Dog Nutrients 101: Nutrition For Small Dog Breeds

Dog Nutrients 101: Nutrition For Small Dog Breeds

When we bring a small dog home, we’re more focused on the tricks they learn and the things that make them happy and comfortable. Especially with new owners, a new pup’s diet may take a backseat. But understanding the nutrition for small dog breeds is essential to their overall wellbeing.

Every dog breed is different. What may be considered highly nutritious to some breeds may not hold the same value for others. Knowing what and how much nutrients your dog needs can be the key to keeping them healthy.

Nutrition for Small Dog Breeds – The Basics

Dogs are not strictly carnivores. They may have descended from wolves but they don’t share the same needs, requirements, and wants as their ancestors.

What do you feed them, then?

Small dogs are fairly distant from their wolf ancestors when it comes to their dietary preferences and digestive structure – so what nutrients do small breed dogs need?

To survive, dogs need a specific blend of dietary components. Carbohydrates, Fats, Minerals, Proteins, Vitamins, and Water are the 6 essential nutrients dogs need to stay in prime health.

The nutritional needs of a dog can be determined by taking into account its size, breed, and its stage in life, among other factors.

When you have a small dog, it’s easier to give into myths and feed them a diet comparatively smaller than big dog breeds. That’s far from the case.

Small dog breeds may require more calories per pound as compared to their large breed counterparts.

If you’re wondering why it’s because smaller pups can burn through a meal in a matter of hours thanks to their high metabolic rates. This means that a small-breed pup should be given a calorie-rich diet three to four times a day.

Let’s look at the six nutrients needed to keep your small dog in prime health:


Dogs are pretty resilient animals – anyone who’s cared for a stray can tell you that. They can survive a massive loss of body fat and proteins, and still, keep going.

However, what about when it comes to water? Losing as little as 10% of their body’s water weight can be detrimental to their survival.

An adult dog’s body is made up of 50-60% water while a puppy is about 80% water. How much water do they need, daily? The thing is, you don’t have to worry about giving your dog too much water to drink as dogs tend to drink just the right amount needed as long as they have easy access to drinking water.

Why Is It Important?

Nobody can survive without water. It’s a life-breathing elixir. From helping regulate body temperature, dissolving and transporting nutrients to different parts of the body, and flushing out waste secretions from the body, water carries out important functions for almost every lifeform.

Key Sources

Your dog should always have access to water. While canned dog food does contain some amount of water, it’s not enough. To stay on the safe side, fill your dog’s water bowl with water straight from the tap – this will let them lap up a drink whenever they feel thirsty.


Vitamins are complex organic molecules that are required in low concentrations for dogs both big and small. In tandem with other nutrients, they help build muscles and bones, keep bodily systems in prime condition, and even help fight off disease. Needless to say, topping off your pooch’s diet with vitamin-rich foods will keep them healthy and happy – although dogs can actually synthesize a few, such as Vitamin C, all by themselves.

Vitamins can be classified as:

  • Water-soluble
  • Fat-soluble

Water-soluble vitamins are generally classified as B Vitamins. As these vitamins are not stored in the body, they need to be consumed daily. Water-soluble vitamins don’t contribute to energy. Their main function is to regulate metabolism and they aid a large variety of functions in the body.

Some of the major water-soluble vitamins are:

  • Thiamine (B1): Regulates energy and carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Riboflavin (B2): Helps facilitate enzyme function.
  • Pantothenic Acid (B5): Facilitates energy metabolism.
  • Pyridoxine (B6): Helps generate glucose and is responsible for red blood cell and nervous system function.
  • Folic Acid (B9): Plays a crucial role in amino acid and nucleotide metabolism. It also plays a role in mitochondrial protein synthesis.

Vitamin A, D, E, and K are examples of fat-soluble vitamins. They help in cell function, metabolism, fetal development, etc.

  • Vitamin A: Improves the immune system, reproduction, vision, and growth.
  • Vitamin D: Is involved in the regulation of calcium in the body.
  • Vitamin E: Is a biological antioxidant. It also plays a role in reproduction.
  • Vitamin K: Acts as a clotting agent in the blood.

Vitamins help build bones and keep your dog strong. That doesn’t mean you should give them supplements for the same. Adding supplements to an already balanced diet may create imbalances – so try to simply keep your dog’s diet varied and ensure that you’ve covered all the bases.

Unless advised by a veterinarian, steer clear of vitamin supplements as they can potentially be dangerous for your dog.

Why Are They Important?

Vitamins are responsible for multiple functions and are essential for proper metabolic function.

Different vitamins work towards fulfilling different roles. Vitamin A helps boost the immune system, Vitamin B12 helps maintain nervous system function, Vitamin C and E act as antioxidants and Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorous levels.

Key Sources:

A nutritious diet is all it takes to cover your dog’s vitamin needs. A balanced diet of plant-based foods and organ and muscle meats can fill your dogs’ required Vitamin quota just right, without the need for supplements.



As opposed to vitamins, minerals are relatively simple molecules. Minerals cannot be synthesized, which means they have to be obtained through a proper diet.

As their functions differ, it is also essential that your dog’s diet includes all the required minerals. An absence of any mineral can prove detrimental as it can lead to imbalances and disrupt your dog’s health.

Minerals are classified into 2 classes:

  • Macro-minerals
  • Micro-minerals

Macro-minerals are needed in comparatively larger amounts than micro-minerals. They include:

  • Calcium: Helps form bones and teeth. Calcium also aids muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission, and cell signaling.
  • Chloride: Initiates transfer of extracellular fluids across cell membranes.
  • Magnesium: Helps in enzyme functions, hormone secretion, and helps stabilize muscle and nerve cell membrane.
  • Phosphorous: Contributes towards DNA, RNA, and skeletal structure. Also helps in locomotion and energy metabolism.
  • Potassium: Aids nerve-impulse transmission and enzymatic reactions.
  • Sodium: Initiates nerve impulse transmission and generation. Also helps regulate osmotic pressure.

Micro-minerals on the other hand are required in minute amounts and are often referred to as ‘trace minerals’. They include:-

  • Copper: Helps provide defense against oxidative damage and aids connective tissue and blood cell formation
  • Iodine: Helps synthesize thyroid formation and facilitate the growth and development of puppies.
  • Iron: Boosts energy metabolism and helps undergo the synthesis of blood components.
  • Manganese: Helps in bone development, as well as enzyme and neurological function.
  • Selenium: Provides defense against oxidative damages and strengthens the immune response.
  • Zinc: Helps replicate cells, initiate wound healing, and improve enzyme reactions.

Why Is It Important?

Some of the vital functions carried out by minerals include the formation of bones and cartilages, maintaining fluid balance, muscle and nerve function, transporting oxygen in the blood, enzymatic reactions, and production of hormones.

Key Sources:

High-quality dog food contains minerals that can be easily absorbed by the body. As different foods contain different minerals, you can provide the required minerals according to your dog’s dietary needs.

Remember – if you spot your dog consuming dirt every now and then, take them to the vet for a test. This is often a sign of mineral deficiency.

Proteins/ Amino Acids

Dogs need protein too. Made of amino acids, proteins provide the building blocks required for normal function, and are crucial in keeping their fur healthy, as well as developing their muscles and tissue repair systems.

Why do small breeds need high protein? That’s something that baffles every small dog owner. The answer to that is quite simple though and something we already touched on earlier – small dog breeds burn through energy quicker than their big dog counterparts. Small dog breeds also have a higher metabolic rate, making it important to give them a diet rich in fats and proteins.

Essential amino acids include:

  • Valine
  • Lysine
  • Leucine
  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Threonine
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Tryptophan
  • Phenylalanine

Proteins are constantly metabolized and are not stored in the body. They, therefore, need to be replenished through a proper diet daily. Some studies indicate that dogs can tell when their food is lacking amino acids and will avoid eating the said food.

Why Is It Important?

Proteins serve multiple functions such as muscle growth, enzymes, tissue repair, immune functions, and transporting oxygen in the blood. Proteins also act as a source of energy.

Key Sources:

Proteins can be obtained through organs and muscle meat, animal-related protein sources like poultry, beef, fish, and pork, and plant-based sources like oilseeds and grains. Most dog food contains good amounts of protein, so keeping your pup’s protein levels up shouldn’t be too difficult.


Fats provide the most concentrated form of energy. They provide insulation and cushioning, among other important bodily functions. While fat plays an important role in canine health, care needs to be taken to ensure your small dog is not given a higher fat diet than required.

Pregnant and nursing dogs need to be provided with a higher-concentrated fat diet than normal dogs as they have comparatively higher energy needs.

Some of the important fatty acids are:

  • Omega-3: Helps eye and nerve development for puppies, and prevents cognitive issues from arising in older dogs.
  • Omega-6: Ensures reproductive health, growth, immune function, and fur/skin health.

Why Is It Important?

Fats contain 2.5 times of energy per gram as compared to carbohydrates and proteins. They’re what keeps your dogs full of energy throughout the day. Fat keeps your dog’s skin and hair healthy and improves normal skin function and cell structure.

Key Sources:

Can be obtained from fish oils (Herring, Salmon, etc) and plant-based oils like hemp seed and flaxseed.


Carbohydrates are the fuel the body runs on. They’re mostly sourced from units of sugar, starches, and insoluble/indigestible fibers.

The process of carbohydrate digestion takes place in the small intestine where these compounds are broken down into glucose, the source of energy used by the body.

Carbohydrates are classified into 2 classes:

  • Fermentable carbohydrates
  • Non-fermentable carbohydrates

Fermentable carbohydrates enhance immune function and help in the regulation of blood glucose concentrations. Non-fermentable carbohydrates are consumed to decrease the caloric intake of dogs.

When a dog’s diet is rich in carbohydrates, it is stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. It is then converted to fats and stored in tissues. When a dog goes through stress or does vigorous exercise, this fat is then supplied to the body through the bloodstream in the form of glucose.

Why Is It Important?

Carbohydrates are not half as important as other nutrients. However, they’re what provide energy. Carbohydrates also work towards ensuring the intestinal tract runs smoothly and efficiently.

Key Sources:

Carbohydrates can be found in oats, corn, rice, beet pulp, wheat bran, soybean hulls, and dog-friendly vegetables and fruits.

Specific Requirements for Small Breeds

As a dog owner, you’ll constantly find yourself worrying about meeting the dietary needs of your pet. Small dogs have a different food requirement than larger dogs. They have a smaller digestive tract and a huge metabolism to account for it.

As they have smaller mouths and teeth, their diet should contain bite-sized food. Additionally, smaller breed dogs have a smaller stomach thanks to their smaller size, which means they cannot consume large amounts of food at a time. This makes it all the more important for their diet to contain calorie-dense and nutrient-rich food.

How Much Should I Feed My Small Dog?

While feeding your small dog often might seem like a good idea it is not going to help your dog at all.

Frequent feeding can lead to obesity and other health problems like hypertension, arthritis, heart and lung problems, etc. Set a feeding schedule that helps you feed your dog a set amount every day at regular intervals.

Who doesn’t like to reward a well-behaved pup? Or one that has picked up a new trick or learned a new command. However, treats are no substitute for healthy meals and should be regulated or spaced out.

A faster metabolism is also a reason why dogs develop low blood sugar. Sugar boosts energy levels and failure to keep up with the energy requirements of the body can result in trembling, weakness, seizures, wobbly walking, and at times even death.

To combat these problems, make sure you feed your small dog several meals throughout the day. This will not only improve digestion but will also keep your pup from feeling hungry.

Tips for Choosing the Right Food

The best thing you can do for your dog is to provide them a balanced nutritious diet. Now that you know what nutrients are essential to your dog’s health and survival, how do you determine what is the healthiest dog food for small breeds?

The thing is, the idea of the healthiest dog food is just that, an idea. It does not have concrete proof to back it. For all we know, it might not even exist.

For choosing the right food, it’s important to take these factors into account:


Nutrition for small dog breeds will differ according to its age. If you’re looking for dog food, make sure it’s formulated in a way that your dog gets all the nutrients it needs.


Dogs with high energy levels burn more calories than their counterparts. Small dogs are notorious for packing an insane amount of energy in such a small body frame. Accordingly, you may need to look for high-calorie and nutrient-dense food to make up for the calories they expend.


What is different about small breed dog food? When choosing the right food for your small dog, it’s important to take their size into account. Their food is formulated keeping their small jaws in consideration.

For example, bite-sized food is more preferable for small dog breeds than chunky food items. This will help minimize waste and help your dog get the most nutrients.

A diet specific to age and size will prevent gastro-intestinal issues and maintain your pet’s dental health.


Small dogs spend energy quicker than their large breed cousins. To make up for it, they require more calories per pound and a nutritious diet is key to ensuring that your small dog leads a happy, healthy life. Remember to feed them on a schedule. If you’re not familiar with nutrition for small dog breeds, consult a vet and work out a feeding schedule best for your dog.