Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

If you have a small or toy breed dog you’re in luck – it’s cheaper to feed a smaller dog, which may give you better options.

It’s not always a blessing, as many smaller dogs are only fed wet food, which despite being better nutritionally usually results in periodontal disease from lack of chewing. Don’t worry, I’ll offer tips to prevent this.

In this guide I want to raise awareness of the most common problems feeding smaller dogs, and I urge you to always consider them.

After that, I’ll recommend what I consider good choices for small and toy breed dogs, categorised by type (and cost) of food.

PLEASE READ: The problems of feeding small breed dogs, and how to rectify them

Poor quality dog foods are a problem for all dogs, but in my experience the following are the most common problems affecting small and toy breed dogs:

  • Periodontal / dental disease from feeding wet dog foods in excess, or processed dog foods in general. Dental disease can start affecting a dog’s health before they’re older than a puppy.
  • Too many (poor quality) treats, including dental treats, affect small dogs more than larger dogs.
  • Wet foods which you don’t realise are “for supplemental feeding only” and do not provide the nutrients your dog needs to be healthy.

Let’s look at these three problems in more detail, and what you can do to avoid them.

Periodontal disease

A veterinarian colleague has given me the opportunity to witness tooth extraction of relatively young pets, so I can say with certainty this is something you want to avoid. Research in human health shows how harmful periodontal disease is to our all-round health, and our dogs suffer more.

I see the cause of dental disease to be directly diet-related, and I see it most often with small breed dogs only fed soft mushy wet foods. It’s not just wet foods – dry foods aren’t much better, and premium BARF patties and rolls can cause the same problems.

How can you prevent dental disease?

If you’re not in the habit of monitoring your dog’s teeth, then I recommend you start doing so at least once per quarter. Add it to your calendar so you don’t forget!

Personally I feed my dog size-appropriate raw meaty bones. For a small dog this can be chicken necks, wings, and other soft chewable bones. You’ll know already the risks of raw meats and bacteria, which I consider more a risk to you than your dog, who’s short and acidic digestive system copes very well with harmful bacteria.

If you don’t want to feed raw meaty bones, or your dog is a “gulper”, here are some great options:

  • Dried chewable treats made from real meats – I highly recommend the excellent range from Eureka which are perfect for chewing and really healthy. They sell chews, dried sardines, kangaroo jerky and tendons. At the time of writing this link should also give you a discount if you spend over $60.
  • Coffee wood – I know it seems odd to spend 10 bucks on what basically looks like a stick, but many pet food shops sell this excellent long lasting wood which is great for chewing. Coffee wood is a great idea if you have a puppy going through a destructive teething phase where they want to chew everything.
  • Tooth brushing – I confess I’ve never brushed the teeth of my pets, but I haven’t needed to. My 13 year old cat has impeccable teeth from the techniques above + a good diet. I know many people struggle to brush their dog’s teeth, but if they have plaque and tartar build-up it’s worth doing. Better you than the vet doing so under anesthetic.

Do not rely on dental chews for dental health.

Junk treats & dental treats

It’s easy to give a small or toy breed dog too many treats.

Did you know dog treats don’t need to be healthy? There are no rules and regulations, and because of this most dog treats are garbage in pretty packaging. Some of them even have health claims to make you buy them, with dental treats being a perfect example.

If a dog treat is made mostly from wheat, cereals, sugars, humectants, or other additives and food colourings, always consider them bad for your dog.

I know we want to treat our dogs and make them feel loved, but we feed them these treats to make us feel good.

Your dog is primarily a meat-eater, and meat or animal based foods are much more of a treat for them. I mentioned the Eureka treats earlier which are perfect, but the air-dried foods I mention a bit later are just as good and even cheaper.

Zoologists use an animal’s daily food intake as treats, and you should too – this is healthier, and a great tool for you to keep your dog occupied if you use a snuffle mat or scatter food around the house or garden.

Know the risks of “supplemental feeding only”

You might be surprised how many small breed dogs suffer from this little understood marketing trick used by a number of well known Australian dog foods.

I won’t say which ones, but if you have some wet food handy (cans, pouches, or pates), then have a really close look at the small print on the packaging. Can you find the words “for supplemental feeding only”?

This means the food is not complete and balanced, and doesn’t contain the nutrition your dog needs to be healthy.

It’s a way a pet food company can sell a cheap product without necessary vitamins, minerals, fats, and fibre, but have you believe it’s a proper dog food when it isn’t.

As consumers we’re taken in by marketing claims and pretty pictures, and the “supplemental feeding only” clause means we’re willing to pay more for a product which could be little more than a few low grade flakes of fish in water.

Your dog may seem to be going great on such a food. But for how long?

What’s the best small breed dog food in Australia?

I know you want a definite answer, but this is none.

You can feed raw, BARF, air-dried, freeze-dried, kibble (or biscuits if you want the glorified term), or a mixture of all the above. There is no right or wrong answers, only better choices.

Choosing the best food for your small breed pup starts at avoiding the rubbish. By that I mean the majority of kibble’s packaged up in glossy bags and images of glossy pups, which are little more than hard to digest nuggets of wheat for your pet carnivore.

So without too much ado, let’s take a look at your options:

Air & Freeze Dried Foods for Small/Toy Breeds

If you want a fantastic diet with the convenience of kibble, air and freeze dried foods are what you want. Thankfully in Australia we have a few excellent options – tried and tested by many Aussie dog owners (and myself).

These may cost more, but they’re much more nutritious than most dry dog foods, and with a small or toy breed thankfully go a long way (with a long shelf life to boot).

These are my four top picks:

  • Frontier Pets – Diana and her team at Frontier Pets pioneered freeze-dried dog food in Australia, showing the sharks on Shark Tank how wrong they can be. The success of Frontier Pets is testament to the quality of their product. It’s a brilliant, highly digestible raw food, which is as easy to feed as putting some in a bowl and adding water.
  • Eureka – Many would expect to see ZIWI Peak come second, but over this past year I’ve grown so much appreciation for this Australian Made alternative. The quality of Eureka has already proved itself, and being air-dried is so much more nutritious for your dog. If you can’t stretch to Frontier Pets, stretch to this – at least as part of your dog’s diet.
  • Lyka – Lyka is a revelation, and if you can feed this as part of your dog’s diet then you’re onto a winner. Lyka is Hello Fresh for dogs, delivered to your dog as fully prepared meals. It’s slightly cooked but full of nutrition. Some may prepare complete and balanced fresh foods for their dogs at home, but this is a much easier option. Feedback is astounding.
  • ZIWI Peak – If you know your stuff with dog food you’ll know how good ZIWI Peak is. Made in New Zealand, it’s a worldwide hit. It’s the best seller in air-dried raw, with animal content almost 100% (like Eureka). There’s been some controversy due to the company being bought by a Chinese investment company, but at the time of writing I haven’t noted any drop in quality. Highly recommended.

Balanced Life and K9 Natural are also well worth mentioning, both slightly cheaper and nearly as good as those above. I merely wanted to keep the list short.

The best thing about all these foods is none of them suffer from “big chunks of kibble” sydrome.

If any of the above seem expensive, or if they’re beyond your budget (which is nothing to be ashamed of), then let’s look at dry foods:

Kibbles & Biscuits for Small/Toy Breeds

In Australia we refer to kibble as “biscuits”. Have you ever wondered why?

I’ll tell you why – we love biscuits!

With kibble marketed as “biscuits” it sounds more appealing to us. But did you know most dog foods in Australia are probably unhealthier for our dogs than if we really fed them real biscuits?

The below dry dog foods are suitable for small dog breeds. Please note this is not a conclusive list, so feel free to check the reviews of any foods you’re interested in.

Hopefully the following recommendations give you a good starting point:

  • Zignature Small Bites – Available in 1.8kg, 3.6kg, and 5.66kg bags, the Zignature range for small dogs is one of the best dry foods you can buy, and with 5 different formulas you can give your dog a really nice variety. Zignature is a New Zealand brand, a country known for producing some of the best pet foods worldwide.
  • Black Hawk Small Breed – Available in 3kg or 10kg bags, many dog owners feed Black Hawk as it’s Australian and the formulas are better than most. The larger 10kg bag means this could be a more affordable option, but I advise trying to get through a bag in 3 to 4 weeks max. Feedback is mostly good with this brand, but no way near as good as Zignature above, or my next pick below.
  • Taste of the Wild Small Breed Venison (Appalachian Valley) – Available in 2kg or 5.6kg bags, I’ve found the Taste of the Wild brand very safe, reputable, and a good mix of ingredients and nutrients. As a dry food it’s the perfect all rounder, and highly recommended. I believe this will suit most people with small breed dogs, and a food I regularly feed my own dog.
  • Lifewise Small Bites (Adult) – Available in 2.5kg, 9kg, and 18kg, but I recommend you only buy the big bag if you have multiple ravenous small dogs. I realise it’s cheaper to buy a big bag, but it’s not good for your dog if you have a bag open to the elements for too long. Lifewise are a really good Australian brand who emphasise quality of ingredients – years of positive feedback from Aussie dog owners has shown this to be true. Great brand.
  • Wellness CORE Small Breed Grain Free – Available in 1.8kg and 5.4kg bags, the Wellness CORE (grain free range) is one of the best in protein and animal fat dry foods. As a kibble it’s more expensive than most, and sometimes hard to get hold of, but recommended.

I realise this list is short, but I find many of the Mars brands (Pedigree, Optimum, Eukanuba, Advance, Royal Canin) and Nestle brands (Supercoat, Pro Plan, Purina One) very grain-heavy for your small breed dog as a meat-biased omnivore or more correctly facultative carnivore.

Vet recommended brands like Hill’s Science Diet (Colgate-Palmolive) and Royal Canin I find to be the most grain/high-carbohydrate dog foods of all, except perhaps budget brands Pedigree and Supercoat.

If you have any recommendations or success stories yourself, feel free to say so in the comments section below!

Wet foods for Small/Toy Breeds

Wet foods are usually a better quality to dry foods, but your small breed dog should not rely on an entirely wet food diet.

Most of the dry dog foods rated highly on this website have an equally good wet food. I haven’t found a brand where this isn’t the case.

If you feed any wet food as a significant part of your dog’s diet, make sure it’s not for supplemental feeding only. These should only be considered tasty treats. They’re not “complete and balanced”.

Here are some great options for wet foods (canned/pouches) which are well worth feeding as part of your dog’s diet. Both are available in smaller tins for small breed dogs:

  • Zealandia
  • ZIWI Peak

Raw & Fresh Food for Small/Toy Breeds

In Australia today there are more options for raw food than you can shake a stick at. New brands pop up all the time, and barely any of them are regulated.

So how do you know which are good and which are bad?

Unfortunately most of the time you won’t know, and you have very little information to go on.

Two excellent BARF brands (raw meat/organ/bone patties) are:

  • Big Dog
  • Proudi

Both can be found in most pet stores in a freezer.

Dr B’s BARF is also very common. Despite being one of the original BARF products, from Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghust who pioneered BARF worldwide, has for many years been the product of a large manufacturer. It’s not a manufacturer I get a lot of positive feedback for.

I mentioned Lyka previously, and this is a great slightly-cooked delivered-to-your-door option which has proven to be an excellent dog food. It’s great to see Australian companies such as Lyka giving us much better options for our dogs. I admit it’s expensive, but it’s excellent.

Raw is a good option if you want to delve into more natural feeding for your dog. If you want to make raw at home you must research and understand all the nutrients your dog needs from meat, organs, and bones.

I’ve written at length about raw dog foods in Australia, so if that’s the route you want to go down then skip over to that page.

CHECKLIST: Feeding your Small or Toy Breed Dog

My opinion is a good diet, exercise, and lots of playtime and cuddles is the best way to keep our dogs healthy.

The checklist below will cover all aspects of feeding your small or toy breed dog, and what you must consider:

  1. Choose a high-quality dog food – You may choose a dog food simply because it’s labelled “small breed” or “toy breed”, or with Royal Canin because it’s got the name of your dog’s breed on the front of the bag. But deciding what is really the best food for your dog may take a little more effort.
  2. Add variety and rotate protein sources – We’re led to believe we should only feed one brand of dog food, or one formula, but it’s worth considering variety a better option. Unless your dog has dietary sensitivities, it’s good to get them used to different foods. Don’t be afraid to rotate brands, types of food, and formulas. This should reduce the risk of your dog developing food sensitivities.
  3. Read the ingredients – A good rule of thumb is to see if the food is meat-based rather than carbohydrate based. How do the protein and fat percentages compare to other brands? Are the main ingredients (say the first 4) animal, or grains and legumes?
  4. Consider your dogs age – Puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs have different nutritional needs. When feeding a dry dog food make sure it caters for your dog’s life stage – this is particularly the case for puppies, so do not feed them an “Adult” or “Senior” formula. I find senior dog foods are designed more to make a larger profit, usually being more carbohydrates and less of the meat protein and fat your senior dog really needs to retain health and muscle mass.
  5. Monitor portion control – Small breed dogs have smaller stomachs, so be mindful of portion sizes to prevent overfeeding. It’s very easy to overfeed a small breed, especially if you give them lots of treats as well. Pay attention to the feeding guidelines but don’t live by them. Sometimes they’re designed to make it appear a bag will last longer than it will, and besides, all dogs are different, with different lifestyles, energy levels, and life stage. Adjust the amount you feed based on your dog’s metabolism, and get in the habit of monitoring their weight.
  6. Feed smaller meals, more regularly – Consider dividing your dog’s daily food intake into multiple small meals throughout the day. This can help prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is common in small breeds.
  7. Fresh clean water, always – Small dogs can be prone to dehydration, especially in Australia, so make sure they stay adequately hydrated. Clean their bowl properly every day, and refill with clean water when necessary.
  8. Be careful of treats – Limit the number of treats and snacks you give your small dog. Choose healthy treats which are mostly meat and not cereals or sugars. Consider breaking larger treats into smaller pieces.
  9. Be wary of table scraps – I confess I feed my dog table scraps all the time, but you must make sure they are healthy, species appropriate table scraps and limit this to a maximum of 10% of their diet. By healthy I mean meat scraps, eggs, some fruit and veggie treats. I tend to avoid carbohydrate table scraps. Some human foods are toxic to dogs, so if in doubt, don’t give it to your dog.
  10. Monitor dental health – Small breed dogs are often more prone to dental problems (read the section above on dental health). Get in the habit of making sure your dog hasn’t got plaque or tartar, and if they have – starting asking yourself why. Usually this is diet related.
  11. Monitor weight – Learn to weigh your dog regularly. With a small breed you can weigh yourself, then pick up your dog and weigh both of you – then calculate the difference. Why not try it now? Small breeds can gain weight quickly, and this can lead to health issues. Most of the time we don’t realise our dogs have been gradually getting fat.
  12. Understand breed-specific needs – All dogs benefit from an animal-based diet and high-quality dog food, but some small breeds have specific dietary requirements. Research your dog’s breed and understand any unique nutritional considerations or health concerns.
  13. Watch for allergies – Be aware of any food allergies or sensitivities your small breed dog may have. If you suspect an issue, consult your vet for guidance or consider hypoallergenic diets. Most of the time a dog will be sensitive to a food they shouldn’t be eating anyway, like hard nuggets of cereal by-products.
  14. Regular vet checkups – We tend to avoid visiting the vet unless we need to, for the simple reason a check-up can set you back the cost of a luxury meal out. However, try and book in once a year (or more for an older dog) for a checkup and allow your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s overall health. They’re professionals, and they can pick up health concerns you can easily miss.
  15. Gradually transition food – I’ve left this to last on purpose, as I find dogs only react to a change in diet if they’ve been fed one brand of food for a very long time. Even when we take home a puppy from a breeder it’s possible they’ve only been fed one brand of food, and the breeder has likely recommended you continue to do so. In reality this is the perfect way to get your dog intolerant of other foods, which isn’t a good idea. This belief, I expect, comes from pet food companies wanting to lock you in to their product for the lifetime of your pet ($$$$s). If your dog has been fed one brand of dog food, or a restricted diet, then transition to a new diet gradually.

Final thoughts about feeding small & toy breed dogs

For the sake of completeness I’ll use this section for any further tips and advice. If you feel anything is missing let me know and I’ll add it – for the benefit of other small breed dog owners.

Avoid buying big bags of dry dog food

I know most of us baulk at the price of dog food. More so in recent years as the price of dog food has far surpassed any pay rises.

Nevertheless, if you buy a big bag and have it rotting to the elements for weeks on end it’s possible it can make your dog very sick.

As a general rule, try and feed a bag within a 3 week period. 4 weeks max.

Pet food companies will boast their food will last months. Some brands use potentially harmful carcinogens to preserve dog food, which may stop it “going off” but can harm your dog’s health – not that you’ll be able to prove it, as many things can affect our dog’s health.

I always opt for dog foods which are naturally preserved, but these won’t keep as long once opened.

What small breed dog food do you feed, and why?

Calling Aussie pet lovers – join the mailing list!

  1. Providing a healthy and balanced diet for your dogs is essential, and there are alternatives to pricey commercial dog food. Here are some options to consider

    1. Homemade Food:
    Cook simple meals for your dog with lean meats, veggies, and grains.
    2. Raw Diet:
    Some people feed dogs raw meat, bones, and organs, but be careful and research well.
    3. Affordable Commercial Food:
    Look for budget-friendly dog foods with fewer ingredients and high-quality proteins.
    4. Add Fresh Foods:
    Mix in veggies like carrots or fruits occasionally for added nutrition.
    5. Economical Proteins:
    Eggs and canned fish (in water) are affordable protein sources.
    6. Ask the Vet:
    Always check with your vet before changing your dog’s diet to make sure it’s healthy for them.

    • Reply
      Pet Food Reviews (Australia) November 22, 2023 at 8:15 pm

      Thanks Vincenzo, that looks like a ChatGPT response to me…?

      There are some good points here though, although I’d urge an emphasis on feeding a dog more whole prey/animal in a homemade diet rather than grains. Budget friendly dog foods with high-quality proteins don’t tend to exist as it’s not very viable from a profit standpoint. Adding fresh foods like carrots or fruits occasionally is all well and good, but adding raw meaty bones, raw meats, and organs would probably be a better option. Or eggs, fish, etc.

  2. I give my fussy little Maltese a raw chicken neck and 2 hearts for breakfast, Eureka for lunch and Lyka for dinner. Is this a healthy diet for her and what do you suggest for treats

    • Reply
      Pet Food Reviews (Australia) November 1, 2023 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Lyn, this sounds very healthy indeed!

      Chicken necks are as good a treat as any, or any forms of meat/organs.

  3. Wish Orijen small breed would come back – been unavailable for over a year now.

    I’ve been rotating zignature (sometimes hard to find the small bites in stock), taste of the wild and savour life. Plus ziwi peak as topper.

    My chihuahuas eat anything so I’m mainly rotating to benefit their health.

    I’m looking to try life wise next, I believe the small breed formula includes grains, not sure what your thoughts are?

    • Reply
      Pet Food Reviews (Australia) September 27, 2023 at 8:26 pm

      If Orijen was readily available I’d put it at the top of the list, but it proves very hard to get hold of.

      Lifewise dog foods are really good and I wouldn’t be worried about any grains in their formulas. They opt for decent grains in moderation.

  4. Is there a particular reason lifewise didn’t rate a mention for small dogs?

    • Reply
      Pet Food Reviews (Australia) September 27, 2023 at 8:29 pm

      Hi Kate, no reason at all. It’s a good recommendation, and I’ve now added both Lifewise and Zignature as recommendations!

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