How We Found The Best Dog Foods
To find the best dog foods for the widest range of dogs our research panel created a comprehensive questionnaire, which asked everything from the qualities pet owners are looking for in their dog’s food, to information about their dog’s breed, age, and size. With help from our veterinary review panel, we looked for those brands with trustworthy ingredients, reliable reputations, and specific formulas for different needs, including small breed dog diets.
In total, we polled 407 dog owners, gathering data on hundreds of dogs. This polling data was used to develop a numerical scoring system and detailed feedback, which we use to select the best dog foods in a wide range of categories.
What to Look for in Dog Food for Small Dogs
AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy
The AAFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officials, is a non-profit, non-government organization that promotes uniform regulations on both cat and dog food guidelines nationwide. To earn a label with the AAFCO’s standard of “complete and balanced” on a pet food label, the food must follow nutritional standards set forth by the AAFCO. This means that the food must contain every nutrient listed on the profile at the recommended level.
It should be known that the AAFCO does not have the authority to regulate pet food. The organization is made up of members that do create regulations, however, such as the U.S. FDA, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. Each member can vote once for any issue before the AAFCO.
According to the AAFCO website, there are also non-voting advisors in addition to voting members, and “anyone can register for and attend an AAFCO midyear or annual meeting.” Pet food industry representatives can be advisors, as well as everyday consumers. The AAFCO promotes the inclusion of consumer advocates to act as committee advisors, and consumers who wish to become advocates can contact them for details.
Protein, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals are all necessary in your dog’s food in amounts that meet their nutritional requirements. This nutritional balance assists in maintaining the animal’s energy levels, healthy skin, coat, teeth, and body, as well as proper growth, and it can vary by size, age, and breed. Ensuring that your dog’s food is in agreement with the recommendations set forth by the AAFCO means they’re getting proper nutrition, so look for it on the label.
Meat is easier than other ingredients for dogs to digest, so it should ideally be listed first on label ingredient lists, with starches listed later. Specifically named meat sources, like salmon or turkey rather than general poultry or fish, usually indicates higher quality proteins are likely to be in the food. Whole grains and vegetables or fruit can be listed, too. Unnamed by-products are generally not indicative of high-quality nutrition, and artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, as well as non-nutritious fillers like corn and/or soy are usually unhealthy and are also common allergens.
If you choose to forego store-bought foods and make your own dog food, you’ll want to follow a well-researched nutritional guide to ensure the right balance of meats, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber are met.
Dogs must be fed the right amount every day to avoid nutritional deficiencies and overfeeding. Most dogs require two feedings per day of the appropriate portion size, with puppies usually needing three or more servings. Quality brand dog foods should have portion guidance of some type on their label instructing on the size and frequency of feeding for each weight of dog.
Check your small dog’s food label for instructions or a chart, guiding how much to feed based on the weight of your dog. Some labels share greater detail, including adjustments to the portion size based on how active your dog is. For example, Royal Canin’s Small Adult Dry Dog Food has a label on it suggesting the appropriate portion size for your dog’s weight, divided into low activity, medium activity, and high activity pups.
Once you’ve identified the right portion size for your dog, be careful to feed them the exact amount, using a scale if needed to make sure it’s precisely measured. It’s easy to underestimate the amount you’re truly feeding your pup, and even a small amount of weight gain can lead to health problems for small dogs.
When feeding small breed puppies, especially toy breeds, careful feeding several times a day until around the 16th week is required in order to prevent hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Symptoms of this include lethargy, muscle tremors, seizures, and overall weakness. Tiny pups have such high metabolisms that they need highly calorie-dense, specifically small breed puppy food, between four to six times daily. Veterinarians should be consulted to ensure these breeds’ nutritional needs are met.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
KJ Callihan is a freelance writer for The Spruce Pets, as well as The Spruce Crafts, and is a Product Reviewer for The Spruce. You may also find her work in CNET, AAA Northeast, Oh My Veggies, and more. KJ has experience fostering and socializing dogs through her previous work at an animal shelter, and has also been owned by several dogs in her lifetime. To ensure our picks for this roundup were the best selected, Callihan consulted Dr. Gail S. Wolfe, DVM, of Bennett Road Animal Clinic for guidance. You may follow Dr. Wolfe and the clinic on FaceBook for updates on pup-related topics.