Best Dog Food For Small Dogs

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Your small dog may bark like a big boy, but he has unique and specific nutrition needs to attain his best doggy potential. Read on to find out more about his nutrition needs and learn tips to find the right dog food for him.

small dog, chihuahua; pixabay

How much food does my dog need?

In general, a small (adult) dog breed will need about 400 calories a day. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s an adequate amount for a small dog weighing about 10 pounds (4.5kg). Compared to larger dogs, small dogs reach their adult size faster, have higher metabolism, and live longer. For these reasons, their food should be energy-rich, and packed with nutrients and minerals.

To put this into perspective, a small adult dog that weighs up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) should receive half a cup of (dry) food at each feeding time. Small adult dogs more than 10 pounds, up to 25 pounds (11 kg), should receive about 3/4 to 1 cup of (dry) food at each feeding time.

Some people may assume that because their dogs are small, they’ll be easier to feed. They may equate their dog’s small size with easy maintenance. However, quite the opposite is true – because of their small size, they have less space for food storage, and they may not respond as well to insufficient feeding or the wrong balance of nutrients.

Small puppies vs small adult dogs

Puppies undergo a rapid growth phase, and the type of food they receive as puppies should be very high in protein and fat to aid this growth. They should be receiving commercial dog food that is made especially for puppies.

small dog, mutt; pixabay

Once they reach 80% of the estimated adult size, they should be switched over to food intended for adult dogs, which still have high protein content, but somewhat lower fat content to prevent obesity.

Important note: puppies should not be separated from their mother until they reach 8 weeks of age. Milk from their mother will have the complete nutrients it needs, along with a host of other supplements not found in commercial dog food, such as antibodies for their developing immune system. Watch out for a more comprehensive guide to feeding puppies, to be posted soon on this site. The rest of this guide will be aimed at small dog breeds in their adult state.

What kind of food does my dog need?

Protein and fat are the most important nutrients for your dog. Protein will help him to build lean muscle mass and help prevent obesity, while fat (the good kind) will protect his liver, help his growth and serve as his energy reservoir throughout the day. The optimal protein content in dry dog food is 22-30% (5.5-8% in wet dog food). As for fat, the optimal content in dry dog food is 10-20% (3-5% in wet dog food).

In addition, your dog will need carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to complete his diet. While no specific type of carbohydrate is recommended for dogs, the right carbohydrates is essential to provide a balanced diet. A high-quality commercial type of dog food will have all of these nutrients densely packed into the food bits, along with other supplements that will prevent problems common in older dogs.

The best types of commercial dog food will state clearly on the label the source of the protein, such as chicken, beef or duck. If the first ingredient printed on the label is something else, like corn or wheat, or even a meat “by-product” (ex. chicken by-product or beef by-product), you should stay away from that type of food.

It’s best to avoid dog food that lists any type of grain on the label (corn, wheat), as a grain-free diet is best for dogs. Grains are largely used as extenders, and may cause allergies, bloating, or even dull coats. Grain-free types of dog food tend to be more expensive, but this is because they have no extenders, and smaller amounts of this type of food will be sufficient to provide the quality nutrients your dog needs.

Other tips for feeding

Establish a feeding routine for your dog. He should be fed at roughly the same time every day. If you feed him twice a day, and usually do so at 8am and 6pm, try to make this a regular habit. This will help him establish his own pooping routine. It will help you as well, you’ll spot any irregularities in the routine quicker – such as your dog skipping a meal or not pooping for 1-2 days.


Stick to the same brand and amount of food, unless your veterinarian advises you on a change. Dogs’ digestive systems are quite sensitive and aren’t able to handle change quite so well, possibly resulting in bloating or diarrhea. If you do change his food, do so gradually by mixing in the new with the old and transitioning out the old over time.

Don’t overfeed your dog. If your dog isn’t finishing his food, you may be giving him too much. A good tip is to check his poop, it should be firm and brown. If his poop is firm, but gets softer and light brown towards the end, this is a good sign of overfeeding.

Always have clean water available. Clean his bowls and change the water at least once a day.

Leave your dog alone while he is eating. Your dog is born with the instinct to protect his food, even from you, and he might display some signs of aggression if you try to take away his food. This is completely normal.

Top 4 recommended dog food for small dogs

  • top 1: Merrick Classic Grain-Free Cowboy Cookout; made from premium high-protein beef; with high-quality blend of fruits and vegetables; no grains, no meat by-products; no artificial flavors or preservatives; $4.50/lb

  • top 2: Wellness Core Natural Grain-Free Dry Dog Food; made from premium, natural turkey and chicken; no grains, no meat by-products, no artificial flavors or preservatives; $2.99/lb

  • top 3: Instinct Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature’s Variety; high-protein bites of real cage-free duck; no grains or extenders; tailored for small breed dogs; $5.7/lb

  • top 4: Petcurean Go Sensitivity + Shine Limited Ingredient Turkey Dog Food; zero grains, gluten or potatoes; no meat by-products, growth hormones or artificial preservatives; $4.33/lb


Other reading material

Article Name
Best Dog Food For Small Dog - Food & Nutrition Guide
Your small dog may bark like a big boy, but he has specific nutrition needs to attain his best doggy potential. Read on to find out more.

1 comment on “Best Dog Food For Small Dogs

  1. Betty Van Patten

    Thank you, for the information in your articles. I have been trimming hair and washing eyes of our Maltese for tear stains, now I will change to filtered water. Our poodle/maltese has allergies so she eats grain free, I will change the senior toy poodle and the young Maltese to grain free dry also. They get a combination of canned and dry 2x daily. I supplement with a variety of vegetables: broccoli, parsley, celery(vet says good cancer fighters), green beans, carrots, cauliflower, I plan to add spinach or kale.


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