More than 90 million households in the U.S. have a pet as part of their family, according to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. And almost 70 million of that group have dogs: We take our canine friends seriously in this country!
Whether you have a young dog or a senior dog, if your pup is a small breed, you probably keep their diet in your mind, as any weight gain or loss can play a significant role in their overall wellness. Though the healthiest food options for any dog vary, size definitely plays a role when it comes to how much to feed them.
In this article, we'll cover whether or not small breed dogs need special food, some of the healthiest options for small dogs, and how you can identify the best dog food for small dogs.
Do Small Breed Dogs Need Special Food?
As a general rule, small dogs don’t necessarily require special food diets during their later life stages (adult and senior). Only during growth (puppy phase) are there different recommendations for large dogs versus small dog breeds. Some experts say that you should restrict calories during the growing stage for large breed dogs, because rapid growth may cause the dog to develop skeletal disorders. On the other hand, in small dogs or toy breeds, you may actually need to feed them more calories per pound — especially during their early months before they’re full grown.
Even when they are full grown, it’s best to focus on smaller meals — even if that means feeding them more small meals instead of two larger meals per day. You will also need to make sure that the food you feed them is calorie-dense and has a high protein content.
Additionally, experts often recommend reducing calcium in large-breed puppies versus small- or medium-breed puppies. This may sound backward, but it aligns with the expert recommendation of feeding large dogs fewer calories because if a puppy grows too quickly, they can have issues down the road with their bones and joints.
Aside from these few points — and health conditions that may be specific to your animal — small and large dogs can have similar types of food. That being said, this doesn’t mean you should give them just any dog food on the market. There are things to consider, such as kibble size, protein density, fat levels, carbohydrate levels, etc. In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into these considerations and how (and if) they differ significantly between large and small breed dogs.
What’s the Difference Between Small Dog Food and Regular Food?
If you’re browsing for dog food at the pet store, you may see some dog foods advertised as being specifically for small-breed adult dogs or puppies. Often, the difference in food that is labeled for small dogs is the smaller kibble size that many smaller dogs need because of their smaller mouths. Dog food made for small breeds typically contains reduced-sized kibble compared to regular dog food options due to the size of a smaller dog's jaw. This can help make chewing easier and even prevent choking.
Other food labeled “for small dogs” may also be more protein- and nutrient-dense for the reasons mentioned above. Of course, larger dogs may also need a protein-dense diet, depending on their lifestyle and breed.
If you’re not sure whether your dog is small enough to need a small-breed recipe, typically sticking to the cleanest ingredients in the most original form is best regardless of size — you might be surprised by some of the overprocessed ingredients and by-products in some big-name dog food brands!
Additionally, if you’re looking for a natural, healthy option, it may be best to stay clear of pet foods that include less-than-ideal ingredients such as melamine, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol, carrageenan, meat meal, food dyes, corn syrup, and sodium hexametaphosphate.
The Honest Kitchen Healthy Small Dog Food Options
If you are looking to switch your dog to a food more suitable for their size and overall health goals, look no further than The Honest Kitchen. In addition to creating dog food that is perfectly sized for small dog breeds, The Honest Kitchen also ensures that all our dog and cat food is certified as human grade. This means that every ingredient is safe for human consumption throughout every stage of production — from farm to production facility to bowl.
Unlike traditional pet foods that are feed grade, human grade dog food must adhere to a very specific and strict set of standards by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA). The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) also has its own set of guidelines that pet food brands must follow when labeling their products as human grade.
You can learn more about human grade dog food standards — and how The Honest Kitchen was the world’s first pet food to meet these rigorous requirements — in our resource: The Dog Lover's Guide to Human Grade Dog Food.
Check out these popular small-breed recipes from The Honest Kitchen.
1) Grain Free Chicken Clusters for Small Breeds
One top pick is the grain free version of our chicken clusters, specifically made for small breeds. The tasty whole-food clusters are ideal for small jaws and have the nutritional value to support a complete and balanced diet for your pup at all stages of their life. Even more, the grain free option is perfect for dogs who may have an allergy or sensitivity to certain grains.
Before making any significant changes to your pet's diet (like eliminating grains, restricting calories, or any other extreme dietary shift), talk it over with your veterinarian, who may even refer you to a veterinary nutritionist. If you’re looking for tips on how to transition your pet to a new food, we recommend checking out this article that outlines how to make the switch safely — and provides a sample schedule for integrating new food into your pet’s diet over a 10-day period.
Why Dogs Love This Food
The first ingredients in the Grain Free Chicken Clusters are cage-free chicken, potatoes, peas, lentils, chicken liver, carrots, ground flaxseed, eggs, and coconut oil. For dogs and pet parents alike, these high-quality ingredients are ideal because they provide protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats in a single, nutritionally balanced recipe. Your pup will love the taste and will probably beg for more — because of their small size, they even make great training treats.
Pet owners can rest easy knowing The Honest Kitchen doesn’t add any fillers such as rendered meat meals or by-products, or feed grade fillers, corn, wheat, or soy to any of our foods.
2) Whole Grain Chicken Clusters for Small Breeds
Clean, minimally processed whole grains can help your pup’s digestive system since they are high in fiber, aid in stool passage, and contribute to a healthy gut biome. This is why The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Grain Chicken Clusters for Small Breeds is one of the best human grade options for small dogs!
This recipe is great for all life stages and is made with whole grains like oats and barley. These ingredients also provide healthy carbs to keep your pup full and energized longer, plus antioxidants to help support healthy skin and coat.
There’s more of the good stuff — like omega-6 fatty acids, quality protein sources, and amino acids — that support immune system function, and none of the bad stuff like chicken meal, preservatives, or other ingredients that may be triggering for sensitive stomachs. Even the way The Honest Kitchen prepares the clusters is different from traditional pet food brands. Rather than using high heat to quickly dehydrate foods, we roast and gently dehydrate our dry dog foods to ensure the finished product is as flavorful and nutrient-rich as possible.
Why Dogs Love This Food
Our whole grain chicken recipe includes real chicken, oats, barley, chicken liver, carrots, ground flaxseed, eggs, broccoli, pumpkin, apples, salmon oil, chia seeds, and kale. Beyond the whole food ingredients, the clusters contain all the vitamin and mineral supplements necessary to keep your dog healthy, such as vitamin D3, vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B, and taurine. These clusters are also small in size to support tinier bites from your pup’s smaller mouth.
Try The Honest Kitchen's Small Breed Dog Food Options
For the most part, small dogs’ dietary needs don’t differ much from those of medium or large breeds. Kibble size is the primary difference, as bigger bites could present choking hazards for smaller dogs. But as far as formulation and ingredients, small dogs need high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to have a healthy, well-balanced diet — just like their large-breed counterparts.
From thoughtfully sourced protein to vibrant, flavorful natural human grade ingredients, The Honest Kitchen's pet food recipes are balanced to meet your dog's unique nutritional needs.
Even small dogs deserve to enjoy foods with big flavor! Try one of our small-breed clusters or explore our other high-quality dog foods, including wet dog food, freeze-dried options, wet toppers, chewy treats, and more.*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.