Best Small Breed Dog Food

Updated October 2020
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Buying guide for best small breed dog food

Dogs have probably the most size variation of any animal species, from tiny 4-pound Chihuahuas to gigantic 250-pound English mastiffs, so it makes little sense to assume they all have the same nutritional requirements. Choose a small breed dog food and it's more likely that it will meet the individual needs of your small breed or toy dog.

First, you should learn more about the nutritional needs of small dogs versus their larger counterparts, so you know what to look out for in a small breed dog food. You also need to decide whether you prefer to feed dry food, wet food, or both. Plus, we've got some important information on grain-free dog food that all dog owners should be aware of. (Spoiler alert: it's not nearly as healthy as you've been led to believe, and it could even be detrimental to your dog's health.)

If you want some recommendations, we've listed our top five small breed dog foods above. Otherwise, read on for the full buying guide.

Refined wheat and corn aren't the healthiest grains, but that doesn't mean you should forgo grains in dog food altogether. Brown rice, barley, whole grain sorghum, and even whole grain wheat are all great choices.

Key considerations

Nutritional content

Small breed dogs don't have the same nutritional requirements as larger dogs, but what are the differences between dog food for small breeds and dog food for bigger dogs?

Calories: Probably the biggest difference is in the calorie content. You might assume that small breed dogs would need low-calorie dog food to prevent weight gain, but in fact the opposite is true. Pound for pound small dogs burn more calories than larger dogs. Although, in theory, they could just eat larger portions of standard dog food, this isn't always possible in practice because small dogs have small stomachs and sometimes simply can't fit in enough food to meet their calorie requirements. As such, small breed dog food is more calorie dense than regular dog food, so little dogs can get a greater number of calories in a smaller amount of food.

Protein, fat, and carbs: On a similar note, small breed dog food should also contain slightly higher percentages of protein and fat. We'd also recommend choosing a recipe that contains complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, since small dogs are more susceptible to the blood sugar spikes and troughs that can be caused by simple carbohydrates.

Grains: In every generation, there's a food or food group that's demonized. Once upon a time, it was fat, but now we know there are plenty of good fats that are hugely beneficial to the body. Currently, it's grains and gluten. As such, a huge variety of grain-free dog food is now available, with dog parents mistakenly believing they're healthier. Unless your dog has a diagnosed grain allergy, there's no reason to feed it a grain-free diet. In fact, the FDA suspects that eating grain free dog food may be a risk factor in a type of canine heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Unless there's a medical reason to do so, we'd highly recommend choosing a small breed dog food that contains grain. Remember that gluten-free isn't the same as grain-free. A gluten-free dog food may still contain healthy whole grains, such as brown rice.

Wet vs. dry

Should you choose dry food or wet food for your small breed dog? Both have their good points and bad points, so there's no simple answer.

Dry: Dry dog food tends to cost less than wet food, which is what draws in many pet parents. It lasts a long time and doesn't need refrigeration once opened, though it's wise to store it in a covered container if your dog takes a while to finish a bag. It stays fresh in the bowl all day, so it's safer to feed to dogs who tend to pick at their food throughout the day, rather than eating it in one go, which small dogs are more likely to do than larger dogs.

Wet: Wet dog food tends to be more palatable to dogs than dry food (though that's not to say dogs don't enjoy eating dry food). It can be easier for senior dogs to eat than crunchy kibble. It's more likely to contain a greater percentage of whole meat and fewer fillers. Although it is more expensive, this is less of a concern when you have small dogs, since they're inexpensive to feed compared to big dogs.

Expert Tip
Some small breed dog food contains chondroitin and glucosamine to support joint health.
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Features

Kibble size

Small breed dry dog food should be made up of small pieces of kibble, since small dogs can struggle with the large kibble size of standard dog food.

Probiotics

Some small breed dog food contains probiotics that aid digestion and are generally beneficial to gut health.

Formula

The formula, or flavor, tells you the main ingredients contained in the food. For instance, "chicken and rice formula" or "salmon and sweet potato formula." The named ingredients aren't necessarily the only proteins and carbs contained in the food, just those with the largest percentage.

Expert Tip
Consider the welfare standards of meat used in your chosen small breed dog food. For instance, some formulas include only cage-free chicken or wild-caught meat.
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Small breed dog food prices

The price of small breed dog food varies significantly depending on the package size, whether you choose wet or dry food, and the overall quality of the food. The easiest way to compare prices is by weight.

Dry: You can expect to pay between $0.80 and $3 per pound for dry small breed dog food, though $1 to $1.50 per pound is common.

Wet: Small breed wet dog food tends to cost between $0.75 and $2 for a 3.5-ounce can or tray.

Expert Tip
Omega fatty acids and vitamin E in dog food can help promote skin and coat health.
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Tips

  • Look out for poor-quality ingredients. It's best to avoid artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives; animal by-products; added salt or sugar; and unnamed meat products ("animal meal," for example).
  • Feed your dog according to the package directions. Dog food packages tell you the recommended amount you should feed your dog according to the dog’s weight. Start feeding this amount, but bear in mind that it's only a guideline, so if your pup starts to lose or gain weight, adjust accordingly.
  • Consider the source. Some dog food brands use ingredients sourced only in the United States or North America, where there are generally stricter regulations about what's safe for consumption, particularly with regard to meat.
  • Choose the right quantity. Large bags of dry dog food tend to cost less per pound, but consider whether you can keep it fresh for long enough. It will take a long time for a 10-pound dog to get through 20 pounds of kibble.

Other products we considered

We've listed our top five types of small breed dog food above, but those aren't the only quality options out there. We know not every food is right for every dog, so we've researched some alternative suggestions. The Diamond Naturals Small Breed Chicken and Rice Formula is a dry food made from cage-free chicken, rice, and other grains, including barley and sorghum. It's highly digestible, with added probiotics, and it contains a decent amount of lean protein.

If you'd prefer a wet food, consider the Tiki Dog Aloha Petites, which are nutritionally balanced for small dogs. Although it’s not one of the 16 brands the FDA called out, this is still a grain-free formula, so we'd recommend feeding it in combination with a dry food that contains grains.

High levels of antioxidants are great for small dogs, since their lifespan tends to be longer than that of large dogs and antioxidants can help prevent damage from free radicals that occur over time.

FAQ

Q. Do all small breed dogs require small breed dog food?
A.
Small breed dog food is a fairly recent addition to the dog food market, so you might be wondering if your little dog really needs it. If your small breed dog is thriving on its current food, there's really no need to switch, but if you're looking to change foods, or your dog is underweight or lacking energy, a switch to a specially formulated small breed dog food may be beneficial.
 

Q. Can I feed my small breed dog puppy food instead of small breed dog food?
A.
Puppies are small, but they have different nutritional requirements from small breed adult dogs, so you can't use small breed dog food and puppy food interchangeably. That said, if you have a small breed puppy, you can buy small breed puppy food.
 

Q. How do I switch my dog to a new food?
A.
One common complaint you'll find from dog owners switching their canine companions to a new food is that the food makes their dog sick or gives them diarrhea, so they quickly switch back to their old food. Of course, in some cases, a particular dog food just won't agree with a certain dog, but more commonly these gastrointestinal issues are caused by incorrect switching protocol.

Dogs are used to eating the same food day in, day out, so if you switch to a new food overnight, it's likely to cause stomach complaints. Instead, you should switch to a new food gradually over the course of about six days. Start by replacing a quarter of the old food with the new stuff for a couple of days, then increase this to half old and half new, followed by three-quarters new and a quarter old, before switching to 100% new food. At this gradual pace, there shouldn't be any significant stomach issues.

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