By The Farmer's Dog | October 16, 2019

From Chihuahuas who can fit in your palm to Great Danes who can eat off your table, dogs’ physiques are just as varied and diverse as their personalities. Naturally though, different dogs have wildly varying nutritional requirements.

Size is possibly the biggest determining factor in dietary needs. Small dogs might have eating needs and preferences quite unlike their larger cousins — and not only in terms of the amount they eat. A nourishing diet is the foundation of overall vitality, so it’s crucial to make sure your small dog gets the right food to keep its specific body type healthy.

If you’re searching for the ideal food for your small dog, here are four key things you should know.

1. Smaller dogs have higher metabolisms

Here’s a surprising fact about the animal kingdom: Generally speaking, the smaller the animal, the higher the metabolism. Hummingbirds, for instance, eat one and a half to three times their own body weight every day to fuel their metabolism — which is 100 times faster than an elephant’s.

This rule holds true for dogs, as well. That’s why, pound-for-pound, a small dog actually needs to eat more than a large one.

This means that timing can be a more important factor in feeding your small dog than it would be for a larger one. Not only will they feel famished easier, but if they get too hungry between meals, this can cause them to gulp their food excessively quickly when they do have the opportunity, making them sick. Therefore, small dogs may thrive with smaller, more frequent meals.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the best feeding schedule for your small dog, but generally from the time they’re weaned (at about 6 weeks) to the 6 month mark, it’s recommended that puppies be fed 3-4 times per day. From then on, you can switch them to a twice-daily feeding schedule — but if you notice them seeming hungry well before dinner time, struggling for energy, or wolfing their food, you may want to consider a return to spreading their allotted food out over 3 or 4 daily meals.

2. Smaller dogs face special health risks

Another reason to ensure your small-breed dog is getting enough calories is because of a potentially dangerous condition that requires special diligence to avoid: Hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is simply the medical term for low blood sugar, a problem commonly faced by humans with diabetes. When your blood sugar levels fall, your body lacks energy to carry out basic functions, and goes into a type of emergency mode to protect your vital organs. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include weakness, lethargy, tremors, and possibly even seizures. If a dog’s blood sugar levels fall low enough, it can even prove fatal.

Due to their tiny livers, where sugar is stored and produced, small-breed puppies have difficulty maintaining their blood sugar — especially if they’re getting inadequate nourishment or if their feeding is inconsistent.

The best way to prevent hypoglycemia is to ensure your dog is well-fed. The most important thing is that they’re receiving enough calories every day, but if their meals are spread too far apart, their blood sugar can plummet in between feedings too. Secondly, make sure your dog is getting a complete and balanced diet. Balanced, healthy dog foods have the perfect blend of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and micronutrients to keep your small dog healthy, and release sugars slower for more consistent, even energy levels throughout the day.

3. Obesity affects small dogs, too

While you definitely don’t want to underfeed your dog, you don’t want to stray too far in the opposite direction either.

Although it may be less immediately obvious on their smaller frames, obesity can affect even the tiniest dogs. And just as in large dogs, obesity can cause a range of very serious health problems. Overweight dogs are more prone to diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease — issues that can affect their quality of life dramatically, and shorten their lifespan.

How can you tell if your small dog is obese? First, try weighing them. If they’re 10-20% above their ideal body weight, that’s typically considered overweight.

For a more accurate verdict though, you can also evaluate your dog’s Body Condition Score. The BCS is a 9-point grading scale that evaluates their body type. Dogs in the 1-3 range are considered underweight, and tend to have easily visible ribs and backbones. At their ideal weight (4-5 BCS), you can feel your dog’s ribs through a thin layer of fat; viewed from above, their abdomen should be apparent behind the rib cage. If your dog’s midsection is rounded and their abdominal tuck tough to spot, they’ll fall in the 6-9 range and are likely obese.

A healthy, balanced diet is the best way to prevent your dog from falling too far in either extreme, but you should always keep a close eye on your dog’s body shape, especially as they age. Older dogs may have changing nutritional needs as they grow older, become less inclined to exercise, and need less food overall. If your small dog seems to be packing on a little weight, don’t be afraid to reduce their portions a bit and see how it affects them.

4. High-quality food pays for itself

The saying goes that your good health is something you can pay for now or later — but wouldn’t everyone rather invest in better food of their choosing for their best friend than unavoidable vet bills later in life?

Research has shown that conventional dog food contains a plethora of unlabeled ingredients; one study found that 13 out of 14 brands even contained an animal protein they weren’t supposed to. Both wet and dry foods are also frequently contaminated by dangerous toxins — everything from heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury to pesticides, antibiotics, arsenic, and fungal toxins.

Feeding your dog low-quality food contaminated with these toxins for the course of its life can cause a range of serious health issues at any stage, including kidney and liver disease, skeletal and joint problems, heart disease, and cancer. Small dogs, with the greater pound-for-pound volume of food they consume, are especially sensitive to buildup of these toxins.

Every year, dog owners spend countless sums on preventable vet visits and nutritional supplements to fix problems caused by a poor diet. Choosing to invest in your dog’s long-term health by feeding it a diet of fresh, gently-cooked, high-quality food — rather than the harshly processed, preservative-riddled mainstream options — can help avoid a lot of heartache and financial stress later down the line.

Balance is the name of the game when it comes to feeding a small-breed dog — in the composition and amount of food it needs, and in finding the right feeding schedule. But with just a little consideration around their nourishment, you’ll be set up for a fulfilling and healthy life with your small-breed best friend.