog foods are corn, rice, wheat, barley and oats. 

The carbohydrates must be processed properly, they are easily metabolized by the dog’s body.  Grains can add to the overall protein content, but they also add valuable nutrients to the diet. 

Higher quality foods may also contain vegetables and fruits.

Even if the grain offers little of nutritional value, many dog food manufacturers will add it because it contributes to the overall fiber needed for intestinal health. 

Dietary fiber aids the digestive system by helping to move the stomach contents through the intestines. 

Too much fiber can cause loose stools, gas and increased stool volume and frequency. 


Vitamins are organic compounds needed by the body in tiny amounts to assist in regular metabolic processes.  Each vitamin acts in a different way and all are needed in the food. 

Dogs cannot make their own vitamins. 

You might see vitamins listed on the list of ingredients using the following names:

Vitamin A:  Retinol, Beta carotene
Vitamin D: Calciferol
Vitamin E:  Tocopherol
Vitamin K:  Naphthoquinone
Vitamin B1:  Thiamine
Vitamin B2:  Riboflavin
Vitamin B3:  Niacin
Vitamin B5: Pantothenic Acid
Vitamin 6: Pyridoxine
Vitamin B8: Biotin
Vitamin B9: Folic Acid, Folate
Vitamin B12:  Cobalamin, Cyanocobalamin
Vitamin C: Ascorbic Acid


Minerals are inorganic compounds required by the body.  Since they cannot be synthesized, they must be provided through the diet. 

The body cannot synthesize any of them, so dietary supplementation in proper balance is vital. Some minerals are required in minute amounts called trace minerals. 

Examples of trace minerals include:  Cobalt, Magnesium, Boron, Copper, Fluoride, Iodine, Iron, Molybdenum, Silicon, Manganese, and Zinc

Others are needed in larger quantities such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, potassium and sodium.

Higher quality dog foods contain Chelated, amino acid chelate, amino acid complex, proteinate, sequestered minerals.  These forms are more easily absorbed by the body than minerals supplied in other forms. 

If you see words such as “oxide”, “sulfate” or “phosphate” on the ingredients list, they are less easily absorbed mineral sources.

Small Dog Nutrition 101

Small dogs grow faster than large breed dogs reaching maturity at a younger age, usually long before their first birthday.  They also have a faster metabolism compared to large breed dogs which mean that small breed dogs have a higher caloric requirement per pound of body weight than their larger cousins.  It also means that more protein and fats in the diet are necessary for optimal health.

Small dogs also have smaller stomachs, so less space to hold large meals.  Since they need to consume large qualities in relation to their body weight, they require small meals, several times a day. 

Puppies especially do better on three meals a day until they are six months old.  If small dogs do not eat on a regular basis, they can be prone to blood sugar drops that result in hypoglycemia.

Small dog breed dogs do better with smaller sized pieces of kibble.  Many commercial dog food companies now offer specific foods for the size of the dog and some even offer breed specific foods. So, what is the best food for small breed dogs?  Everyone has their opinions. 

If you plan to offer a commercial dog food, it is best to find a company that understands the unique digestive requirements of small breed dogs.  Stay away from those that claim to have a small breed brand just because it comes in small pieces.

The size of the kibble is obviously a factor in how easily the dog can eat it, but it should also contain:

  • More high-quality protein and fats than brands for larger breed dogs
  • More calories
  • Good sources of digestible starches
  • Ingredients that provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
  • No harmful additives such as artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Small bite size pieces

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TheSuperHealthyFood © Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.