Best Dog Food for Small Dogs: Tips on Small Breed Dog Diet

Puppy eating his food
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

Small dogs often have huge personalities and they are still dogs and not toys or dolls. Their calorie intake is large in relation to the amount they eat because their metabolism burns at a high energy rate. They have a higher surface area to the body compared to their weight and size so their energy need is quite high. A small toy dog will need twice as many calories per bite as a Mastiff.

They also have small mouths and small tummies and this creates a difficulty when you are trying to maintain that high calorie rate. The small tummy means that only a tiny amount is eaten each time. It is probably better to feed two or even three times a day and most of the small breed dog foods are very nutrient rich. They usually have more protein and fat for energy and easy to digest carbohydrates but not excessive amounts. The addition of vitamin B will help to make the metabolism work.

These dogs also need more calcium and phosphorous to support bone growth and development. Then there is that fine line between maintaining this needed energy level whilst still not allowing the dog to become overweight. With good quality food extra supplements should not be needed and in fact, can be harmful.

It also should go without saying that a small kibble is necessary for small jaws and as they go through life the ingredients change slightly. Puppies need the additions that will promote strong bone growth, muscles and teeth, older. Adult dogs need ingredients for good skin, glossy coat and strong bones, mature dogs will need antioxidants to enhance immunity and elderly dogs may need additions for joint care. All ages will require the optimal amount of nutrition available.

Dog eating biscuits

Tiny dogs are sometimes called handbag dogs by people who do not understand that a small dog is still a dog. I’m sure the dogs would be insulted if they knew. These dogs were highly prized in days gone by- a Papillon walked with Marie Antionette to the guillotine and the king passed a law that no Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would be banned from the Houses of Parliament.

Your pet is no less treasured and needs to be carefully fed. Very small dogs are under eight pounds and small dogs are usually between nine and twenty pounds and can have a life expectancy of up to sixteen years.

Small dogs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and personalities from the little Affenpinscher who is happy to exercise a lot if you like to walk or sit on the sofa with you if you need to be a couch potato for a while, to the Havanese who although looks like a pretty princess when brushed and a ribbon in its hair, is active and agile and quite good at agility competitions. Some small dogs are quite slender and maybe not the right choice if you have boisterous children.

Be very careful — very careful — about so called designer dogs because these are often bred by people who are just out to make money and have simply mated two breeds they happened to have in the house. They also lend themselves to puppy farmers who have jumped onto a bandwagon. Go to a reputable breeder and be very cautious.

Different diets — what to choose?

There are so many different diets available for dogs today!

Dry kibble is usually a balanced diet carefully worked out by the manufacturer. It is meant to be fed without any other additions but needs always to have water on hand. Even within the dry kibble manufacturers there are vast differences. Some companies actually make diets for specific breeds and then there are flavors to choose from within that selection. Some go to great lengths to use good ingredients whilst others may be cheap but are probably not as nutritious.

Wet Food comes in cans and pouches and again has a wide range from which to choose. It is very palatable for dogs but provides nothing for teeth crunching. A combination of wet and dry is also popular.

Raw Food has had a big growth in the last few years and it makes the point that the food that dogs would eat in the wild would not be cooked or have additives. There are people who have gone into this in great detail at home and make their own raw food diet. Done with the right information it can be a wonderful way to feed but is time consuming and not easy to get right.

You should read our great article on the ins and outs of the raw food diet for dogs, as well as the benefits you and your dog can experience from this change in dietary lifestyle.

Natural Food has also had a huge growth and there are some wonderful companies out there using human grade natural ingredients.

Food for small breads of dog

Grain Free food is another type of food rising in popularity as it avoids grain and gluten that may cause allergies.

Fresh food usually comes in sealed plastic covers that look like big sausages.

Frozen food is usually used in conjunction with some dry kibble but has the advantage of being stored in large amounts. Tripe is a case in point which can be defrosted and added to kibble- not cooked or the smell will fill your house and drive everyone outside.

Organic Food is made with ingredients that have never been in contact with chemicals in the same way that human organic food is produced. Again this has had a great rise in popularity over the last few years. It can be difficult to tell which food brands are actually organic, so we take the mystery out of the process by listing the top organic dog food brands you can buy.

Let`s talk about each of these kinds of food and find which one is better fits your’s and your four-legged friend’s needs.

Option #1 — dry kibble

Most people feed dry kibble as it is convenient and the cost is reasonable. It does , however, have more carbohydrate and starch because of the way it is made. The more expensive dry foods are probably more cost effective in the long run as there is less waste and the smaller portions are more nutritious.

Some of the firms who make small or mini bite dry kibble are James Wellbeloved, Eukanuba, Pedigree, Hills, Fish4Dogs and Arden Grange. James Wellbeloved are also hypoallergenic and have cranberry as sometimes small dogs are subject to urinary troubles. They also have varieties for particular breeds.

James Wellbeloved Wellbeloved Lamb & Rice Kibble

Fish4 Dogs are so convinced of their product they offer a money back guarantee and this is grain free and has high amounts of Omega 3.

Fish4 Dogs

Arden Grange have a smooth kibble that is easy to manage for small mouths. It is all natural ingredients and coated with a natural flavoring making it attractive to the dog.

Arden Grange

Pedigree are probably the best known firm worldwide and has the assortment of ingredients needed for overall health including the vital vitamin B for small dogs.

Dry kibble

Royal Canin are a very well-known manufacturer who use high quality products and actually make a mini bite variety which is needed if you have a very small dog.

There are very many more makes on the market and it pays to read all of the ingredients on the packet before you decide which brand to buy. When you do change the dog food it is better to make it a very gradual change and add some of the new variety to the one already being used.

Royal Canin offer

Use the new product for at least a month to allow the dog’s system to settle with the change- unless of course you have an adverse reaction.

Option #2 — canned dog food

Because of the nature of this type of food then small mouths are usually able to cope very well and there are some wonderful manufacturers out there making holistic, organic, natural and extremely delicious foods. There is no crunch ability in these cans for tooth cleaning and dogs do need to have something to actually chew. There are toppers and small bite biscuits available to add to wet foods to counteract that. On the up side of the cans the meat content is usually high and the filler material is often low.

Lily's Kitchen canned food

Some of the brands available are Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Lily’s Kitchen, Cesar, Applause, Arden Grange and Pedigree. In fact most manufacturers supply canned food and some. Like Cesar or Gourmet, specialize in small dog requirements.

Canned food VS Dry food

Wet food also comes in cartons, sausages, pouches and trays. The ingredients give you the story of what is inside and some are actually providing over forty percent of the meat part .which means that the product is offering around half of the meal in protein, about ten per cent in fat and about a quarter in carbohydrate.

CESAR Canine Cuisine Variety Pack Filet Mignon

The fat to protein ratio is often good bearing in mind a small dog needs that protein to boost the energy level. Again there are huge numbers of makes to choose from.

Option #3 — organic food

This sort of food is free of hormones, preservatives, pesticides and antibiotics and the farmers who produce the ingredients have to adhere to strict guidelines and standards. The livestock are fed all organic food and grown crops have natural fertilizers and are managed in the traditional crop rotation system.

Because of these rules lots of people are convinced that organic meals are much better for you than other types. Organic food has to be backed up with paperwork that proves that it actually is what it says it is.

Option #4 — raw food (BARF diet)

Often referred to now as a BARF diet, this method of feeding is logical when you realize that animals in the wild would not eat cooked food, wheat or grains and the makers of these products are keen to point out that as you would not feed your family fast food every day, you should not feed your pet the equivalent. They also do not recommend adding a dry kibble to the food as this will digest at a different rate to the raw diet and cause problems.

Raw food diet

The choice, of course, is up to the individual. Some of the makes on offer are very good but some are not balanced with the right amount of antioxidants or vitamins and the right amount of fatty acids. This can apply particularly to homemade raw food diets. There are some people out there who take a lot of trouble to get the balance right but there are those who cause problems. It is as well to not only read all the advice on offer but also to confer with your vet because small dogs have particular needs.

Your local pet store will have a selection for you to study. If in doubt consult the vet because often veterinary surgeons have to deal with the result of feeding the wrong diet. Better safe than sorry.

Option #5 — natural diets

Natural dog diets are usually formulated from real meat, fruit and vegetables, added omega and vitamins formulated for the right balance and has no added soy, gluten, grains, no added color or artificial flavoring.


It would seem that this option might offer the best of both worlds because natural foods can come as either kibble or as canned food. It gives you a choice plus a diet that is as allergen free as possible and often made from human grade whole meat. Some of the brands on offer are Wellness, Blue Buffalo, Lily’s Kitchen, Nature’s Diet and Natural Instinct. This last company provide a frozen version. Forth glade are a UK based company who provide a wet natural food in cartons with no soy, gluten, grains, eggs dairy or additives in the form of a pate.

Nture's Variety Instinct

Wellness do a kibble for both small and toy dogs as do Innova and both of these companies offer natural treats for small dogs. Innova have special baked biscuit treats especially for small mouths and Wellness make a variety of treats in enticing flavors and petite treats for small dogs with as many flavors as human crisp manufacturers offer- beef and bison with blueberries and chicken, cherries and spearmint. Some dogs are just so lucky!

Your local pet store will have a selection to browse of natural foods and all of the ones mentioned are available online.

Well balanced diet + care = happy dog

Do not forget that your tiny dog is still a dog and if you look at him and think he doesn’t care for the lovely food on offer, do not keep on trying to tempt him with more and more exciting items. The dog will simply wait each time to see what you can come up with that is even more delicious.

You have taken a lot of time and trouble to find out about the right food. Put it down, leave it for half an hour and if it is not eaten take it away until the next meal and do not give any treats in between. Of course if your precious baby looks unwell or has never done this before then a trip to the vet is always a wise precaution. Do not feed human food as treats. When in doubt, avoid making the mistakes we have listed in our article detailing the errors made in dog nutrition.

Foods Never To Feed Your Dog

Small and toy dogs need different nutrition as they age so make sure you have the right balance at the right time. You want your dog to be full of life and energy with a healthy coat and bright eyes for the entire life span.

Spend time with him and I do not mean carry him around. Small dogs need exercise and fun but they also love a cuddle when the fun is over. When you have consulted with your vet, found the right, balanced nutrition and given him your attention and exercise, you can indulge yourself in the accessory market.

There are hundreds of beautiful, sparkly collars and leads out there to make sure he is smart on his daily walks and at the end of the day he can snuggle into luxurious bedding befitting our little prince or princess with a favorite toy.

Small dog chewing

Apart from good, nutritious food a regular grooming routine will not only help your pet look well but will improve his coat as well. Small dogs like Pomeranians or Havanese need brushing every day and regular visits to qualified groomers will keep nails clipped and coat smart. Like we humans, a dog feels good when pampered, shampooed and trimmed. If the dog is used to gentle brushing and nail clipping from his earliest days, he will accept it as part of a normal regime.

Travel in a crate in the car is also something to do early in life and then you and your dog can enjoy trips out together. Remember cars heat up really quickly and always be aware that a dog can die in less than twenty minutes in a hot car. Simple precautions, a good diet and your love and attention will keep your small dog happy and full of life. At the end of the day a small treat made from sensible, wholesome ingredients is quite acceptable. Avoid anything dyed and stick to quality products.

With any food always read the ingredients on the packet and if in doubt consult your veterinary surgeon.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.