Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Nutritional Differences for Small, Toy, and Large Breed Dogs

February 03, 2012 / (1) comments

A dog is a dog is a dog, right? Not quite – at least when we’re talking nutrition. While dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes do have similar nutritional needs, there are some subtle but important differences that owners should be aware of.

I’ve talked before about the importance of lifestage feeding. In other words, puppies should eat puppy food, adults should eat adult food, and so on. Today, I’d like to touch on some of the differing nutritional needs of small versus large breeds of dogs.

First, the puppies. Large breed puppies are prone to developmental orthopedic diseases like hip dysplasia. Feeding these individuals diets that are a little less energy dense, contain slightly lower levels of calcium and phosphorous, and have a very carefully balanced calcium to phosphorous ratio has been proven to reduce the incidence of developmental orthopedic diseases in large and giant breeds of dogs.

Small breed puppies have their own unique concerns. They have extremely high metabolic rates and can burn through a meal in just a matter of hours. If a small breed puppy doesn’t take in sufficient numbers of calories on a frequent basis, it can develop hypoglycemia resulting in weakness, lethargy, muscle tremors, seizures, and sometimes even death. Young, small breed puppies should be fed a calorie-dense food three or four times a day.

The differing metabolic rate of small versus large breed dogs continues into adulthood, which means that small dogs need to take in more calories per pound than large dogs. For example, a ten pound dog may need 400 calories (kcal) per day to maintain a healthy weight, while a 100 pound dog could require 2,250 calories per day.

A little math reveals that the small dog requires 40 calories/pound, while his large breed friend needs only 22.5 calories/pound. Combine this with the fact that small dogs have tiny stomachs and you’ll see why most foods designed for small breeds are somewhat more calorie rich than large breed diets.

Dogs of differing sizes also have special needs when they reach their senior years. Small breeds of dogs can live a very long time and high dietary levels of antioxidants can help prevent free radical damage over such a long life span. On the other hand, it seems like almost every older, large breed dog suffers from some degree of arthritis. For this reason, diets formulated especially for big, senior dogs typically contain ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate that promote joint health. Of course, small dogs can also benefit from glucosamine and large dogs need antioxidants, but their diets can be tweaked to address their most common health concerns.

Even if your miniature pincher likes to take on the big boys and your mastiff thinks he’s a lap dog, they can benefit from eating a well-balanced, nutritionally complete food specifically designed for dogs their size.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: cynoclub / via Shutterstock

Comments  1

Leave Comment
  • 02/22/2015 03:30am

    Hi! I used to work for Pet Food Express, and I can say that dog food companies most certainly do have small breed and large breed formulas. It is nice though, because they have different kibble sizes, which make sense...why would a 180lb rottweiler eat the same size kibble that a 2lb teacup chihuahua would eat? Hope this helped!




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.