Pint-sized and perky, small breeds like Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Boston Terriers make wonderful additions to the family. Bringing a puppy home is hugely exciting, but it also means lots of changes and new responsibilities. Of of the biggest is making sure your small friend has a well-balanced diet that addresses his nutritional needs. So, what’s the best puppy food for small breeds?
Below we’ll explore the nutritional requirements of small-breed puppies and suggest some of the best puppy food for small breeds to keep your young friend happy and healthy.
Canine Nutrition Basics
- Protein is the foundation of a healthy diet for all puppies, regardless of breed, since it’s necessary to support growth and development. Fat is a concentrated source of calories that’ll help your pup absorb fat-soluble vitamins. While your puppy has no specific requirement for carbohydrates, healthy sources can provide essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
- The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has determined the minimum requirements for key nutrients in dogs: a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat for canine growth and reproduction (puppies and lactating females). These numbers are higher than what’s recommended for adult dogs, since puppies require more protein, calories, and other nutrients than adult dogs do—a result of their developing bodies and greater caloric expenditure.
- To meet these requirements, feed your puppy a high-quality puppy food made with real, whole-food sources of these nutrients. Animal protein like meat or poultry should be the focus, with higher-than-average fat and limited carbohydrate content. Not all dog foods have the same calorie content, so it’s also a good idea to consider calories per cup and follow feeding recommendations for your dog’s age and weight.
- Checking for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on the label is a good way to weed out the really bad dog foods, but it doesn’t guarantee high quality, since AAFCO’s standards are about meeting the minimum—and you probably want better than “minimum” for your pup. That’s why it’s worth digging a little deeper into the needs of your specific pup.
Specific Nutritional Needs for Small-Breed Puppies
- Small-breed puppies encompass many different types of dogs. But the one thing they all have in common? They’re small! As such, their pint-sized bodies have different needs compared to large-breed puppies.
- For starters, small dogs reach maturation more quickly than large breeds. Puppies are generally switched onto adult food once they’ve reached 80% of their expected adult size, which for small dogs means 9 to 10 months, as opposed to larger breeds, which reach similar points in 12 to 18 months.
- Though puppyhood for small dogs is shorter, these pups still face some important nutritional considerations during this period. Whereas large-breed puppies need to watch factors such as calories and calcium that can contribute to overgrowth and orthopedic issues like hip dysplasia, not getting enough calories is a risk factor for small-breed puppies.
- Hypoglycemia occasionally affects small-breed puppies as well, according to the Hound Health Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Dog Happy, Healthy & Active by Betsy Brevitz, D.V.M., and though it may not be a common occurrence, it can be fatal and requires immediate veterinary attention.
- Why are these issues potentially exacerbated in small-breed puppies? Their bodies, while small, have a much higher metabolic rate and energy requirement than large-breed dogs.
- Don’t be fooled by their mini stature; though they may not be able to eat as much in one sitting as a large-breed puppy, due to a tinier stomach, those small meals need to be densely packed in calories, protein, and fat to keep up with their speedy metabolisms and ensure they are getting enough of the nutrients they need.
Puppy Food for Small Breeds: Wet vs. Dry
- When choosing a diet for your small-breed puppy, your first decision is whether to feed your dog wet or dry food, or a combination. According to the Clinical Nutrition Service (part of Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University), wet food can be easier for dogs to chew and swallow and is also a good option for picky eaters. Canned food also has higher water content, which can be beneficial for dogs with certain health considerations. Fat and protein are typically more prevalent in wet food as well, so this may be a good option for your small-breed pup.
- As for dry food, kibble can be harder for your small-breed puppy to chew (unless it is sized accordingly). However, dry food makes less mess when feeding and cleaning up after mealtimes and also has a longer shelf life than wet (be sure to check the date on the label before buying). Dry food is also thought to help maintain dental health in dogs (in accordance with regular teeth cleanings and dental chews).
Dog Food for Small Breed Puppies: To Grain or Not To Grain
- In addition to choosing wet versus dry food, you may also find yourself wondering about grain-free diets. Some owners prefer grain-free as it is believed to be closer to the traditionally carnivorous Canis genus diet and can be easier on a dog’s digestive system, especially if your dog has grain allergies or sensitivities.
- However, grain-free diets have been potentially linked to heart issues in canines by the FDA, so it’s best to check with your veterinarian before switching or starting your dog on one. Single, whole-grain dog food is another potential option, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: dog food made with a single whole grain (as opposed to a compound of different grains).
What kibble size is appropriate for my small breed puppy?
As mentioned earlier, small breed puppies require a special nutrient-dense diet that’s easy for them to eat. If your pups prefer dry food, it is important to choose something specifically designed for their small mouths and jaws. The size appropriate for a small breed puppy is usually half the size of the regular kibble
Can I mix wet and dry food to feed my pup?
Of course, you can! Canned food can boost the flavor and nutritional value of your pup’s regular kibble meal. However, it is important to consider your pet’s dietary needs, calorie requirements, preferences, and most importantly, their health before you take the initiative.
How often should I feed my small breed puppy?
Puppies usually require 3-5 feedings in a day. You can use the calorie guide on your dog’s food packaging and divide that into several meals to ensure you are feeding just the appropriate amount of food. A typical feeding schedule is 6 am, noon, 6 pm. However, it is important to adjust this pattern for your small breed puppy and ideally feed them 4-6 times a day
Can I feed adult dog food to my small breed puppy?
The nutritional needs of puppies and adult dogs are different. It is important to feed your puppy enough protein, carbs, and micronutrients to help their growth and wellbeing. Puppies – regardless of the breed – also require more calories for proper growth. Food designed for small breed puppies has a smaller kibble size appropriate for their small mouths. In simple words, no, it is not the best idea to feed adult dog food to your small breed puppy
How much should I feed my small breed puppy?
Here’s a breakup of how much is enough to feed your small breed puppy:
- 5 lbs. puppy – ½ cup to 5/8 cup food
- 10 lbs. puppy – ¾ cup to 1 cup
- 20 lbs. puppy – 1 ¼ cups to 1 ¾ cups
- 40 lbs. puppy – 2 ¼ cups to 3 cups
- 60 lbs. puppy – 3 cups to 4 cups
- 80 lbs. puppy – 3 2/3 cups to 5 cups
- 100 lbs. or above – 4 ¼ cups to 6 cups
How much food is sufficient for my small breed puppy?
Small breed puppies require more calories per pound as compared to larger breed dogs. At the same time, they also need smaller kibble to make consumption easier. Therefore, it is important to feed your small breed pup a diet specially formulated for them. And even though their calorie per pound requirement is higher, overfeeding is not an option.
Top 10 Best Puppy Food for Small Breeds
Now that you know a little more about what ingredients are best for your small-breed puppy, here are some great food options available for purchase.
Wellness Small Breed Complete Health Puppy Turkey – Best Premium
Wellness Small Breed Complete Health Puppy Turkey is a bit more expensive than other options. However, it does include some higher-quality ingredients that may make the extra price worth it to some pet owners. It includes deboned turkey as the first ingredient, followed by chicken meal. Both of these ingredients are high-quality protein options. Salmon meal is included later in the ingredient list as well.
This formula is crafted carefully from the highest-quality ingredients available. It is made with smaller-sized kibbles, which you would expect from a small dog formula. Omega fatty acids are included, as well as an abundance of DHA. Antioxidants and probiotics are included as well to support your dog’s overall health. No meat by-products, fillers, or artificial preservatives are included.
This food is made in the USA, but the ingredients are sourced from around the globe.
- Not exceptionally high in protein
- DHA included
- Made in the USA
- Includes probiotics and antioxidants
- Plenty of meat ingredients
Purina Pro Plan Puppy Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula – Best Value
You may want to consider Purina Pro Plan Puppy Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula for those on a budget. This formula includes chicken as the first ingredient, which is excellent considering its low price. Some of the other ingredients are less-than-stellar. For instance, the second ingredient is corn gluten meal, which is not particularly nutrient-rich. However, it is high in protein despite this.
The kibble is made tiny for the smaller puppies. Fish oil is included for extra omega fatty acids, with DHA for brain and vision development. Probiotics are also included to establish a suitable gut biome from a young age, which helps prevent stomach upset later on. Antioxidants are included in abundance and are essential for your puppy’s overall health. There are absolutely no artificial colors or flavors included.
Despite a few low-quality ingredients, this is easily the best small breed puppy food for the money.
- Some low-quality ingredients included
- DHA for brain health
- Chicken as the first ingredient
- High in protein
Ollie Fresh Dog Food – Best Overall
Ollie Fresh dog food is the best overall food for small breed puppies. Ollie’s recipes contain carefully selected ingredients to provide optimum nutrition for your dog, and the portions are carefully balanced to help maintain your dog’s weight and conditioning. This food is appropriate for all life stages and breeds.
As a subscription service, Ollie makes your life easier by delivering perfectly portioned meals straight to your doorstep. On sign-up, you’ll answer questions about your dog’s age, size, and activity levels. This way, Ollie food can be perfectly rationed to meet your dog’s individual needs.
The only downside of Ollie fresh food is the storage. You’ll need to keep this food in the freezer and thaw it out in the fridge before feeding it to your dog. However, this is a minor inconvenience for the peace of mind that Ollie can provide, as you’ll know that your dog is getting the best nutrition possible!
- Requires freezer storage
- Customized to individual dogs
- Subscription service
- Complete nutrition
- Perfectly portioned meals
- Appropriate for all breeds and life stages
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food is a decent option for more miniature puppies. It includes deboned chicken as the first ingredient, followed by chicken meal. It has a decent protein percentage for this reason and is also relatively high in fat. Menhaden fish meal is also included, which increases its DHA and omega fatty acid content.
Calcium, phosphorus, and a range of other essential vitamins are included in higher amounts for stronger bones and teeth. The smaller kibble is the perfect size for smaller jaws. The minerals included are chelated, which improves their overall absorption. Your pet will be able to use these minerals better, in other words. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both included from natural sources.
This Blue Buffalo food includes no corn, wheat, soy, or chicken by-product meals. The main problem with this food is that it is more expensive than other options, and you aren’t getting much for the extra cost. The value provided is low.
- Low value
- Heavy scent
- Includes plenty of animal products
- Chelated minerals
- Omega fatty acids included
- No corn, wheat, soy, or chicken by-product meals
Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Dry Dog Food
Merrick is a high-quality dog food company overall. Their Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Dry Dog Food is a solid option as well. This recipe is crafted with various whole foods, including deboned chicken, chicken meal, and sweet potatoes as the first three ingredients. Despite this, it is somewhat lower in protein and fat than we would like, especially for a puppy. 76% of the protein is from animal sources, however, so the protein included is high-quality.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are included to help maintain healthy hips and joints. This is less important for smaller breeds. However, it is important to include if your puppy is from a breed prone to joint problems. Omega fatty acids are included, including DHA. This supports your puppy’s skin and coat. The DHA helps brain health and development, making it a good choice for growing puppies.
This food is also grain-free, which may help puppies with a sensitive stomach. However, grain-free foods have been potentially linked to the FDA’s specific heart issues, so don’t choose grain-free unless your dog is sensitive to grains.
- Somewhat low in protein
- High-quality ingredients throughout
- DHA included for brain health
- Omega fatty acids, including DHA
- 76% of protein is from animal sources
Royal Canin Small Puppy Dry Dog Food
The Royal Canin Small Puppy Dry Dog Food is specifically made for small breed puppies. It is made for the first ten months of life when the dog is between 9 and 22 pounds. The kibble size is exceptionally tiny, allowing small puppies to eat easier. While this dog food is well-known and often considered “premium,” it is not as high quality as it first appears.
The first ingredient is brewer’s rice, which is not precisely what our smaller puppies should be eating. Chicken by-product meal is included as the second ingredient and serves as the only animal-protein in the whole ingredient list. Chicken fat is included as the first ingredient, but the rest of the ingredient list is grains and low-quality veggies.
The protein content is not high, which is not very surprising considering the ingredient list. The fat content isn’t high either, which means that this food is high in carbohydrates.
While this food is designed for puppies, its nutritional profile leaves a lot to be desired.
- Low in protein and fat
- Brewer’s rice as the first ingredient
- Low-quality animal proteins
- Includes low-quality ingredients
- Designed for puppies
- Smaller kibble
Eukanuba Small Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food
While Eukanuba Small Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food is expensive, it does provide quite a few benefits. The first ingredient is chicken, with the second ingredient being chicken by-product meal. The rest of the food comprises grains and various veggies, and a few other animal products like eggs. The protein content in this food is relatively high. Much of the protein likely comes from animal sources based on the ingredient list.
This food is relatively high-calorie, so your puppy may need less than other products. Be sure to check the feeding guidelines when calculating the price, as it may not be as expensive as the purchase price suggests.
This food is designed for extra small and toy breeds. It is most fitting for dogs that have an expected adult weight of under 23 pounds. It supports muscle growth through added calcium, phosphorous, and animal protein. DHA is included in the form of fish oil to encourage brain growth.
- Includes a variety of grains
- Chicken as the first ingredient
- Designed specifically for smaller breeds
Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Formula Dry Dog Food
Diamond Naturals may not be as well-known as some other brands, but their Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Formula Dry Dog Food is perfect for small breed puppies. It includes probiotics in every bite to establish a healthy gut biome from the beginning. It is made with real cage-free chicken as the first ingredient and a variety of veggies and fruits. These veggies aren’t just fillers, either. Instead, highly nutritious veggies like kale, pumpkin, blueberries, and oranges are included to increase the food’s nutritional value.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are included throughout the formula to support a healthy coat and skin, which is especially important for smaller puppies with sensitive skin. It is made with no corn, wheat, filler, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. This formula is made in the USA using scientifically advanced food safety protocols, leading to fewer dangerous recalls.
This formula even includes things like natural DHA to support brain and vision health. Plus, it’s pretty inexpensive to boot! It was easy to pick this formula as the best puppy food for small breeds.
- Not grain-free
- Omega fatty acids included throughout the formula
- No corn, wheat, filler, artificial flavors, preservatives, or colors.
- Chicken as the first ingredient
- Includes a variety of high-quality veggies and fruits
- Made in the USA
Nutro Wholesome Essentials Puppy Dry Dog Food
Nutro Wholesome Essentials Puppy Dry Dog Food isn’t designed for small breed dogs. However, based on the included benefits and ingredient list, it is suitable for smaller breed puppies. The only potential problem is that the kibble may be a bit too large for small, very tiny puppies. This food may be most suitable for small to medium puppies.
Chicken and chicken meals are included as the first two ingredients. The rest of the ingredient list is pretty much added vitamins and grains, including brewer’s rice, whole grain brown rice, and potato protein. While this food is decently high in protein, veggie protein’s inclusion means that most of the protein is likely not from animal sources. That’s something to keep in mind when interpreting the protein content.
Omega-3 fatty acids are included to support brain development, and essential antioxidants are added to support your dog’s immune system. All ingredients are non-GMO, which reduces the number of pesticides included.
- Lots of veggie protein included
- Not designed for small breeds in particular
- Chicken as first ingredient
- Omega fatty acids included
- High protein content
Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development Small Bites
Hill’s Science Diet is known to be an expensive, premium brand. However, Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development Small Bites is surprisingly inexpensive if you purchase it from suitable sources. But it also isn’t as premium and high-quality as you might expect. Chicken meal is included as the first ingredient, which is a high-quality option. However, the rest of the food is grains. These grains are whole and high-quality, but they are still grains and fillers.
For this reason, this food is also relatively low in crude protein and fat, especially when compared to some cheaper options that we mentioned higher on this list. You aren’t paying for any extra benefits by choosing this brand.
DHA is included for eye and brain development, as well as a blend of antioxidants. There are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It is made in the USA as well.
- Includes lots of grains
- Low in protein and fat
- Somewhat expensive
- Chicken meal as the first ingredient
- DHA and antioxidants included
- No artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
Wellness Complete Health Just for Puppy Canned Dog Food
The Wellness Complete Health Just for Puppy Canned Dog Food is similar to the other Wellness brand dog food listed on this list. This food is quite expensive. Of course, it does depend on how much your puppy will be eating, though. Small puppies usually don’t eat very much, and these are full-sized, 12.5-ounce cans.
This food does include quite a few animal ingredients, including chicken broth, chicken, chicken liver, and salmon as the first few ingredients. However, lower quality ingredients like pea protein and potatoes are included as well. It is pretty high in protein, but much of this is likely due to the pea protein – not due to the animal products included.
This food also doesn’t include any added DHA or other nutrients commonly included in puppy dog food. This is a significant reason why it was rated so low in our reviews.
- Not many added nutrients
- Pea protein included
- Includes plenty of animal products
- High in protein
- Formulated by vets
Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Small Breed Puppy Food
At first glance, it can seem complicated and challenging to choose the best puppy food for small breeds. However, if you’re armed with a bit of background knowledge, it can be much easier to choose the best dog food for your canine. In this section, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to select the perfect food for your puppy.
When you look at any dog food, your first stop should be the ingredients list. Every dog food is required to list their ingredients. Ingredients are listed by weight from most to least. Generally, the ingredients at the beginning represent what the food is mainly made of. However, you need to take things like water weight of the ingredients into account. Just because whole chicken is included as the first ingredient doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the first ingredient after it has been cooked down and the moisture removed.
Avoid by-products if possible
Meat by-products are okay, but they are of lower quality. Do not purchase food that has an unnamed meat meal or by-product. In other words, “chicken by-products” is an okay choice. “Meat by-products” is not, since you have no idea what the meat included is. It’s mystery meat. If it were something good, the company would have listed the source.
Preferably, high-quality meat should appear as the first option. This includes whole meat or a meat meal. Meat meal is simply meat that has been cooked down substantially. It has been turned into a stew, basically, and then cooked until much of the moisture has been removed. Simply put, it’s concentrated meat. Because the water weight has already been removed before adding it to the ingredients list, its position is more accurate than whole meat.
- The veggies in the food also matter, of course. Usually, there are plenty of veggies and other fruits included in any formula. These need to be high-quality, such as pumpkin and berries. Peas and potatoes are regularly included. These do have some nutritional value, but many companies overuse them to the point that they turn into fillers. Be aware of this common problem when you’re checking the ingredient list.
- If peas or potatoes are included early in the ingredient list, it may be that the company is using them as a filler. This is especially a problem with grain-free foods, where many companies try to cut costs and simply replace the grains with an inexpensive vegetable.
- Be aware of pea protein and similar veggie-based proteins. These are okay in a small amount, but they are not necessarily as complete as animal-based protein. For this reason, they should be avoided when possible.
The macronutrients included in the food should be your next stop. Dogs preferably need to consume a high amount of protein and fat. This is what they were naturally made to live off of, according to various studies.
- Of course, higher is always better. Fat should preferably be higher than 15%. 17% or higher is better. However, this is difficult to find. It depends mainly on the type of meat used. If leaner meat is used as the basis for the food, it will naturally be lower in protein.
- With small breed puppies, higher protein and fat are always better. Puppies naturally need more fat and protein than adults since they are still developing. For this reason, you should choose as much protein and fat as possible.
- Remember, if a food is high in protein but includes a veggie-based fat, you need to interpret the protein amount accordingly
Protein should preferably be above 30% for dry foods. Wet foods will naturally appear to have less protein since they include more water. Moisture takes up a higher percentage, so the protein will appear to be less. However, because wet foods don’t have to be shaped into kibble, they are often higher in protein in actuality. Anything over 6% to 7% is suitable for wet food.
- All AAFCO dog foods will need to meet a specific nutrient content. This company cannot regulate dog foods directly, but it does provide a seal to dog foods that follow their standards. Check for their seal on any puppy food you purchase and ensure that their food follows their puppy standards specifically. Furthermore, there are a few extra ingredients that may be helpful to small breed puppies.
- Added DHA is always a plus. This omega fatty acid is found in various foods, but it is most prevalent in fish. It is essential for brain and vision development, making it particularly suitable for puppies. It is usually added through the inclusion of fish oil or whole fish of some sort.
We reviewed many puppy foods designed for small breeds. Out of those we reviewed, Ollie Fresh dog food was the best. It includes a variety of high-quality proteins, including chicken as the first ingredient. The ingredients are a tier above most other dog foods on the market, including a high level of protein and fat.
If you need a budget option, Purina Pro Plan Puppy Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula is a suitable option. It includes chicken as the first ingredient and has a surprisingly high protein content. It is much cheaper than many competing puppy foods, but it does contain essential ingredients, like DHA.
We hope this article helped you choose the perfect food for your tiny puppy. We know that choosing the perfect dog food for your puppy can be difficult, but our reviews and buyer’s guide should make it a bit easier!