dog nutrition

Good for you if you’re concerned about your small dog’s nutritional needs when you’re trying to decide on which dog food to get for your pet. Not that many dog owners are concerned about this topic. In fact, a lot of folks just get what’s available and what’s affordable. As long as their dog seems to like it, they think it’s all good.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Just like humans, dogs need nutrients to live and remain healthy. If you don’t get the nutritional balance right, you can get the same problems that people with bad diets do. Your dog can get too many calories and become overweight, or they can lack certain nutrients and they can become sickly or lethargic. You simply have to get it right.

So how do you go about picking the right dog food based on the nutritional needs of your dog?

Here are some tips that can prove helpful:

  1. The nutritional needs of small dogs are different from larger breeds. This is the first thing you need to understand. Smaller dogs tend to have higher metabolisms, and this basically means they burn through calories much more quickly. You can see this for yourself easily enough—smaller dogs tend to be much more active, while lots of larger dogs love to just laze around especially when they’re at home.
  2. You need more calories. The food should really be packed with calories. This is especially important if you have a picky eater. If they’re going to eat a smaller amount of food, then you better make sure to make every bite count. With calorie dense food, even small bites can go a long way into providing your dog the calories they need.
  3. Base the amount of calories your dog needs on their weight. Your vet can give you a more exact figure regarding just how many calories your dog needs, based on their size and breed. In general, a small dog can require as many as 40 calories per pound of their weight. This means if your dog weighs 10 pounds, you’ll need 400 calories a day.

On the other hand, some large dogs only need as little as 20 to 25 calories per pound of weight. For a huge dog that weighs 100 pounds, it means giving them 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. So if you have a small dog, you’re spending less money on food even with the higher metabolism.

  1. You also need to feed your dog more frequently. It’s very common for a small dog to burn through the calories from meals in just a few hours. That’s why you need calorie-dense meals and your dog also needs at least 3 meals a day. To play it safe, you can even feed them 4 times a day. What you want to avoid is for your dog to go hungry on a regular basis, as they can develop health and behavioral issues if they’re hungry too often.

When your dog doesn’t eat too often, you can have a problem with your dog’s blood sugar level. So it’s best if you have more meals with fewer calories rather than with too much time in between meals.

  1. You also need more fats and protein for smaller dogs. Dogs need the protein so they can have healthy muscles, bones, and fur. Fat also provides energy for dogs, and it also helps make the treat more delicious. In general, smaller dogs will require more fats and protein in their diets (on a percentage basis) than bigger dogs.

It’s important that you consider the source of the protein. In general, it’s better if they come from meat or fish sources, rather from plant material.

  1. Another important part of the diet includes carbs. Carbs can be corn and rice, or any grain product like oats, barley, and wheat. The grains can add to the protein level and they may also provide the fiber your dog needs so that you can maintain their intestinal health. Fiber moves the food through the intestines. On the other hand, there’s such a thing as too much fiber. When your dog poops too much, has loose stools, or has gas problems, then you may want to lessen the fiber content in their diet.
  2. Dogs need vitamins and minerals too. In fact, one study found that a third of all dogs in the US are given vitamin supplements by their owners. However, it’s much better that your pooch gets their vitamins from their diet than from supplements. You may be doing more harm than good.

Many of the more reputable dog food brands already factor in vitamin content in their formulas. That’s why in some cases, you may even find a bit of fruits and vegetables in the formula. If you’re feeding your dog a reputable dog food brand, then it’s very likely that you won’t need supplemental vitamins.

You may only need vitamins if you feed your dog a homemade diet. This is another good reason why leftovers aren’t necessarily the best regular food for dogs.

You may want to discuss this matter with your vet if you want to be sure. You certainly need this discussion before you hand out vitamin supplements on your own. There’s such a thing as too much vitamins. Too much vitamin D can cause damage to bones and their muscles can atrophy. Excessive amounts of vitamin A can lead to damaged blood vessels, dehydration, and joint pain. Give your dog more than enough calcium and you risk skeletal issues.

  1. Just because a dog food brand says it’s “for small breeds” doesn’t mean that it offers the right nutrients for your small dog. Wouldn’t it be nice if all dog food manufacturers made sure that their food products for small dogs have been calibrated for their particular nutritional needs?

Sadly, that’s not the case. In some cases, it’s labeled “for small dogs” simpley because you have smaller bite-sized pieces of kibble. Yes, it’s important that you have smaller pieces because bigger ones can be a choking hazard for smaller dogs. But this size doesn’t really address the nutritional issue, does it?

Your best bet is to check the formula of the dog food and see that the ratio for protein and fat is higher than in the food products for bigger breeds.

  1. Don’t forget about water. It’s funny, but some people can forget that their dog needs water. Actually, it’s not really all that amusing at all. You try going without water for a day and see if you end up laughing.

For the most part, a dog needs about an ounce of water for every pound of body weight. But you may need more when your dog is really active, which most small dogs are. You may also need more water when their food is dry and if the weather is warm. If they’re taking medication, they may get thirstier too.

Here your best bet is to just make sure that your dog has access to clean water anytime they get thirsty. Offer twice the amount they need in the dog bowl, just to be on the safe side.

You should then monitor their water intake, as drinking too much or too little can indicate a health problem. Also check for signs of dehydration, which can include general lack of energy, dark and sunken eyes, and dry gums.

  1. Always discuss your dog’s nutrition and diet with your vet. Your vet has the knowledge, experience, and the network of other pet owner, and all these can help with your diet plan for your dog. Talk with your vet about which brands of dog food is best for the breed and age of your dog.

The thing about vets is that they have lots of other patients and so they have the inside track on which foods work best for dogs. They can also tell which brands are the most reputable, and which formulas are best. It’s this kind of expertise which you really can’t afford to ignore.

Talk with your vet before you make a final choice regarding the dog food you pick, and discuss the matter if you’re thinking about making changes. You have an expert who can give a more objective recommendation, and this the kind of expert opinion which really helps.


All these tips emphasize the fact that nutrition is important for dogs, and that small dogs have a much different set of nutritional requirements than their bigger counterparts. You have to acknowledge this difference, so you can’t just get any dog food brand that’s cheaper than the others. Sometimes they’re cheaper because they’re inferior, and you can end up spending a lot more if your dog gets sick because of some nutritional deficiency.

Hopefully all these tips can help you make a good choice for your dog. Of course, like people they don’t just need the right diet—they need a good activity schedule too.  But then that’s another topic for another article!

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