Which Dog Food? How to Choose a Healthy Diet for Your Dog's Age, Breed, and Size

Amanda was raised with dogs and has kept dogs all her life. "Dogs aren't just pets," she says, "They're workmates, friends, and family."

Dogs' Dietary Needs Change Through Different Life Stages

I'm always shocked when I hear of dogs whose owners think they'll be fine just being fed table scraps and consider the occasional can of proprietary dog food or a handful of kibble as an odd treat.

It's important to make sure your dog has a healthy diet which provides all his nutritional needs. A dog fed well is a happy dog, but there's no "one-size-fits-all" rule about what you should give your dog to eat, how much, or how often. A dog's needs depend on his breed, size, age, and health.

There are so many options to choose from, it may seem hard to be sure what the best diet might be. If you're not sure your dog is getting everything he needs from his food, it's worth asking your vet for guidelines. But the following suggestions will help you make the right dietary decisions for your particular pooch.

How to Choose Commercial Dog Food

Most commercial dog food is formulated to give a full and balanced diet containing all the nutrients your dog needs. A standard proprietary dog food contains meat, vegetables, grains, added vitamins, and sometimes even fruit. However, it's always a good idea to check the packaging for the Association of American Feed Controls certification proving the food has been tested. It should state that the food is "complete and balanced". That means it has everything your dog needs and in the right quantities.

Feed formulas are made for dogs at different life stages. The packaging should state whether the food is intended for puppies, adult, or older dogs. Read all packaging carefully to be sure you're making the right choice.

Wet or Dry Food?

You can buy both wet and dry dog food. Both offer a balanced and nutritious diet. Dry foods, such as pellets, give your dog something to crunch on and may be better for his teeth. Wet foods, like canned dog food, are more natural-looking and meaty. Many owners choose to mix them or alternate them to make their dog's feeding times more interesting. Which you choose is really a matter of personal preference and convenience.

How Much Should You Feed Your Dog?

The most common mistake dog owners make is to give their dogs too much to eat. If your dog is otherwise healthy and has regular exercise but puts on weight, you're probably over-feeding. Guidelines for how much to feed your dog based on his size and breed can be found on most proprietary dog food packaging.

Aging dogs may need less to eat as they become less active and working dogs may need more than the average for their size. If you have any doubts, ask your vet or a qualified pet nutritionist.

How Often Should You Feed Your Dog?

The American Kennel Club recommends you feed puppies under six months old four times a day. Once they reach six months, you can reduce feeds to once in the morning and once in the evening. Feed adult dogs once or twice a day. Much depends on how much outdoor activity they get. Again, if in doubt, talk to your vet.

Feeding Frequency Guidelines Based on Age

Table showing general guidelines for how often you should feed your dog based on his age


weaned to 6 months

4 times a day

6 months to adult

2 times a day

Adult (9 to 12 months+)

1 or 2 times a day

The Problem of the Vegetarian Dog

Many people eat a vegetarian diet for ethical, health, or environmental reasons. If you're a vegetarian, you may dislike feeding meat-based products to your dog. It is possible for a dog to be healthy and happy on a vegetarian diet, but it needs special care and attention.

The greatest challenge is making sure he'll be interested in eating the food you offer. You must also be sure the food has enough protein and calcium to keep his muscle mass and bones in good health. It's advisable to seek veterinary advice before trying to restrict your dog's diet to vegetables and fruit.

Should You Feed Scraps to Your Dog?

It's best not to give your dog extras from the table. If you do, make sure it's a rare treat and not a regular habit. Many foods normal for people can be dangerous, even life-threatening, for dogs. Chocolate, processed foods, poultry bones, salty or sugary snacks, or even raw meat can harm your dog.

Should You Feed Your Dog Treats?

If you want to give your dog a treat, either as a reward for good behaviour or just to show how much you love him, it's safest to get a packet of dog treats from your vet or pet store. Treats and chews are inexpensive and useful in training your dog, too. Vets recommend that treats should make up only a tenth of your dog's daily diet.

If in Doubt, Ask a Vet

Your dog is your best friend and deserves to have a healthy diet. Making the right food choices will keep him happy and in good condition. If you have concerns about your dog's diet or other health issues, always talk to your vet who will give you expert and up-to-date advice.

© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 27, 2018:

Hi Shelley,

Thanks for your comment. I've never tried freeze dried dog food with my beasties. I'm afraid they get proprietary canned food and a crunchy mixer. Not very exciting, but they're happy with it and, of course, it contains everything they need from a nutritional point of view.

But I think as a rule, dogs, as natural scavengers rather than hunters like cats, are more likely to try anything that seems vaguely edible!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 26, 2018:

I recently did some research on raw freeze dried cat and dog food and its benefits. As a result, I tried my cats on some very expensive but exceedingly high quality raw freeze dried cat food but they hated it. It had to be bad because I put the uneaten bowls outside overnight and not even the possums and other critters would get it! I kid you not. Have you tried freeze dried raw food for your dogs? Maybe dogs are less finicky than cats?

How to Choose the Best Dog Food

Most people feed their dogs dry kibble or canned wet food. These processed foods might not be appealing to us, but they contain all of the nutrients dogs need to stay healthy. Quality commercial dog foods are highly regulated and have undergone rigorous testing by veterinary specialists.

Dogs, unlike cats, are not strict carnivores. While meat makes up the majority of their diet, domestic dogs can also derive nutrients from grains, fruits, and vegetables. These non-meat foods are not simply fillers, but can be a valuable source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A good dog food will contain meat, vegetables, grains, and fruits. The best dog foods contain high-quality versions of these ingredients that are appropriate for your dog’s digestive system.

If you are unsure about the differences in nutritional requirements between puppies and adults, the Merck Veterinary Manual lists the recommended nutrients for dogs, along with the recommended amount by weight and age. Large breed dogs and puppies have different nutritional requirements than small breed dogs and puppies.

One way to decipher a good dog food from a bad dog food is to read the label. Check for ingredients, nutritional adequacy, and feeding guidelines.

In an ideal world, all dog food would be created equal. Instead, dog owners are presented with an overwhelming array of options, all claiming to be the best dog food on the market. Wading through these choices to find a dog food brand that is healthy, affordable, and appealing to your pet is often frustrating. We’ve compiled expert advice to help you narrow down your options.

Best Food for Small Breed Puppies

The assumption that small breed dogs are low maintenance and easy to feed due to their small size is dangerous. Small breed puppies, especially toy breeds, require careful feeding to prevent a condition called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the scientific word for low blood sugar, and small breed puppies are prone to developing this condition as a result of high metabolic rates and low sugar and body fat reserves. This means they need to be fed a calorie-dense, small breed puppy food anywhere from four-to-six times a day and watched closely for symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures

Most complete and balanced small breed puppy foods contain the appropriate amount of nutrients for small breed dogs. They also have smaller kibbles, which are easier for small breed puppies to chew and are less of a choking hazard. Talk to your vet about the risks of hypoglycemia and what you can do to prevent it in your small breed puppy. If you suspect your puppy has hypoglycemia, call your veterinarian immediately.

Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

1. Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Right at the top of our list, we have the Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. Your small breed dog deserves the best, and this is one of the best ways to provide them with what they need. This food is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of small breed dogs – it is nutritionally complete and balanced for them.

The major ingredients of this dog food are venison, lamb meal, garbanzo beans, peas, and lentils. It contains other great protein sources such as duck, egg, and ocean fish. This formula is completely grain-free, and it does not contain any other ingredient that will upset the tummy of your dog.

In addition to containing great protein sources, this food contains a very high protein count. It contains 32 percent protein, which is great for very active dogs. The crude fat content of this food is 18 percent while the maximum crude fiber content is 10 percent. Each cup of this food contains 370 kilocalories. This food is rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to support the skin and coat health of your dog.


  • Free from ingredients that could upset the tummy of your dog
  • Contains great protein sources
  • Supports healthy skin and coat
  • Supports a healthy digestive system

2. Instinct Original Small Breed Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken

If your small breed dog is allergic to grains, then the Instinct Original Small Breed Grain-Free Recipe with Real chicken is the right food for them. This food is ideal for small breed dogs, both adults and puppies.

The top five ingredients in this diet are chicken, chicken meal, chickpeas, tapioca, and chicken fat. It is a grain-free formula and it is great for dogs with sensitive stomachs and skin. The majority of this food’s protein is from animal sources. It is formulated to provide your small breed with the right balance of protein they need.

The caloric, fat, and protein content are optimal for small breed dogs. It contains 35 percent protein, 19.5 percent crude fat, 3.5 percent crude fiber, with a caloric content of 476 kilocalories per cup. This food contains chondroitin and glucosamine to support the bone and joint health of your dog.

The omega fatty acids in this food support glossy coat and healthy skin. There are also many fruits and vegetables in this formula. It also supports a healthy digestive and immune system.


  • Form: Dry Food
  • Life Stage: All life stages
  • Special Diet: High-Protein, Grain-Free, Natural, No Wheat, No Soy, No Corn
  • An ideal balance of calories, fat, and protein for small breeds
  • Supports healthy bones and teeth
  • Supports healthy skin, coat, immune, digestive system
  • Free from additives and artificial ingredients

3. Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Small Breed Dog Food Turkey and Oatmeal

The Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Small Breed Dog Food contains a minimum protein of 28 percent from premium quality sources to meet the high-energy needs of small breed dogs. It contains many great protein sources such as salmon meal, deboned turkey, and chicken meal. These protein sources contain great amino acids and many essential fatty acids.

Many dog owners love this food because it is highly digestible. It also features smaller kibbles that are very easy for smaller dogs to pick and chew. Small dog breeds are known for their very active lifestyle, and this food is formulated to provide them with all the energy they need to keep up with their active lifestyle.

This food is also loaded with antioxidants, thanks to the spinach, carrots, apples, and blueberries it contains. It also contains natural sources of fiber to maintain healthy digestion. This food also contains healthy fat sources such as Salmon oil and flaxseed, which provide enough omega fatty acids to boost the immune system and for a shiny coat and healthy skin.


  • High protein content and sources
  • Made in a safe and healthy environment
  • Contains the right amount of protein and fat for small breed
  • Contains antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies

4. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food

This dry dog food from Blue Buffalo is another great option for those looking for the best dog food for small dogs. This dog food is made with high-quality ingredients, and it does not contain any artificial color, flavor, or preservative.

This Life Protection formula comes with antioxidant-rich life source bits, which is a blend of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. These essentials help to boost the overall health of your dog, including immune and digestive health.

Some of the top ingredients of this diet are lamb meat, brown rice, and menhaden fish meal. It contains wholesome grains to provide your pup with all the energy it needs to remain active. This formula is free from corn, wheat, soy, and meat by-product meals.


  • Small-bite kibbles for smaller jaws
  • Meets higher energy needs
  • Supports mobility and joint functions
  • Easily digestible

So, How Do You Recognize If Your Pup Is Overweight?

In your pet’s early years, you’ll be going to the vet more frequently for vaccines and regular checkups. Dr. Fox recommends making sure you keep up with your appointments, since your vet will be able to correctly guide you to ensure your pet is growing at the appropriate rate. Vets also do regular visual and tactile tests where they rate your pet on a 1-9 scale (1 being skinny and 9 being morbidly obese) and determine a Body Condition Score.

Additionally, Dr. Fox recommends running your hands through your pet’s body to check if you’re (ideally) able to see or at least feel their ribs through their skin. She also advises checking if your dog’s shape is an hourglass, which is a general recommendation for all breeds and sizes. Lastly, invest in a weighing scale so you can check your dog’s weight on a weekly or bi-weekly basis at home.

Watch the video: Best Dog Food Ever To Feed your Puppy. CREATE BIG DOGS!

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