How Should You Feed Your Small-Breed Pup?

NOTE: Keystone Puppies strongly recommends talking to your vet before committing to any food or feeding routine. Find out if there are any nutritional considerations to be made based on breed, age, or existing health problems.

There are hundreds of different types of dogs, but when it comes to choosing food, it really breaks down into three categories: small, medium, and large. That’s not just a marketing ploy. Different sizes of dogs have significantly different nutritional needs.

Small dogs are commonly defined as having an ideal adult weight of 25 pounds or under. That includes toy breeds and mixes. Note that the ideal adult weight is 25 pounds or under. If your pup is overweight (or underweight), continue to base your food choice on the ideal adult weight for his breed. Small dog foods are developed to meet the nutritional need of a family of breeds, not the precise weight of the individual dog.

Small Breed Puppies Have High Metabolisms

Did you know that small breed puppies have extremely high metabolic rates? Studies show that small dogs require about 40 calories per pound, per day. That means breeds like the Bichon Frise, the Cavachon, the Pug, and the Yorkshire Terrier burn almost twice as many calories, per pound, as larger breeds like the Great Dane or the Saint Bernard. For example, a 10-pound small breed pup needs about 400 calories per day.

Give Your Pup Smaller Meals, More Often

Because your puppy burns through calories quickly, it’s important to give your pup a steady stream of calories throughout the day. Small dog breeds also have small stomachs and can metabolize a meal in just a matter of hours. You may hear of dog owners who feed their larger dogs once or twice a day. That won’t work for small dogs. Give them smaller meals 3-4 times a day.

How to Feed Small Breed Puppies in the First Year

0-8 weeks:

Puppies should stay with their mother in the first 8 weeks of life and will get their nutrition from nursing for the first several weeks. 8-week-old puppies will be weaned from their mother and will be able to drink water and eat food.

8-12 weeks:

Start with soft food specially formulated for small dogs. Small puppies should be slightly pudgy. (Puppy fat is a real thing!) Very young, small breed puppies should be fed small portions of calorie-dense food four times a day to avoid hypoglycemia. Pups with hypoglycemia can experience weakness, lethargy, muscle tremors, seizures, and sometimes even death. Follow the formula of 40 calories per day/per pound.


3-9 months:

You can introduce non-moistened puppy food at this stage, formulated for small dogs. Pay attention to the size of the kibble. Small puppies have small mouths. Make it easy for them to eat more than one piece at a time. While puppies love soft food, many experts believe the crunchiness of the dry food offers benefits to teeth and digestion. Some pet owners switch between soft and dry foods, gradually moving to mostly (or completely) dry food. Reduce feeding times from four to three times days, following the 40 calories per pound formula. Your puppy should start slimming down a bit at this stage, losing some of his puppy fat. If you’re not seeing this transition, talk to your vet about adjusting their diet.

9-12 months:

Continue to feed your dog three times a day, but you will switch to an adult-formula food at this stage. Again, keep an eye on the size of the kibble to make it easy for your pup to chew.

After age 1:

Even when they’re full grown, small breed dogs still have higher metabolisms than large breed dogs. For best results, continue to feed your dog three times a day.

Monitor the Weight of Your Growing Puppy

Work with your vet to feed your dog in ways that maintain optimal weight. While small, overweight dogs are often perceived as cute and cuddly, obesity in dogs is a serious health risk. Extra pounds increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis, intervertebral disk disease (especially in long-backed breeds like dachshunds), breathing and heart problems, increased inflammation and more. Click here to get tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association on keeping your dog at his optimal weight.


Want to learn more about the best ways to feed your dog? We recommend checking out these articles by and the American Kennel Club.


Keystone Puppies cares about your dog’s health. Because your dog may have special circumstances or considerations not covered in this article, talk to your vet about the best way to feed your puppy before committing to any feeding routine. If you haven’t decided which breed of dog is right for you, research over 200 breeds here.  Want to search for your new puppy now? Click here to get started.

Learn More