The Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

Young girl wants the best dog food for her small dog

The best small breed dog foods are designed to provide balanced nutrition for dogs whose ideal adult weight is under 20 pounds.

That’s because small dogs tend to benefit from food optimized for their higher rate of metabolism… and their smaller physical size.

On this page…

We’ll share The Dog Food Advisor’s safest and most recommended small breed dog foods… and we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions we get about feeding small dogs.


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The Best Dog Food for Small Dogs
April 2020

Here are The Dog Food Advisor’s top 10 best small breed dog foods for April 2020.


Taste of Wild Appalachian Valley

Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Recipe

Rating:

Appalachian Valley Small Breed is one of 9 dry recipes included in our review of the Taste of the Wild product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Venison, lamb meal, garbanzo beans, peas, lentils
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

Appalachian Valley Small Breed derives the bulk of its animal protein from fresh venison and lamb meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 36% protein, 20% fat and 36% estimated carbs… with a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

A fully balanced, grain-free recipe containing no artificial colors, flavors or toxic chemical preservatives. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “I realize that pugs eat just about anything you put in front of them, however, this small kibble really fits their mouths to a ‘T’! Sometimes when I want to spoil them, I’ll mix in some cooked chicken breast, and a little hot water to make a gravy. They love this! The small kibble is easier for them to eat, and they are healthy as small horses! Never had a problem, and vet visits are always top notch! I highly recommend this food for small breeds with small mouths!”

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Merrick Real Beef Dry Dog Food

Merrick Classic Small Breed Dog Food

Rating:

Classic Small Breed is one of 5 dry recipes included in our review of the Merrick Classic product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, barley, turkey meal
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, barley, oatmeal, quinoa)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

This Merrick Classic recipe takes the major portion of its animal protein from fresh chicken as well as chicken meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 30% protein, 17% fat and 45% estimated carbs… resulting in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

Merrick Classic Small Breed is a solid grain-inclusive recipe with fiber-rich quinoa to help maintain digestion. Easily recommended.

Sample buyer review… “My little 3 yr old yorkie mix Zoey loves this food. I get both the wet and dry food of Merrick for her. I started slowly switching her over to eating more kibble portion in order to save money, since the wet food cans get so expensive. Zoey eats all of her food like a champ even now that her bowl is 3/4 dry kibble. I mix water in there to moisten it. She loves it! Her bowels are regular with no issues (sorry if TMI!). We are definitely fans.”

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Nulo Freestyle Small Breed

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed Dog Food

Rating:

Freestyle Small Breed is one of 8 dry recipes included in our review of the Nulo Freestyle product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned salmon, turkey meal, menhaden fish meal, lamb meal, red lentils
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: All life stages
  • Best for: Small breed adults and puppies
  • Price: $$$

This Nulo formula gets the lion’s share of its meat protein from fresh salmon as well as turkey and menhaden fish meals. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 34% protein, 19% fat and 39% estimated carbs… creating a fat-to-protein ratio of about 55%.

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed is designed to support the higher higher metabolism and energy levels of smaller dogs. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “My Corgi/Ruby Spaniel mix just turned 9 and has lost a couple of teeth. This small kibble works GREAT for her- she only has to bite once– she loves the flavor and I love the formula. It’s good for her joints and skin with the Omegas in this formula. Easy to digest and this brand has NEVER had a recall. Highly recommend this for small breed fur babies!”

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Instinct Original Small Breed Kibble

Instinct Original Small Breed Dog Food

Rating:

Original Small Breed is one of 6 dry recipes included in our review of the Instinct Original product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, chickpeas, tapioca, chicken fat
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: All life stages
  • Best for: Small breed adults and puppies
  • Price: $$$

This Instinct Original formula derives the greatest part of its animal protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 39% protein, 22% fat and 31% estimated carbs… which creates a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

Instinct Original Small Breed provides an optimal balance of protein, fat and calories to ensure a balanced nutrition for your small dog. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “I love this dog food, and so does my dog. I like all of the ingredients and trust the company. My dog begs for it and devours it. He’s doing very well on it. His coat is shiny, his muscles are defined, and his stools are firm. I rotate this brand with a few other brands so he has some variety, but I’m very picky with which foods I include in the rotation, and only choose brands and formulas of the highest quality.”

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Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dog Food

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Adult

Rating:

Life Protection Small Breed Chicken and Brown Rice is one of 23 dry recipes as well as 5 small breed formulas included in our review of the Blue Buffalo Life Protection product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, oatmeal, barley)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed derives the bulk of its animal protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 29% protein, 17% fat and 46% estimated carbs… which results in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 58%.

A small breed formula boasting a fully balanced blend of minerals, antioxidants and vitamins to promote a healthy immune system.

What’s more, Blue is one of the few major brands offering multiple flavor options specifically designed for small dogs…

Which makes Life Protection an ideal choice for those who like to routinely rotate their pet’s diet.

Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “Our cockapoo was on a mainly prescription wet food diet for the first year of her life due to persistent digestive issues (read: diarrhea). We tried a number of other premium dry food brands mixed in slowly with her food and this one has been the best by far. She’s now fully on this dry food and has had normal digestion for the last three months.”

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Canidae Grain Free Pure Dog Food Review

Canidae Pure Small Breed Dog Food

Rating:

Canidae Pure Small Breed is one of 11 dry recipes included in our review of the Canidae Grain-Free Pure product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, menhaden fish meal, peas, lentils, potatoes
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$$

This Canidae Pure formula derives the largest share of its meat protein from fresh chicken and menhaden fish meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 33% protein, 13% fat and 45% estimated carbs… resulting in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 40%.

Free of grains, corn, soy or wheat, this Canidae Pure formula provides a healthy, protein-rich diet for small breed adult dogs. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “As my 5 dachshunds are finicky eaters. I switched to this dog food and now they all dance and can’t wait for the bowl to be set down on the floor. Fantastic coats, less shedding, perfect stools and satisfied tummys. Highly recommend this brand!!”

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Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Review

Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Adult Dog Food

Rating:

This Small Breed formula is one of 14 dry recipes included in our review of the Wellness Complete Health product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned turkey, chicken meal, salmon meal, oatmeal, ground brown rice
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (oatmeal, rice, barley, rye)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

Wellness Complete Health Small Breed derives the majority of its meat protein from fresh turkey as well as chicken and salmon meals. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 31% protein, 18% fat and 43% estimated carbs… which creates a fat-to-protein ratio of about 57%.

A specialized recipe blending high-quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates to provide ample energy for your small breed adult. One of our favorite national brands. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “I decided to switch to this brand for my wheaten coat schnauzer, after reading the reviews and some recommendations from the vet. My dog has sensitive stomach and skin, so I decided to try this food and it’s working really well. No more stomach issues, no more loose stool or vomit. The size of the kibble is small and that works great for small and medium breeds.”

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Halo Grain Free Small Breed Canned Dog Food

Halo Grain Free Small Breed Wet Dog Food

Rating:

Halo Small Breed Turkey and Duck is one of 6 wet recipes included in our review of the Halo Grain Free product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Turkey, turkey broth, turkey liver, ground peas, duck
  • Type: Grain-free
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $$

This Halo canned formula derives the major portion of its meat protein from fresh turkey and turkey liver. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 50% protein, 23% fat and 19% estimated carbs… which results in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 45%.

A top canned pick for small breed dogs. Highly recommended

Sample buyer review… “After 6 years on another brand, my 5 lb. Yorkie decided she needed a change and stopped eating as well. A checkup revealed no health issues. Lots of research for high quality food led me to Halo for small breeds. She snarfed down the first taste and has never looked back. It’s obviously quite tasty with what I feel is a perfect protein to fat and carb combination for little dogs. I’m very happy with my choice to change to Halo and so is my Yorkie!”

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Diamond Naturals Small Breed Chicken

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Chicken and Rice

Rating:

Diamond Small Breed Chicken and Rice is one of 13 dry recipes included in our review of the Diamond Naturals product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, ground white rice, chicken fat, cracked pearled barley
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, barley)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $

This Diamond Naturals formula obtains the bulk of its animal protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 30% protein, 18% fat and 44% estimated carbs… creating a fat-to-protein ratio of about 59%.

A solid, budget-friendly option ideal for small breed adult dogs. Highly receommended.

Sample buyer review… “So I switched to this dog food on chewy as the review was right, the price was right and I did not have to haul large bags of dog food home. Auto shipment is a plus. Most important is my dogs love it. I didn’t realize before researching these brands of dog food that the size of the kibble could be a health issue for the dog. Hard to find small kibble that is healthy. My dog usually has ear issues as well. None seen since starting the new kibble. Hopefully the skin issues will clear up as well!”

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Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Bree Adult

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Adult Chicken

Rating:

Nutro Small Breed Adult Chicken is one of 23 dry recipes included in our review of the Nutro Wholesome Essentials product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, split peas, brewers rice, whole brown rice
  • Type: Grain-inclusive (rice, oatmeal, barley)
  • Design: Maintenance
  • Best for: Small breed adults
  • Price: $

This Nutro Wholesome Essentials formula derives the lion’s share of its meat protein from fresh chicken and chicken meal. Our dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 27% protein, 17% fat and 49% estimated carbs… resulting in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 63%.

A complete and balanced dog food designed to provide optimal nutrition for smaller dogs. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer review… “I like BBQ chicken and sweet potatoes and so do my dogs. Okay so maybe this isn’t barbecue chicken flavor but it’s still chicken. My min pin and my chiweenie both love home cooked sweet potatoes so I’m glad that there are sweet potatoes in this dog food. And with all Nutro products this food shines up their coat and decreases shedding and is made with top-quality ingredients. I feel good about feeding Nutro to my dogs.”

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How much dog food should I feed my small dog?

Since it’s impossible to forecast the exact amount of food that’s ideal for each small dog…

Especially when feeding a specific brand of food… each with its own amount of calories per serving.

So… begin by feeding the amount of dog food suggested by the instructions printed on the bag…

For example…

Wellness Small Breed Dog Food Package Feeding Instructions

Then, once a month…

Weigh your dog.

Then adjust the amount of food you’ve been feeding up or down as needed… to maintain your small dog at her ideal weight.


What’s the safest way to transition your small dog to a new dog food?

It’s best to transition your small breed dog to a new food… gently.

Start by mixing about 25% “new” and 75% “old” food together. Then, slowly increase that amount to a full 100%… over the next 7 days.

Transition ScheduleOld FoodNew Food
Days 1 and 275%25%
Days 3 and 450%50%
Days 5 and 625%75%
Day 70%100%

Don’t rush the transitioning process. Take your time to lower the risk of digestive upset.


Should small dogs eat only small-size kibble?

Feeding your small dog a small size kibble may not be necessary.

Truth is…

In a 2018 study…1

Scientists found that every size dog “preferred large kibble over small or medium sized pieces”.

Measuring kibble size for small dogs

Which means…

Instead of restricting your choices to only small breed recipes…

You may wish to consider feeding your dog one of The Dog Food Advisor’s top 10 dry kibbles.


When should I switch my small dog to a senior dog food?

Even though small breeds tend to age slower than larger breeds…

Your dog may be considered “senior” sooner than you think.

That’s because…

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association…2

“…small dogs are generally considered senior at 7 years of age.”

So…

If your small dog is over 7… and not overweight

Switching to a senior diet may NOT be necessary.

If you DO decide to stick with your current diet…

Just be sure the food you’re feeding contains above-average protein levels and only moderate calories.

Or…

Consider switching your pet to one of The Dog Food Advisor’s top 10 senior dog foods.


What are the 8 riskiest ingredients to avoid when choosing small breed dog food?

Here are 8 of the most controversial ingredients found in some small breed dog foods… and the health risk to which each may be linked:

IngredientTypeLinked To
Propylene glycolMoisturizerHeinz body anemia
Generic “meat”Unknown sourceFood allergies
BHAPreservativeCancer
BHTPreservativeCancer
TBHQPreservativeCancer
EthoxyquinPreservativeLiver pigmentation
MenadioneSynthetic vitaminHemolytic anemia
Artificial dyesColorantCancer

Buying tip: To be certain you never feed YOUR small dog a food that contains one of these risky ingredients… why not favor recipes rated 4 stars or higher by The Dog Food Advisor.


A Final Word

The Dog Food Advisor is privately owned and is not affiliated (in any way) with pet food manufacturers. We do not accept money, gifts, samples or other incentives in exchange for special consideration in preparing our reviews.

However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Chewy or Amazon) when readers click over to their website from ours. This policy helps support the operation of our blog and keeps access to all our content free to the public.

For more information, please visit our Disclaimer and Disclosure page.

Important FDA Alert

The FDA is investigating a potential link between diet and heart disease in dogs. Click here for details.

References

  1. AFB International, Kristopher Figge, Pet Food Forum 2018, Kansas City, MO
  2. How to Calculate Dog Years to Human Years, American Kennel Club