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Have you recently welcomed home a new dachshund, Chihuahua, or Boston terrier puppy? Having a new small breed puppy in the family is an exciting time. But a new puppy also means lots of changes and new things to learn—including making sure your small friend has a well-balanced diet that addresses his nutritional needs. So, what’s the best dog food for small breed puppies?
We’ll explore the nutritional requirements of small breed puppies, and suggest some of the best dog food available to keep your puppy happy and healthy.
Canine Nutrition Basics
Protein is key to a puppy’s healthy diet, regardless of breed, as it supports growth and development. Fat is a concentrated source of calories that’ll help your pup absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Though your puppy has no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates (though healthy sources can provide essential nutrients), he will need a mix of vitamins and minerals.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has determined the minimal requirements for key nutrients in dogs. AAFCO recommendations state 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 as puppies require more protein, calories, and other nutrients than adult dogs do, because 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. Keep in mind as well that not all dog foods have the same calorie content, so compare the calories per cup to the feeding recommendations according to your dog’s age and weight.
Remember that AAFCO standards exist to encourage commercial pet food products to adhere to minimum nutritional requirements. However, your small breed puppy deserves more than the bare minimum. 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 does not guarantee high quality.
Dog Food for Small Breed Puppies: Specific Nutritional Needs
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 9-10 months, as opposed to other breeds which reach similar points in 12-16 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, such as hip dysplasia, a risk factor for small breed puppies is not getting enough calories. Hypoglycemia occasionally affects small breed puppies, 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. Hypothermia is also another related consideration.
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.
Dog Food for Small Breed Puppies: Wet vs. Dry
Your next consideration will be 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 doggos with certain health considerations. Fat and protein are more prevalent in wet food, so this may be a good option for your small breed pup.
As for dry food, kibbles can be harder for your small breed puppy to chew (unless they are 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). According to PetMD, dry food has been found in some cases 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
As mentioned above, grain-free is another potential factor to consider. Some owners prefer grain-free as it is 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 is exactly what it sounds like: dog food made with a single whole grain (as opposed to a compound of different grains).
Best Dog Food for Small Breed Puppies
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.
Made with small breed pups in mind, smaller kibble size is just right for their tinier mouths.
Wellness is known for its quality ingredients and lack of by-products, fillers, and artificial flavors in its pet food formulas. Deboned turkey, chicken meal, oatmeal, and salmon meal are among its top ingredients.Shop on Amazon
This is for the minis out there! Served in smaller portions for smaller bodies, this grain-free recipe is low-glycemic (good for keeping blood sugar levels stable) and gluten-free.
Made in the USA, its top two ingredients are lamb and turkey and it contains zero corn, wheat, or soy.Shop on Chewy
Blue Buffalo’s Chicken and Oatmeal Life Protection Formula is made with small puppy’s health in mind and leads its ingredients’ list with deboned chicken.
his recipe also contains wholesome grains, fruits, vegetables, and key fatty acids DHA and ARA—found in mother’s milk—that are important for cognitive and retinal development. No by-products, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives in this bag!Shop on Amazon
Stay golden, mini pup! Made in the USA, chicken and chicken broth are the leading proteins of this recipe, plus pumpkin, chickpeas, and carrots provide healthy nutrients.
Gluten-free without fillers, this recipe is packed with omega fatty acids. Meant for toy dogs of all stages, see instructions for puppy serving amounts.Shop on Amazon
Free of grains, gluten, corn, wheat and soy, Merrick’s recipe for pint-sized pups leads with deboned meat and also includes a mix of fruits and veggies.
These single serve portions pack in the nutrition while having zero artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.Shop on Chewy
Budget-friendly, yet made with quality ingredients, Whole Earth Farms’ canned small breed recipe is grain-free and cooked in the USA.
Protein leads this formula with top ingredients as duck, chicken broth, chicken, chicken liver, and salmon. Made for small breeds at any stage, see instructions for puppy serving amounts.Shop on Chewy
For pups of the small breed variety, farm-raised chicken tops Nutro’s ingredient list.
Made in the USA, you’ll also find whole grains, sweet potatoes, and dried beet pulp—along with vitamins and minerals—to give tiny, furry friends a well-balanced diet.Shop on Chewy
Talk to Your Vet Before Choosing Any New Food for Your Dog
We’ve selected some great dog food options for your small breed puppy. But before introducing any new foods into your dog’s diet, we suggest consulting with your vet. Your veterinarian can help you understand any health issues your puppy may be experiencing, and can recommend dog food that’s going to best support their specific health needs.
Learn more about caring for your puppy in the articles below.
- The Best Dry Dog Food for Puppies
- The Best Wet Foof for Puppies
- My Puppy Isn’t Eating: A New Pet Parent’s Guide
- I’m a Professional Dog Trainer and These Are My Favorite Healthy Training Treats
- My Puppy Is Throwing Up: How to Help
Feature photo image by Teerasuwat Jiratarawat from Pixabay