At first, choosing dog food for your canine might seem simple. However, once you actually get to the store and see those rows and rows of bags, you realize just how complicated it can be.
There are hundreds of dog food options on the market today. Sorting through them all can seem nearly impossible.
Luckily, with a few guiding principles, you’ll be able to wade through the sea of options with some ease. Here are a few key concepts you should keep in mind when choosing dog food for your small dog:
Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbs. They are the main building blocks all animals need to survive. Some species need different macronutrient amounts than others.
Studies have shown that dogs need a macronutrient content of about 30% protein, 63% fat, and 7% carbohydrates. This is true for all domesticated dogs – big or small.
Preferably, you want a dog food that matches this macronutrient breakdown as closely as possible. Sadly, this is nearly impossible in the modern, dog food market. However, you can find foods that are high in protein and fat, which is exactly what you want.
Figuring out which foods are high in fat and which are not can be somewhat confusing though. That’s because dog food companies are only required to give you the guaranteed analysis of this food, which really doesn’t tell you much at all.
Luckily, you can turn this guaranteed analysis into a dry-matter basis. This allows you to tell how must protein, fat, and carbohydrates a food actually has in it. There are many online calculators that help you do this, like this one. You just plug in a few pieces of information found in the guaranteed analysis on the back of the bag and the calculator will give you the actual percentages of each ingredient.
Preferably, you do not want food that is higher than 30% carbohydrates. The higher in protein and fat, the better.
Equally as important as the macronutrient content are the actual ingredients used in the food.
You always want meat as the first ingredient, and preferably as the first few ingredients. Organ meat and a variety of different animal proteins are preferable. Feeding your pooch many different types of meat will prevent allergies from forming and help them get a complete diet.
The type of meat does matter, but not necessarily as much as most people think it does. By-products are not necessarily bad by any means. A by-product is often just the parts of the animal we normally wouldn’t eat, but that our pets would eat naturally in the wild – like the snout, hooves, and ears. Many of these parts are actually very nutritious.
The only time you really need to be worried about a meat is if it is unnamed. “Meat meal” could literally be anything, but “chicken meal” is just ground-up chicken. You want to know the source of your dog’s meat, or it could be anything from roadkill to dead zoo animals. If the source isn’t listed, there is probably a reason.
You want to avoid fillers as much as possible. These include white grains as well as cheap veggies that don’t provide much nutritional benefit.
When you’re choosing food for smaller dogs, kibble size does matter. The definition of a small dog is any dog under 21 pounds.
The size of kibble each dog needs within the “small dog” category will vary Chihuahuas and other very small dogs will need some sort of very small kibble or wet food. These dogs often tend to have poor teeth health, so wet food paired with bones and antlers may be the best way to go, especially as they get older.
Some small dogs might be perfectly fine eating an average-sized kibble though. For example, beagles are typically small dogs, but they are plenty big to eat dog kibble designed for medium-sized dogs.
When in doubt, it is almost always better to choose wet food for smaller dogs. You don’t have to worry about kibble sizes and wet food is typically higher-quality than dry food.
Don’t Be Fooled by “Grain-Free”
It is a common misconception that “grain-free” dog foods are better than grain-inclusive options. However, this just isn’t true.
Often, grain-free foods will not contain any more protein than the grain-inclusive formulas. Instead, dog food companies just switch out the grain for cheap veggies, like peas and potatoes. Some of these may be linked to a DCM, which is deadly heart disease.
When choosing a dog food, we do not recommend paying serious attention to whether or not it includes grain. Instead, look at the quality of the ingredients. Grain-inclusive dog food with lots of meat is going to be better than grain-free food with potatoes as the first ingredient.
The Brand Matters
Not all brands are made equal. Some are prone to recalls and others are notorious for producing low-quality food.
We generally recommend doing a thorough search for information about the brands before purchasing any dog food. Typing in the brand name followed by “complaints” will provide you with plenty of information to judge the safety of that particular brand.