Do you think the biggest difference between small dog food and large dog food is the kibble size? Think again.
Your small breed dog has much different nutritional and caloric needs than their larger breed cousins. The right food, made specifically for their tiny bodies and mouths, is key to keeping them stay healthy and trim throughout their lives.
Keep reading to find out why small breed dog food is different than regular kibble, as well as our choices for the five best dog foods for small dogs.
Little Dogs Need Lots of Calories
While it may not be immediately apparent, given that small dogs typically get tiny portions compared to larger dogs, it is actually true that smaller dogs need more calories pound for pound than larger ones.
That’s because small dogs have higher metabolisms than big dogs. In fact, most small animals have a higher caloric need than larger animals.
This is because small animals have a greater surface area to volume ratio. This means that your tiny chihuahua loses heat quicker than a labrador.
In order to stay warm enough, small dogs need more fuel.
One major way that small dog foods differ from normal and large breed foods is that they contain a higher calorie density. This is important because a small dog eating a normal dog food may fill up before they actually consume enough calories and nutrients to make it to their next meal.
Small breed dog food, on the other hand, has more calories packed into each serving, so your little dog can eat a normal-sized meal and still get enough calories to thrive.
Quality Calories Count
But not just any type of calories will do it when it comes to keeping your small pup healthy.
Low-quality dog foods often add sugar or corn syrup to their foods to up the calorie density. But calories from simple sugars like these get used up quickly in the body and can lead to issues with low blood sugar later in the day.
When choosing a small breed dog food, look for one that contains quality, calorie-dense ingredients.
Named animal proteins should always be the biggest contributor to a dog food’s makeup. Look for ingredients like “chicken,” “turkey meal,” and “fish meal” at the beginning of the ingredients list.
The more named meats you can see, the better!
Fat also plays a crucial role in how calorie-dense a dog food is. While each gram of protein provides 4 calories, each gram of fat provides 9 calories.
You can expect to see more fat in small breed dog foods than in large breed ones for this reason. And, like protein, fat will help stabilize your dog’s blood sugar and keep them feeling energized for longer.
Much of the fat in dog foods is contained within listed protein ingredients like “chicken meal” and “salmon meal.” But you will often see ingredients like “chicken fat” listed that indicate that additional fat was added to the recipe on its own.
Different Types of Dog Food for Small Dogs
Dog food comes in so many different forms these days that it can be hard to know which type is the best dog food for little dogs like yours. Because small breed dogs have different nutritional needs and require more calorie-dense diets than large dogs, some forms are actually better options than others.
Dry dog food is by far the most common form of dog food fed to pets around the world.
As long as you choose a quality dog kibble made specifically for small dogs, your little pooch can do well on an all or partial dry food diet. In addition to a higher calorie density, small dog diets will come in a smaller kibble size that is easier to swallow and digest.
All kibble needs carbohydrates in order to maintain its shape during processing. Since your small dog gets most of their nutrition from protein and fats, they have little use for these carbs.
Look for a dry food high in protein and fats with minimal listed plant ingredients to assure the highest quality kibble for your pup.
Because canned food doesn’t require added starches for processing, this type of food has the potential to be more protein-packed than typical dry food.
Quality canned diets will have a number of named meat ingredients listed first on the package. Most will also have added vitamins and minerals.
Look for food with little to no added starch.
Some quality whole-food diets will use nutrient-dense plant ingredients like blueberries and spinach in place of synthetic vitamins and minerals. Just make sure these non-animal ingredients make up a small percentage of the overall ingredients.
Because freeze-dried foods avoid the heat processing typical of canned and dry food, they retain more nutrients. For that reason, these types of diets are a great choice for any dog.
However, these foods aren’t readily available in small dog formulas yet, so make sure you find a recipe with a high-calorie density for your small dog to assure they are receiving adequate energy to support them throughout the day.
These also tend to be more expensive than traditional diets. But, even if you can’t afford to feed freeze-dried food exclusively, adding a pattie to your dog’s meal on occasion will provide quality nutrients and extra protein they’ll appreciate.
Similar to freeze-dried foods, dehydrated dog foods retain a lot of nutrients because they are dried at low temperatures. Also like Freeze-Dried foods, they are new enough to the market that they aren’t readily available in small breed specific formulas.
Many dehydrated foods tend to be lower in protein than freeze-dried varieties, so you may have to look harder to find one with the right calorie density to support your small dog’s needs.
They do, however, tend to be more affordable than freeze-dried and are great for exclusive feeding or mixed in with normal kibble for a nutrient boost.
Reviews of The Best Small Dog Foods for Small Dogs
#1. Wellness Core Rawrev Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food
When it comes to the best dry dog food for small dogs, the Wellness brand provides a number of great lines to meet the needs of your tiny furry friend, whatever those needs may be. But their Core Rawrev natural food is easily one of the best.
This food contains an impressive 38% minimum protein to feed your tiny dog’s big metabolism all day long. Much of this protein comes from the first three ingredients: turkey, turkey meal, and chicken meal.
These meat meals also provide your little pooch with a boost of energizing fats and many important nutrients for overall health.
One great feature of this food is that, while it contains a higher than average protein content, the fat content is about on par with most standard dog foods, making this one of the best small breed dog foods for low to moderately active small dogs.
The high protein will feed your dog’s metabolism while the average fat content means they don’t risk gaining too much excess weight, even if they are more lapdog than terrorizing terrier. If you do have a more active pup, you can always feed greater portions or add a midday meal to add extra calories.
As the name suggests, this food contains raw bites alongside the traditional hard kibbles. These raw, freeze-dried bites are made of 100% raw turkey, adding not only a blast of pure protein but also a ton of nutrients that are easily digested and utilized by your pup.
This food is on the higher end of the price spectrum and does contain potatoes and peas, which up the amount of starch and contribute somewhat to the overall protein total.
#2. Instinct Raw Boost Small Breed & Toy Breed Grain Free Recipe Natural Dry Dog Food
Coming in at a close second on our list of the best small breed dog food reviews, is another dry kibble that incorporates more nutritious freeze-dried bites into the recipe. Instinct’s Raw Boost formula is available in many flavors and all are made with quality ingredients to help your dog thrive.
This small breed formula has slightly less protein than our Wellness pick at 35%. But it actually packs a denser calorie content due to a higher fat content of 20%.
Some dogs, especially young puppies and adolescents may do better on higher-fat diets that provide more sustained energy and stabilize blood sugars more effectively.
This formula is available in three flavors: beef, chicken, and duck. And, best of all if you own an especially tiny pooch, this diet is even available in toy breed chicken flavor.
This special diet includes the same quality recipe as the normal small breed chicken but with smaller kibbles made for smaller mouths, making Instinct the best small bites dog food on our list.
All three flavors contain at least two named meats/meat meals as the first ingredients and additional meals, like herring meal, in the top seven ingredients. Each food also contains freeze-dried raw bites made of the meat named on the front of the bag.
Like our first choice pick, this food does contain some legumes and other starches and likely gets some of the higher protein content from these sources.
This food is priced about the same as Wellness’ Rawrev, but is available in more flavors, making it easier to rotate diets to keep your pup interested and provide varying nutrients.
#3. Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Small Breed Recipe Recipe Dry Dog Food
If you’re looking for the best natural dog food for small breeds but want even more than our first two choices offer than our third choice is for you. Castor & Pollux’s Organix small breed recipe is USDA certified organic and packed with quality ingredients with none of the additives or chemicals that come with non-organic foods.
This formula is only available in chicken flavor and has a lower protein total than our first choices at only 26%. But with organic chicken and chicken meal as the first two ingredients, this food still has a lot to offer.
The formula also contains organic chicken fat and salmon oil as well as a number of organic, nutrient-rich fruits and veggies like blueberries and flaxseed. It does contain a higher percentage of plant-sourced ingredients than is optimal, but they are all organic and the recipe is also grain-free.
As one of the only organic dog foods on the market, this is easily one of the best small breed dog foods, grain-free or otherwise, you’re likely to find.
This food is also rated for all life stages, making it a great choice for small breed puppies and adults. If you’re looking for a formula specifically for puppies, check out our list of the best puppy foods.
As with most organic products, this one will cost you more than non-organic alternatives and easily tops our list as the highest priced option. But for owners who know the value of an organic diet for themselves, this food provides the option to treat your pooch to that same degree of quality.
#4. Solid Gold Small & Toy Breed Wet & Dry Dog Food with Real Protein
If you want an easy way to jazz up your dog’s dinner bowl without having to search for multiple best-rated dog foods for small dogs of different types, then we have an easy solution for you. Solid Gold’s small breed line offers both dry and wet foods in different flavors so you can easily rotate foods to keep your pet excited about mealtime.
This line comes in five flavors: beef, chicken, lamb, salmon, and turkey. Each is available as a canned diet or as traditional, dry kibble.
The wet flavors average about 44% protein (dry matter), with the exception of turkey which has only about 25%. The dry foods all have about 30% protein.
Each flavor contains multiple named meat ingredients. The canned foods contain fewer plant ingredients than the dry, but all get some of the protein content from legumes.
If your small dog tends to be a picky eater, this line of food is a perfect choice. You can easily add canned food to their normal dry food diet to entice them to eat.
And by choosing the same flavor of wet as dry, you can avoid any stomach upset, even if your dog is extra sensitive.
This food is priced well and should easily fit into most budgets.
#5. Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Small Breed Dry Dog Food
Looking for the best dog food brand for small dogs that will fit into a tight budget? We chose Merrick’s Whole Earth Farms small breed just for you.
This quality small dog diet is very affordable, but still contains quality meat ingredients and higher protein than the average grocery store brand.
At 26% protein and 13% fat, this diet is a great choice for less active small dogs who need to watch their figures. More active and younger dogs might struggle on this food, however, given the lower calorie density.
This diet is available in two flavors: chicken and turkey/chicken. Both contain chicken meal as the first ingredient and chicken and turkey, or just chicken included in the top seven ingredients.
This formula is grain-free but does contain more plant ingredients like potatoes, peas, and sweet potatoes. These ingredients add a lot of unnecessary starch and affect the overall protein percentage.
Still, when it comes to a budget food, you’ll struggle to find a higher quality diet for your pooch at this price range.
What is the Best Dog Food for Small Dogs?
After reviewing a number of small breed dog foods made with quality ingredients and the right nutrient and calorie profile for a tiny dog’s needs, we chose Wellness Core Rawrev Small Breed formula as the best dog food for small dogs. This diet contains a high amount of protein and average fat levels perfect for the average small breed pooch.
The added freeze-dried turkey bites add extra nutrition to this already meat-packed formula. And the small breed specific makeup of this food means you can count on it to have tiny kibbles made for the size of your pup’s mouth.
If you’re looking for an organic or more affordable diet for your pup, we included great choices for those in our list as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Summed Up: The Best Dog Foods for Small Dogs
|Name||Wellness Core Rawrev Small Breed||Instinct Raw Boost Small Breed||Castor & Pollux Organic Small Breed||Solid Gold Small and Toy Breed Wet and Dry||Whole Earth Farms Small Breed|
|Small Breed Features||High protein, calorie-dense, high meat content, raw bites||Multiple flavors, extra small kibble size, high protein, raw bites||Organic meats and veggies, moderate protein||Multiple flavors, wet and dry formulas, high protein||Affordable, quality meats, lower-calorie for less active dogs|
- Dr. Jennifer Coates. “Nutritional Differences for Small, Toy, and Large Breed Dogs” petmd.com, 3 Feb 2012.
- Anna Burke. “Best Dog Food for Small Breeds” akc.org, 2 June 2016.
Want to learn more about your dog’s breed specific nutritional needs? Check out these great articles: