How often should my small dog eat?

Determining how often to feed a small dog is an important part of caring for their health and wellbeing. Like all dogs, small breeds need a nutritious diet with calories and nutrients adjusted to match their higher metabolism. However, their small size also makes them more vulnerable to issues like hypoglycemia if meals are missed. Tracking your dog’s ideal weight, activity levels, age, and health conditions will help determine their optimal daily meal frequency.

The basics of small dog nutrition

Despite their tiny packages, small dogs have big nutritional needs. Their higher metabolism means they burn calories faster than larger breeds. As a result, they need relatively more food for their size. Small dogs generally need 40-70 calories per pound per day, compared to larger dogs that need 30-40 calories per pound. Higher-energy small dog breeds like Yorkies or Chihuahuas are on the higher end of that range, while less active companion breeds need less. Additionally, small dogs require more protein, fat, and other nutrients pound-for-pound than bigger dogs.

These elevated nutritional demands make it especially important to feed your small dog a diet appropriate for their size. Look for a kibble formula marketed for small or toy breeds. The pieces are sized for tiny mouths and the calorie and nutrient content is tailored to their needs. You can also feed a high-quality commercial wet food formulated for small dogs. Homemade diets are another option but be sure to consult your veterinarian to ensure proper nutrition. Avoid generic dog foods as they won’t provide balanced nutrition for a small breed.

Feeding puppies

All puppies need multiple meals a day to support their rapid growth and high activity levels. Most experts recommend feeding puppies three meals per day until six months of age. Then you can transition to two meals daily. Puppies have tiny tummies so they can only eat a small amount at once. Three or more frequent feedings ensure they get enough calories throughout the day.

The total amount to feed puppies depends on their projected adult weight, which your breeder can help estimate. Very small toy breed puppies only need around 1/2 cup to 1 cup per day total, split into three or more meals. Give large breed puppy foods designed for small dogs so the kibble size and nutrients are appropriate. Also provide several scheduled potty breaks during the day since puppies need to eliminate shortly after eating.

Feeding adult small dogs

Most adult small dogs eat two meals per day – breakfast and dinner. Two meals allow them to consume the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients their high metabolism requires. Divide their total daily food portion in half for the two meals.

One meal per day or free-feeding (keeping food available at all times) is not recommend for small adult dogs. Consuming their entire daily food portion in one sitting can overwhelm their small stomachs. Free-feeding makes it harder to monitor intake and weight. Small dogs are also prone to developing hypoglycemia when meals are skipped, which can lead to lethargy, tremors, and even seizures.

Some owners opt to feed three small meals, which is fine as well. Just divide their total daily portion into three feedings instead of two. The key is to space meals adequately – a good rule of thumb is 4-6 hours apart.

Daily calorie needs for adult small dogs

The average adult small dog needs 30-40 calories per pound per day. However, calorie needs vary significantly based on activity level, metabolism, and other factors. Here are some general guidelines for common small dog breeds:

  • Yorkie (3 – 7 pounds) – 150 to 300 calories per day
  • Pomeranian (3 – 7 pounds) – 150 to 300 calories per day
  • Chihuahua (3 – 6 pounds) 200 to 300 calories per day
  • Toy Poodle (4 – 6 pounds) – 200 to 300 calories per day
  • Maltese (4 – 7 pounds) – 200 to 350 calories per day
  • Mini Dachshund (8 – 12 pounds) – 320 to 500 calories per day
  • French Bulldog (16 – 28 pounds) – 700 to 1200 calories per day
  • Cocker Spaniel (20 – 30 pounds) – 800 to 1300 calories per day

The bag of dog food provides a feeding chart or general guidelines based on your dog’s weight. Start with those recommendations then adjust up or down as needed to maintain an ideal body condition. Your veterinarian can help determine the right amount for your individual dog.

Factors that affect feeding frequency and amounts

Several factors play a role in determining the optimal meal schedule and amounts for your small dog. Consider the following when planning feedings:

1. Age

Puppies and seniors need more frequent, smaller meals than adult dogs. Puppies have higher calorie needs to support growth. Meanwhile, older dogs may have trouble maintaining weight and energy. Adjust food type and portions for life stage.

2. Breed size and energy level

Larger, active small breeds like French Bulldogs need more food than tiny lap dogs. Additionally, hyper breeds like Jack Russell Terriers require more calories than calmer companion breeds. Adjust amounts accordingly.

3. Neutering/spaying

Neutering or spaying can slow metabolism and lead to weight gain. Monitor your dog closely post-surgery and reduce food portions if needed.

4. Health conditions

Diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and more may necessitate changes in diet. Follow your vet’s feeding directions.

5. Medications

Some medications increase appetite or affect metabolism. If your dog is on medication, the prescription directions will indicate any feeding adjustments needed.

6. Ideal body weight

If your dog is under or over their ideal weight, adjust feeding amounts up or down accordingly. Your vet can help determine if your dog’s weight is appropriate for their breed, size, and frame.

7. Activity level

Dogs who get more exercise and playtime every day or participate in a sport like agility have higher calorie needs. Bump up portions for very active small dogs.

8. Food type

Higher protein, higher calorie foods like some grain-free formulas may necessitate feeding smaller portions. Follow label guidelines.

Monitoring your small dog’s weight

The best way to fine-tune your small dog’s feeding schedule and amounts is to monitor their weight. Keeping them right around their ideal weight ensures they get adequate calories and nutrients without excess intake that could lead to obesity and related problems.

Weigh your small dog regularly to track any weight fluctuations – weekly or every two weeks is ideal. You should be able to easily feel their ribs and see a defined waist when looking down from above. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to assess your dog’s body condition score.

If your dog gains weight, cut back on food portions slightly. If they lose weight, increase the amounts. Make adjustments in 10% increments until their weight stabilizes. Be sure to have your vet rule out any underlying medical issues for significant weight changes.

Tips for feeding small dogs

Implementing some tips tailored to small dogs can help their meals suit their unique needs:

  • Pick a small kibble size made for small breeds. Ensure pieces are no bigger than 1/2 inch.
  • Wet food can help increase fluid intake for tiny dogs.
  • Consider feeding three or four smaller meals instead of two larger ones.
  • Always separate dogs at mealtimes to prevent competition and allow proper intake.
  • Use a slow feed bowl to prevent gulping and vomiting.
  • Provide fresh water at all times. Change water frequently.
  • Don’t give treats amounting to more than 10% of daily calories.
  • Keep food and water bowls clean.
  • Store dry food properly to preserve nutrients.
  • Never make abrupt food changes – transition gradually over 4-7 days if switching foods.

What to feed small dogs

It’s important to select a food formulated especially for small breeds. Look for a statement on the package indicating the food is designed for small or toy breeds. Here are some things to look for:

  • First ingredients should be quality protein sources like chicken, lamb, or fish.
  • Contains additional protein like eggs or beef for small dogs’ needs.
  • Sources of healthy fat like chicken fat to support small dogs’ energy needs.
  • Carb sources like rice, barley, or oats – avoid fillers like corn.
  • Packed with micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Probiotics to support healthy digestion.
  • Natural preservatives like vitamin E instead of artificial preservatives.
  • Free of artificial colors, flavors, fillers, and high fructose corn syrup.

Look for an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement indicating the food meets small breed nutrient needs. Follow your vet’s specific recommendations if your dog has any health conditions.

Homemade food

Some owners prefer to prepare homemade meals for their small dogs. This allows tailoring recipes to your dog’s nutritional needs and preferences. However, it can be challenging to create balanced recipes with appropriate calories and nutrients in small dog-sized portions. Work closely with your vet and canine nutritionist if pursuing homemade food for your small breed.

Avoiding weight gain

Small dogs are prone to obesity since their tiny size means even a pound or two of excess weight is a significant percentage of their body weight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2022 survey, 48% of small dogs are overweight or obese. Overweight dogs are at increased risk for joint issues, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory distress, and more.

To keep your small dog at a healthy weight, stick to standard feeding guidelines based on their ideal weight. Weigh them regularly and adjust amounts as needed. Limit high-calorie treats and table scraps. Ensure all family members follow the same feeding guidelines to prevent overfeeding. And provide regular exercise appropriate to your dog’s abilities and fitness level.

Common small dog feeding issues

Small dogs can be prone to a few feeding-related issues to watch out for:


With their fast metabolism, toy and small breeds can quickly develop low blood sugar if a meal is missed. Symptoms include lethargy, shaking, and balance issues. Regular scheduled feedings help prevent this dangerous drop in blood sugar levels.

Periodontal disease

The tiny mouths of small dogs make them prone to dental issues. Choose kibble sized properly for their small jaws. Crunchy kibble also helps clean teeth. Schedule regular dental cleanings.

Vomiting and diarrhea

It’s common for small dogs to vomit if eating too quickly or exercising after a meal. Slow down gulpers with special bowls. Refrain from high activity immediately after eating. Diarrhea can result from food sensitivities, parasites, infections, or other illnesses – call your vet if it persists.

Gastrointestinal blockages

Sharp bone fragments, high-fat foods, and other problematic ingredients can get stuck in small dogs’ delicate GI tracts. Feed an appropriate diet and avoid table scraps.

Food allergies

Small dogs are prone to food allergies and intolerances. Symptoms like itchy skin, ear infections, and GI problems may indicate an adverse reaction to an ingredient like chicken. Elimination diet trials can help identify the culprit.


Due to their tiny size, oversized kibble or treats can pose a choking hazard for small breed dogs. Make sure all food and chews are sized appropriately for their petite mouths.

Understanding small dog nutrition

The unique nutritional needs of small dogs reflect their high energy requirements and small digestive systems. Here’s an overview of some key small dog nutrition facts:

High calorie needs

With faster metabolisms, small dogs require up to 70 calories per pound per day versus 30-40 for larger breeds.

More frequent meals

Their small stomach capacity means they eat smaller amounts more often. Most do best with two to three meals daily.

High protein diets

Protein makes up around 40% of small dogs’ calorie intake to meet their needs, versus 25-30% for bigger breeds.

Smaller digestive tract

A shorter GI tract means food moves through faster, so nutrients must be highly digestible and absorbable.

Faster GI transit time

Food passes through a small dog’s intestinal tract in around 4-6 hours versus 8-10+ hours for large breeds.

Small mouth and jaw size

Tiny mouths and jaws require properly sized kibble to avoid choking hazards or dental issues.

Higher nutrient needs

More nutrients like vitamin C, antioxidants, fatty acids, and minerals are needed pound-for-pound.

Breed Adult Weight Range Daily Calorie Needs
Yorkshire Terrier 3 – 7 pounds 150 – 300 calories
Pomeranian 3 – 7 pounds 150 – 300 calories
Chihuahua 3 – 6 pounds 200 – 300 calories
Toy Poodle 4 – 6 pounds 200 – 300 calories

Typical small dog feeding schedules

Here are some typical meal schedules for small dogs at various life stages:

8-12 week old small breed puppy

  • 4 meals per day of 1/4 to 1/2 cup each
  • Feed at 7am, 12pm, 5pm, 10pm

4-6 month old small breed puppy

  • 3 meals per day of 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup each
  • Feed at 7am, 12pm, and 5pm

1-7 year old adult small dog

  • 2 meals per day of 1/4 to 1 cup each
  • Feed at 7am and 5pm

Senior small dog over age 8

  • 2-3 smaller meals daily
  • Feed at 7am, 12pm, and 5pm


Small dogs have unique nutritional and feeding needs compared to larger breeds. More frequent small meals with carefully calibrated calorie counts and portions are vital to maintaining your petite pup’s health and energy. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for feeding amounts and schedule based on factors like your dog’s age, breed, and activity level. With the right diet and meal routine, your tiny dog will thrive for many years to come.

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