Does the Size of Dog Kibble Matter? Choosing a Kibble Size for Your Dog

Does the Size of Dog Kibble Matter?
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

These days, dry dog foods come in a dizzying array of sizes. Youโ€™ll see small kibble, extra small kibble, medium kibble, extra large kibble, and just about everything in between. Here's why the size of kibble you feed your dog really does matter.

These days, dry dog foods come in a dizzying array of sizes. Looking at your supermarket shelf, you’ll see small kibble, extra small kibble, medium kibble, extra large kibble, and just about everything in between. But although all these choices may seem like only a marketing ploy by dog food makers, the size of kibble you feed your dog really does matter.

Why it Matters

Think of it this way. When your family sits down to dinner, and you serve your small children their food, don’t you cut it up into smaller pieces for them? Of course, you do! Not only is it difficult for a child to eat larger pieces of food, but the danger of choking also becomes much greater when kids try to eat adult-sized chunks of food.

In the same way, smaller dogs need a smaller-sized kibble. A Toy Poodle will be much more comfortable eating a small piece of dog food than a Great Dane. Meal time will be more enjoyable for your pet if you choose a food that fits well in their mouth.

Many dogs speed through mealtime as if a predator is lurking in the shadows. Smaller breeds may choke on large pieces of food if they’re in too much of a hurry to chew their food into manageable bits. Large dogs may clog their own throats with fistfuls of too-small kibble as it hits the back of the throat.

Changing Size Needs

As your dog grows from puppy to adult dog to older dog, their kibble size needs can change as well.

Puppies need smaller food sizes for comfort. Given that a puppy’s digestive system is still developing and that it needs a very high-calorie intake for growth, the easier a kibble is to break down, the easier it will be passed from the stomach to the intestines.

As dogs mature and develop their adult teeth, they are also better able to chew their food into safely sized bits. This chewing is actually good for your dog’s teeth, helping to keep them clean and decreasing plaque buildup.

As your dog advances in years, digestion issues may once again become an issue. In addition, many dogs experience some dental problems in later years. Both of these conditions can signal that it’s time to return to a smaller kibble that will be easier to consume.

Feeding Time and Kibble Size: Keeping an Eye Out

One thing dog owners should do is keep an eye on pets at feeding time to see how well they are handling their food. If your dog seems to be struggling with their food, either gagging on too large a piece or choking on one too small, this may signal the need for a change. Also, look for chewing discomfort in your dog, which can let you know not only that you need a different-sized kibble but also that your dog may need dental attention.

If you notice that your dog just eats way too fast regardless of kibble size, you can buy food bowls designed to keep your furry friend from eating so fast.

Most dogs love to eat. Buying the right-sized kibble will make your dog even happier during mealtimes and maybe even healthier all of the time.

What size kibble does my dog need?

Kibble size depends on the size and individual needs of a dog. You cannot expect toy dogs to easily manage with the same kibble size as a bigger breed. Regular kibble size is the right choice if you own a big dog, as it encourages them to chew properly. Choosing a small size means they will try to gobble up fistfuls, which can clog their throats. Conversely, smaller breeds feel more comfortable with a smaller-sized kibble because it is easy to chew and eat. A size too large pits them at a risk of choking on large pieces. The right choice makes mealtime more enjoyable for your furry companion, so it is important to give it some thought. Also, according to Andie Lenhard, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, you must check the nutritional value and protein quality while choosing kibble for your pet. Remember only to buy reputable brands. 

Is a smaller kibble easier to digest?

Research suggests that dog sizes determine their digestive physiologies. That means you cannot take a one-size-fits-all to the food you choose for them. Smaller kibble is ideal for smaller dogs with smaller mouths and jaws. Besides being easy to chew, the appropriate size of dog food supports easy digestion. That’s the only way they can receive the nutrition they need from food. Similarly, puppies also do well with smaller kibble because their teeth are still developing. They can chew it comfortably and break it into smaller bits that are easy to digest. On the other hand, bigger dogs can easily digest regular kibble size because of their strong teeth and robust digestive physiology. 

How do you know if the kibble is too big?

You can easily decide whether a kibble size is right for your canine companion. If it fits easily into your pet’s mouth, it is worth a try because the dog will be able to chew it comfortably without it taking too much effort. On the other hand, a size too big to handle can go wrong as your pet will likely swallow it without chewing it properly. This can result in digestive issues like abdominal pain and flatulence down the line. Moreover, it may stress out the dog’s teeth and create a habit of not chewing the food well enough. When you try a new dog food, check whether the chunk size is suitable for your dog. Try buying a small pack and feeding it to your pet to understand whether it can handle the kibble size. If you have doubts, skip the product and look for other options. 

Is it better to soak kibble? 

Soaking the kibble is a good idea because it softens the food, making it easier to chew and eat. Additionally, your canine companion gets extra water beyond what it drinks from its bowl. As a rule, a dog requires 1 ounce of water per pound of its body weight every day. That means a 10-pound dog must consume 10 ounces of water daily. According to Margaret Berry, a veterinary student, weight is not the only factor when it comes to deciding the amount of water a dog needs. The age of the dog, its metabolic function, and environmental conditions also determine the optimal intake. Nonetheless, you must ensure it gets enough constantly. Soaking kibble gives you a stealthy way to sneak some extra into your pet’s daily diet. 

Can dogs swallow kibble whole?

Depending on the size of the kibble and your dog’s chewing habits, it may (or may not) swallow it whole. This behavior may seem convenient for your dog, but it definitely has potential downsides. When a dog swallows food without chewing it enough, it can face digestive issues. The problem is more common when you choose a large kibble. The bigger concern about your pet chewing kibble whole is that it leads to the risk of choking, specifically in smaller breeds and pets with underlying health issues. For pet parents, the best piece of advice is to choose an ideal kibble size and encourage your dog to develop chewing habits. 

Does kibble shape matter?

Kibble size is not the only thing you should check when choosing a product for your canine companion. Kibble shape also matters because it affects the palatability of food. Moreover, it can influence the ease of digestion and dental health of your pet. You can also try some ideas to make your pet comfortable with the shape and size of kibble you choose. For example, Terry Dinerman, a service dog trainer, mixes commercial kibble with home-cooked dog food and hot water to make palatable gravy. Such a mix is easy to eat and digest, regardless of the dog’s breed, size, and chewing habits. 

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered
Previous: Wet or Dry Dog Food: Which is Better?
Next: What Are "Natural" Dog Food Flavors?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

Was this article helpful?

You May Also Like

Image for Your Dog Food Questions Answered
Your Dog Food Questions Answered

Your Guide to Your Dog Food Options

Read More