Doggie Designer is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

10 Best Dog Foods for Small Dogs in 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

Dogs Eating on Plate

Most dog owners love their canine companions enough that they want to feed them the best food with healthful nutrition for a long and happy life. But there are many different dog foods on the market, and you know not to trust their glowing marketing blurbs. So, how do you decide which food is the right one for your beloved dog?

We were faced with that very problem. But rather than pick just one dog food, we picked out loads of them to test and compare. After trying them all extensively with our dogs, we decided to write up the following ten reviews to share what we learned about some of our favorite foods with you. Hopefully, this will spare you the trouble of trying them all yourself.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dry Dog Food Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dry Dog Food
  • Feature iconHealthy, whole-food ingredients
  • Feature iconMinimum of 26% crude protein
  • Feature iconContains glucosamine
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food
  • Feature iconFortified with vitamins and antioxidants
  • Feature iconContains omega fatty acids
  • Feature iconHigh-quality protein
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Dry Dog Food Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Dry Dog Food
  • Feature iconAffordably priced
  • Feature iconNo animal by-products
  • Feature iconLoaded with vitamins and nutrients
  • Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Dry Dog Food Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Dry Dog Food
  • Feature iconNon-GMO ingredients
  • Feature iconNo by-product meal
  • Feature iconNo artificial flavors or colors
  • Purina Pro Plan Savor Small Breed Dry Dog Food Purina Pro Plan Savor Small Breed Dry Dog Food
  • Feature iconContains live probiotics
  • Feature iconReal chicken as the main protein source
  • Feature iconContains vitamins and healthy nutrients
  • The 10 Best Dog Foods for Small Dogs – Reviews 2021

    1. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dry Dog Food – Best Overall

    1Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Adult Chicken & Brown Rice

    Blue Buffalo is well-known as a maker of high-quality commercial dog food. Their Life Protection Small Breed Dog Food continues their tradition of quality food products by using only premium, whole-food ingredients. If you look at the ingredients list, you’ll notice that deboned chicken is listed first, indicating that this food is packed with high-quality protein instead of cheap animal by-products. In fact, this formula contains 26% crude protein to help keep your little dog healthy and lean.

    Though this food is made with wholesome ingredients, we aren’t thrilled with the use of grains. Grains aren’t the easiest things for dogs to digest, which is why grain-free dog foods have been rising in popularity. But they’re very expensive and often use sub-par proteins to keep the cost down. We prefer the nutrient-packed blend of the Blue Buffalo.

    Of course, there’s a lot more than just protein in this formula. You’ll also find glucosamine to help keep your dog’s joints healthy. On top of that, omega fatty acids were included for improved skin and coat health. Overall, we think this food represents the best blend of quality and value, which is why it tops our list.

    • Made with healthy, whole-food ingredients
    • Minimum of 26% crude protein
    • Contains glucosamine for healthy joints
    • Has omega fatty acids for improved skin and coat health
    • Contains grains
    thematic break

    2. Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food – Best Value

    2Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food

    Quality dog food has become radically expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. We think the Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food is the best dog food for small dogs for the money. It’s a high-quality commercial food that doesn’t cut any corners but is priced affordably to save you money.

    With chicken listed as the first ingredient and a minimum of 27% crude protein, you can be certain that you’re feeding your pooch some premium protein that’s going to help keep them healthy. But it’s got a lot more than just protein. It’s also fortified with antioxidants and vitamins to keep your dog in top shape. Omega fatty acids are even included to improve your dog’s skin and coat.

    But we found something further down the ingredients list we weren’t too happy about. Corn is a cheap filler ingredient that’s not the best choice for dogs but allows companies to keep the cost low. Unfortunately, there is some corn in this formula, but we think it’s acceptable for the price. Besides, our dogs didn’t show any signs of issues with this food, so we aren’t too worried about it.

    • Fortified with vitamins and antioxidants
    • Contains omega fatty acids for healthy coat and skin
    • Packed with high-quality protein
    • Affordably priced
    • Contains corn products
    thematic break

    3. Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Dry Dog Food – Best for Puppies

    3Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Natural Real Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe

    Puppies have specific nutritional needs beyond an older dog to support their growth. They require lots of vitamins and minerals with support for their growing brains and bodies. That’s why the Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Dry Dog Food is our favorite dog food for small puppies. It’s packed with ingredients that provide precisely the sort of nutrition that your growing puppy needs.

    For example, taking a look at the ingredients list instantly shows that this is a quality dog food. Chicken is listed as the first ingredient and it’s got a minimum of 28% crude protein. Plus, it’s made from all whole-food ingredients to provide the kind of nutrition that will help your pup grow into a healthy adult. It’s got DHA to support brain development and omega fatty acids for skin and coat. Best of all, it contains no animal byproducts, so you know it’s really made with good ingredients.

    Another thing we like about this food is its affordable price. But that comes with a drawback; this ingredients list contains corn. It’s not a main ingredient, but it’s in there. That said, our dogs didn’t seem to notice, and if they’re happy, we’re happy.

    • Affordably priced
    • No animal by-products
    • Loaded with vitamins and nutrients for growing pups
    • Packed with healthy protein from whole-food sources
    • Contains corn
    thematic break

    4. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Dry Dog Food

    4Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Adult Farm Raised Chicken

    Formulated specifically to fill the needs of small breeds, the Nutro Wholesome Essentials Small Breed Dry Dog Food is a great choice, though not our favorite. It’s a bit higher priced than alternatives, though we don’t think it offers more. In fact, with just 24% minimum crude protein, it seems to offer less.

    Still, it does have plenty of redeeming qualities worth examining. For instance, it’s made entirely with non-GMO ingredients and they’re all whole foods to offer your dog the nutrients it needs. But some of the best things about this food are what it’s missing. It uses no by-product meal like many cheaper foods do. Plus, there are no artificial flavors or colors, and no preservatives used in this formula.

    Like many quality dry dog foods, this one contains omega fatty acids to help improve your dog’s skin and coat. It’s also got lamb to ensure your dog is getting diverse protein sources. It’s a quality food overall but overpriced and a bit low on protein compared to the competition.

    • Made with non-GMO ingredients
    • Contains no by-product meal
    • No artificial flavors or colors and no preservatives
    • More expensive than alternatives
    • Less protein than other small dog formulas
    thematic break

    5. Purina Pro Plan Savor Small Breed Dry Dog Food

    5Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult Shredded Blend Small Breed Chicken & Rice

    There was plenty we liked about the Purina Pro Plan Savor Small Breed Dry Dog Food, but there was also plenty that turned us off at the same time. To begin, we don’t like the high price. But we’d be more accepting if we felt this product earned the higher price tag by providing a higher-quality product. That’s not what we experienced.

    When we first looked at the ingredients list, everything started off well. The first listed ingredient is real chicken, so we knew they used quality protein in this formula. We also knew that it had a good amount of protein at 29%, more than many other foods. There are also other nutrients like linoleic acid and vitamin A that we were happy to see.

    But further down the list, we saw some ingredients that didn’t please us as much. The third ingredient, right after ground rice, is poultry by-product meal. This is a cheap filler to boost the protein of a dog food, but it’s not the protein source we’d prefer. Then, we saw the corn gluten meal. Corn isn’t great for dogs and no one wants gluten in their food anymore.

    • Contains live probiotics to support digestive health
    • Uses real chicken as the main protein source
    • Contains vitamins and healthy nutrients to improve your dog’s health
    • Higher in protein than many competitors
    • Very pricey
    • Contains by-product meal
    • Contains corn products
    thematic break

    6. Nature’s Recipe Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

    6Nature's Recipe Small Breed Grain-Free Chicken, Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Recipe

    We really wanted to like the Nature’s Recipe Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. It had some great upsides and we thought our dogs would love it, but unfortunately, many of them didn’t. Quite a few of our dogs refused to eat this food and that was our first clue that it wasn’t quite what we had hoped.

    As the name implies, this is a grain-free formula. It contains no corn or wheat, opting for sweet potatoes and pumpkin as easier-to-digest carbohydrate sources instead. It’s also free from any artificial colors or flavors, so we thought it would be a great natural dog food choice.

    This is advertised as a small breed dog food, but we found that the pieces were actually too large for many of our little dogs to eat! But some of our dogs could eat it and chose not to, so there’s something else in the recipe that they didn’t like. For a food that’s more expensive than the competition, we weren’t very impressed.

    • Grain-free recipe is on dogs’ digestive systems
    • Contains no corn or wheat
    • The pieces are too large for really small dogs
    • More expensive than other options
    • Some of our dogs wouldn’t eat this food
    thematic break

    7. Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small Paws Dry Dog Food

    7Hill's Science Diet Adult Small Paws Chicken Meal & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food

    Just based on the brand of this dog food, Hill’s Science Diet, we expected great things. It’s an adult blend small breed-specific formula that has some great traits that we liked. For instance, it contains calcium to help keep your dogs’ bones strong. Plus, it’s formulated with antioxidants and vitamins like vitamin E and C to support immune system function and other components of health.

    But there were other things we noticed that quickly made us feel differently about this food. A quick check of the nutritional contents informed us that this food is much lower in protein than competing foods, despite being more expensive than many. Brewer’s rice is the second most prevalent ingredient, a cheap filler that doesn’t provide much nutrition for your dog.

    Further down the ingredients, we saw that this formula includes corn. Corn is a poor choice for dog foods since it’s hard for canines to digest. That was the third strike for us, so this food didn’t earn a very high position on our list.

    • Contains calcium for strong bones
    • Formulated with vitamins and antioxidants for healthy skin and immune system
    • Contains corn
    • Contains less protein than competitors
    • Brewers rice is the second ingredient
    thematic break

    8. Natural Balance L.I.D. Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

    Natural Balance Small Breed

    We generally prefer to feed our dogs grain-free foods since it’s easier for them to digest. That’s why we thought that the Natural Balance L.I.D. Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food would be one of our favorites. However, it sorely disappointed us. We did like that it’s grain-free and that it’s good for a limited ingredients diet, but that’s all we found to like about this food.

    The first and most obvious drawback to this food is the extremely high price. It costs nearly twice as much as other dog foods that we preferred! We also don’t like that this food has less protein than many of the other foods we tested. For the price, we expected to see a much higher protein content.

    But we always leave the final decision up to our dogs and they firmly voted NO on this food. Many of them didn’t want to eat it at all. And we can’t blame them. This food had a strong, unpleasant odor. We certainly wouldn’t want to eat it!

    • Grain-free formula
    • Limited ingredients food
    • Extremely expensive
    • Not as much protein as other foods
    • Strong odor
    • Many of our dogs didn’t want it
    thematic break

    9. Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Small Breed Dry Dog Food

    9Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Small Breed Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food

    The Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Small Breed Dry Dog Food looks good on paper, but we think it’s just another overpriced dog food that most of our dogs didn’t like. Only a few of them would eat it, the rest showed no interest. The dogs that did eat it got terrible gas and stunk up the whole house! They were in obvious discomfort as well; not a great sign from an expensive dog food.

    But we did like the multiple protein sources, starting with deboned chicken as the first ingredient. We were also happy with the added nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin that can help maintain and improve your dog’s joint health as they age. But our dogs wouldn’t eat it and for the high price, we want something that digests easily and helps them feel great.

    • Multiple protein sources
    • Contains health-boosting nutrients
    • Overpriced
    • Few of our dogs wanted to eat it
    • Gave our dogs gas
    thematic break

    10. Whole Earth Farms Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

    10Whole Earth Farms Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

    Most of the grain-free formulas let us down in some way and the Whole Earth Farms Small Breed Grain-Free Dry Dog Food was no different. It does have multiple protein sources though, and the grain-free formula is easy for dogs to digest. But too many other drawbacks kept this food from ranking higher on our list.

    Our first complaint was that this food uses chicken meal as its main protein source instead of whole chicken. But really, this formula is mostly made up of potatoes and peas so it’s not the best choice for your dog nutritionally. We also noticed that this food has larger kibble pieces than many of the other foods we tested and they were too big for some of our smallest dogs to eat.

    • Multiple protein sources
    • Grain-free formula
    • Starts with chicken meal as the first ingredient
    • Larger kibble size is too big for some dogs
    • Mostly made up of potatoes and peas
    thematic break

    Buyer’s Guide

    After reading our reviews, you might be curious how it is that we rated these dog foods and what our decisions were based on. After testing so many of these foods, we figured out the most important things to look for to determine how good a food is for our dogs. In this short buyer’s guide, we’re going to share that information with you so that you can make just as good of decisions relating to your dog’s food.


    When looking at any dog food, the first thing to check is the ingredients list. It can give you a lot of information about the food very quickly.

    Ingredients are listed in order by the amount used in the recipe. So the first ingredient in the list is the most prevalent and the last ingredient will be found in the smallest amount.

    Generally, you want to look for a food that lists a high-quality, whole-food protein source as the first ingredient. Something like deboned chicken or salmon would be a great first ingredient.

    On the other hand, chicken meal, poultry by-products, or any carbohydrate listed as the first ingredient is an indication that the food isn’t very high-quality.

    Low-quality ingredients anywhere on the list are a red flag. Ingredients like meat by-products, corn, and gluten are all indications that a food isn’t top quality.

    Nutritional Content

    After checking the ingredients list, you’ll want to take a look at the nutritional content. This will tell you about how much protein the food contains, as well as other nutrients like vital vitamins and minerals.

    You want to find a food that’s high in protein and fortified with other nutrients to boost your dog’s health. Anything over 25% minimum crude protein is good, but higher is better.

    Additional Nutrients

    When it comes to additional nutrients, look for omega fatty acids, calcium, glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All of these can provide additional health-boosting benefits for your beloved canine.

    Dog Dogs Like it?

    At the end of the day, one of the most important factors is whether or not your dog will even eat the food! Some dogs are picky eaters and won’t eat many foods. But some foods are also disliked by many dogs. If your dog won’t eat a food, it doesn’t matter how much nutrition is packed into it. So, be sure to find a food that your dog actually enjoys eating.

    Kibble Size

    The final aspect to consider when picking a food for your small breed dog is kibble size. Small dogs have small mouths, so naturally, they need small kibble. Most small breed-specific dog foods take this into account. However, we did find that some dog foods had too large of kibble for some of our smallest pups, even though they were advertised as small breed dog foods! If your dog can’t eat the food, then it won’t get any nutritional value from it.

    Divider 2Conclusion

    After thoroughly researching, testing, and writing reviews on each of these foods, we finally picked our favorites. The Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small Breed Dry Dog Food was our favorite overall. It’s crafted with healthy, whole-food ingredients and packed with other vital nutrients like glucosamine and omega fatty acids to boost your dog’s health.

    For the best value, we recommend the Iams ProActive Health Adult Small Breed Dry Dog Food. It’s packed with high-quality protein, made with top-notch ingredients, and loaded with health-boosting nutrients like vitamins, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids. Best of all, it’s affordably priced.

    And if you’re raising a little puppy, then we suggest the Rachael Ray Nutrish Bright Puppy Dry Dog Food. This food is affordable and healthy, made with no animal by-products. What is inside is healthy protein from whole-food sources, plus vitamins and other nutrients essential for growing pups.

    thematic break

    Featured Image Credit: ThamKC, Shutterstock