I’ve always had big dogs, so imagine my surprise one day when I went to my future in-laws’ home as a teenager and saw their Yorkshire terriers’ itsy-bitsy food bowls. In the mornings, the dogs got just a handful of food — whereas mine got heaps of it. It did make sense, though, because the Yorkies weighed five and eight pounds. Way, way less than my 70-pound German shepherds! As I got older, I started to notice that different foods were marketed to different breeds.
I began to ask myself this: what makes a food better for one breed size? Because I’ve always owned large-breed dogs, I know a lot about large-breed food. But with so many small dogs in my life, I set out to learn about what ingredients small dogs require, and why.
Here’s what I learned.
First off, small breeds generally weigh less than 22 pounds. But they still need plenty of calories per pound of weight. Even though they may not walk great distances like large dogs, they are much smaller — so the distances they do walk are as taxing to them. If you’re tempted to try a home-cooked or raw diet with your small dog, it might not be a good idea for such small dogs. Small breeds are prone to getting hypoglycemia — dangerously low or unbalanced blood sugar — which requires careful feeding to prevent, especially in tiny toy dogs. It can be hard to truly offer your dog a balanced and complete raw or home cooked diet, especially since small dogs actually need several small meals a day — think 4-6.
Signs of hypoglycemia in small dogs include:
- Low appetite
If your dog presents any of these signs, take her to the vet immediately. Left untreated, hypoglycemia can be fatal.
If your dog shows signs of hypoglycemia, take her to the vet right away.
You can rub a bit of Karo syrup on your dog’s gums if you suspect she’s hypoglycemic, as the sugar will absorb in her gums and help balance her blood sugar levels. But you don’t want to get to this point.
So how do you prevent it? With complete and balanced nutrition!
This is why it’s important to feed small dogs a diet that can match their needs. Because they’re so tiny, small dogs’ diets must be balanced in the most careful and precise way. That’s why buying wet or dry dog food crafted specifically for small breeds is critical to their health.
We have the best small-breed puppy foods listed below. Keep in mind that even though several of the foods on this list are marketed as an adult foods, they’re suitable for puppies — especially puppies 6 months and older. You can also feed young puppies these foods, but consult your veterinarian about the correct amount to give a puppy. You want to prevent overfeeding — or underfeeding!
Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Natural Small Breed Puppy Food
Let’s start with young puppies. It’s best to buy food that’s specifically for small-breed puppies, not puppies who will grow up to be 25 or 40 or even 100 pounds. Blue Buffalo is a wonderful brand, and it has something for everyone — including small-breed puppies. The Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Natural Small Breed Puppy Food features real-food ingredients: deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, pea starch, turkey meal, and pea protein are the first six. Keeping small breed puppies at the forefront of its recipe, the dog food also contains DHA fatty acids for optimal development, along with the perfect carbs and proteins to match a young puppy’s high-energy needs.
A well-fed dog is a healthy dog. Look at this pomeranian romping through the snow!
The food comes in 4-lb or 11-b bags, and it’s reasonably priced. Remember, you don’t want the cheapest dog food on the market, as you’ll most likely find non-nutritious corn and meat by-product fillers at the top of the ingredients list. Think of your small breed dog’s food as preventative care. If they eat the right stuff, they’ll stay healthy.
And yes, this is the only product on the market currently that’s specifically for small-breed puppies and that doesn’t contain chicken by-product meal or corn in the first six ingredients. Keep in mind that chicken meal is the ground-up good parts of a chicken — the rich, healthy proteins and fats — whereas chicken by-product meal is ground up beaks and feet.
Avoid chicken by-product meal. Embrace chicken meal, which is what’s in this puppy food.
Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dog Food for Toy and Small Breeds
The best thing about the Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dog Food is that it comes in two separate types: the one for toy breeds, defined as dogs 7 pounds or under; and one for small breeds up to 22 pounds. This is an important distinction, as the two foods have different nutrient compositions to match toy and small breed dogs separately. Other dog foods tailor one type of small-breed food to one dog, which is fine too — especially if you own multiple dogs and one is a toy and the other is small. But I like that Nutro splits the foods between the two small-breed types so that pet-parents can choose.
The first six ingredients here are chicken, chicken meal, whole grain oatmeal, split peas, whole brown rice, and chicken fat. All good stuff! And as with most quality dog foods, this food features different fruits and vegetables, as well (think sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries). A splendid source of meats, grains, and fruits and vegetables, this is one of the most complete small-breed dog foods out there.
This dog food also contains Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to support a healthy coat and supple skin. Plus it’s GMO-free!
Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Small Breed Dog Food Turkey and Oatmeal
This smaller kibble size food also contains a super-complete nutrition profile. It’s ideal for dogs who turn their noses up at chicken and would rather indulge in turkey instead. Its first ingredients are deboned turkey, chicken meal, salmon meal, oatmeal, ground brown rice, and barley. The vegetables, listed later on, are tomatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries. In addition to listing salmon meal as a top ingredient, this small breed dog food includes salmon oil, both of which support healthy skin and fur.
Apples and blueberries contain vitamins and antioxidants that are crucial to a small dog’s health.
If you have recently adopted a small shelter dog who struggles with mange, weak nails and eyes, or other related issues, this non-GMO dog food can turn their health around within weeks. This is one of the pricier small-breed dog food options, but it’ll save you on vet bills down the road.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula for Small Breed Dogs
Did your small-breed puppy respond well to the Blue Buffalo Small-Breed Puppy Food? Transition them to this adult food when they’re ready to continue a pattern of lifelong health. This food is infused with higher levels of protein and carbohydrates to keep a tiny, high-energy dog’s blood sugar levels steady throughout a day’s worth of adventures. It’s got added fatty acids, glucosamine, phosphorous, and calcium to support any deficits in their bones and blood. The first six ingredients of this dog food are: deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, menhaden fish meal — an amazing source of Omega 3.
For a dog who’s struggling to stay energized and happy, try Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula for Small Breed dogs.
Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Small Breed Food
If you have a super high-needs dog who needs all the delicious, clean nutrition he can get, take a look at Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Small Breed dog food. The very first ingredient on the list? Organic free-range chicken (fancy!). The five after that are organic chicken meal, organic sweet potatoes, organic chickpeas, and organic peas. I love how this food features vegetables right up there with the key proteins, meaning that your dog gets an extra-strong dose of veggies right up front. Chickpeas are also an excellent form of protein!
Because this dog food is USDA-certified organic, you can expect it to cost the most out of all the foods. But of course, you’ll be resting in the knowledge that you are feeding your dog the best of the best. The cream of the crop. The healthiest of a selection of incredibly healthy foods for small-breed dogs.
In short, you won’t regret it.
Merrick Classic Small Breed Dog Food
Does your dog need a food option that has a lower glycemic index? This potato-free small breed dog food should do the trick. Its first six ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, turkey meal, brown rice, and barley. Wholesome proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates right there at the beginning. Further down the list you get quinoa, salmon meal, apples, blueberries, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds. It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin for older small-breed dogs who struggle with joint issues.
Nature’s Recipe Grain Free Small Breed Dog Food
If your small dog is sensitive to grains, you probably want a grain-free dog food that still provides the wholesome, balanced nutrition she needs. This is where Nature’s Recipe Grain Free Small Breed Dog Food comes in. Instead of grains, this food is rich in sweet potato and pumpkin to keep your dog’s energy levels balanced and strong. The first six ingredients here are chicken, chicken meal, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), peas, poultry fat, and pea protein. Apples and pumpkins are next on the list.
Despite its specialization and attention to keeping allergens out of your allergy-prone dog’s diet, this food is surprisingly easy on your budget. It’s a fantastic choice for any dog, too — not just grain-free dogs.
Notice that none of the big-box names are on this list — no Purina, Pedigree, or even Iams. That’s because the first thing that has to pass the healthy dog food test is the first six ingredients, and Pedigree, for example, does not pass — its small-breed food contains, as the first six ingredients… corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten, animal fat, and meat and bone meal. Yuck to the max! Note the absence of specifics — not even chicken by-product meal but poultry, which could mean turkey, duck, and geese parts too. Do not feed that to your dog, cheap as it may be. You will pay for it with health problems as your dogs age.
Instead, select a small breed puppy food from this list and feel confident in what you’re feeding your sweet, feisty little dogs.
A well-fed dog is a happy dog.
Laura Ojeda Melchor grew up with two beloved German shepherd dogs—Clancy and her daughter, Bella. From the time her family brought Clancy home, Laura took on the duty of pooper-scooper and potty trainer. As a teenager Laura helped her mother care for Clancy during her pregnancy. She still remembers fondly the exciting, frigid winter night when the seven special puppies were born. Laura kept the youngest puppy—Bella—and potty trained her, too. She taught Bella important commands, took her for long walks, and spent hours throwing tennis balls for her.
In November, Laura brought home a sweet new puppy, Eira Violet. Eira is half Alaskan malamute and half German shepherd, and Laura loves her deeply. She chose not to use a crate to potty train Eira and was pleasantly surprised at the results. She now has a sweet, energetic dog who always uses the potty outside, plays well with Laura’s toddler, and enjoys long family walks in beautiful Alaska. If you were to meet Eira, she’d bound up to you with a wagging tail and get you running around the yard with her in no time.