Nutrition for Medium and Small Dog Breeds What to Feed Your Toy, Small, or Medium Breed Dog

Nutrition for Medium and Small Dog Breeds
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Small, extra small, and medium breed dogs have different nutritional needs from larger breeds, and are susceptible to some different problems. Find out what your small dog's diet needs.

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and smaller breeds have distinct nutritional needs for their smaller bodies, appetites, mouths, and stomachs. Read on to learn about nutrition for dogs that are on the lower size spectrum – from extra-small to medium-sized dogs. 

What’s My Dog’s Size? 

Your dog’s breed will determine his or her size. Of course not all dogs are purebred (and we love mutts of all types), so another way to determine size is by weight. If you know your dog’s weight, you can determine their size, assuming your dog is a healthy weight. If your pet is underweight or overweight, you should consult a veterinarian. 

What Size is Your Dog?



Breed examples

Extra Small Dogs

<10 lbs


Small Dogs

10-25 lbs

Pug, Bichon Frise

Medium Dogs

20-50 lbs

Border Collie, Cocker Spaniel

More Activity Means More Calories--But Not Too Many

A highly active small dog requires more calories than a dog that get moderate exercise—like just leisurely walks, for example. But the breed can also determine a dog’s activity level. Many small dog breeds are considered very active. Terriers, like the Jack Russell, are known for speeding around, and can require up to 30% more calories than another similarly sized dog.

But small dogs are also particularly susceptible to obesity. And it’s especially dangerous for some small breeds to be overweight due to congenital problems in these breeds, like patellar luxation, or loose kneecap, of the hind limbs that can sometimes be painful. 

For a healthy balance, look for these amounts of protien and fat in your extra-small, small, or medium breed dog's food:


Dry Food

Wet Food







Dental Health Through Diet

Smaller dogs can also be more susceptible to dental problems. Oral problems like plaque buildup can lead to bigger health issues if left untreated. Dry, crunchy food may help reduce plaque and tartar buildup, and should be a component of your small dog’s meals. But remember that your dog needs to crunch it to have these potential effects and if your pup is a “gulper” or “inhaler,” these benefits may be moot. A regular dental cleaning regimen is always a good idea.

Don't Skimp on Water

Some studies have also shown that in general, smaller breeds are more susceptible to bladder stones than larger breeds. If your dog has had bladder stones in the past, including some wet food in his or her regular diet may help ensure increased water intake, which may reduce the risk for bladder stones. Regardless, always keep plenty of fresh water available for your dog. Miniature Schnauzers, in particular, are at risk of stones, and studies have shown that using wet food as their primary means of nutrition helps dilute the urine, thereby decreasing the risk of stone formation.  

How to Feed Your Small Dog

You will want to divide your small dog’s daily food ration into smaller portions, served two or even three times a day. Dogs with smaller stomachs will find the smaller portions easier to digest.

Allergies and Poisonous Foods

Some research suggests that certain breeds are more susceptible to health problems related to food allergies. Many of these at-risk breeds are extra-small to mid-weight dogs like Dachshunds, some Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Boston Terriers. As a dog owner, you should look out for the signs of a food allergy: itching, swollen eyelids, flatulence, and digestive problems. The most common allergens are beef, dairy, and wheat. A vet can help you determine which food ingredient is the culprit.

And although all dog owners should be familiar with common foods that are poisonous to dogs, small breed owners need to take extra care. For instance, a portion of chocolate that might not be fatal to a larger dog can easily overwhelm a small dog’s system. Keep chocolate out of reach of all dogs, but be especially watchful of your smaller dog around any foods that are poisonous to them.

Many pet food companies now offer a specific formula for your smaller dog. With proper nutrition, your small dog can have a reduced risk for many health problems and diseases, and have a happy, longer life with you.

More on Dog Nutrition

Food for Active and Working Dogs
What Do I Feed My Adult Dog?
The Proper Nutrition for Puppies

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.

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Medium Breed Small Breed X-Small Breed Wheat Allergy Beef Allergy Periodontal Disease Stones-Struvite, Oxalytes
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