Our dogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes – we have them all! There are a number of factors that should be considered in regard to a dog’s diet. These include age, weight, medical condition and neutering status. However, what about the size of your dog? Should that be considered? The answer is absolutely!

Nutrition is important

Nutrition is extremely important for dogs, no matter their size. A nutritious dog food should be offered for continued growth and an all-round healthy animal. A well-balanced diet should be provided no matter what the animal’s life stage, from feeding a young puppy to an elderly dog. There are a number of reputable science-based diets on the market which provide life-stage-specific nutrition for dogs. Speak to your veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse who can guide you on the best diet for your dog. Let’s take a look at what should make up a well-balanced and nutritious dog food.


Proteins are essential nutrients that can be made up of 20 different amino acids. They allow the body to build new tissues and provide the body with an energy source. I’m sure your new puppy is burning plenty of energy, so that needs to be restored! Common dog food protein sources include beef, chicken and turkey.

Proteins are composed of amino acids. Many of these cannot be synthesised by your dog’s body and need to be provided in their diet. They are essential for all the functions of every cell in the body. There are 10 essential amino acids which dogs need, including cysteine, methionine and glycine. A balanced diet will not just have enough protein, but also the right ratio of amino acids that the dog needs.


Carbohydrates also supply your dog with energy. If you have a very active dog, then you can meet their needs by providing them with plenty of carbohydrates to keep them on track. Without getting too in depth, there are two different types of carbohydrates – starches and complex carbohydrates, known as dietary fibre. Carbohydrates in dog foods are typically supplied by barley, oats and rice. While dogs do not strictly need carbohydrates, they are quite capable of digesting them (much better than their wolf ancestors), so these should not be seen as “fillers”, because they are a critical part of the diet’s balance, providing top-up calories.

Fatty acids and oils 

These are used in the body for, you guessed it, energy. Basically, dogs use heaps of energy and that should be reflected in their diets! Fatty acids also help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and contain essential fatty acids needed for healthy skin and fur as well as supporting your dog’s immune system. Common fatty acids and oils used include fish oil, sunflower oil and animal fats.


Vitamins are important to allow the body to function correctly. Think of it as a doggy multivitamin tablet, similar to your morning Berocca. Some vitamins cannot be synthesised by a dog’s body in vast quantities so should be provided by their foods. Common vitamins incorporated into dog foods include vitamins B and E.


Minerals are important in the diet and look after your dog’s organs and tissues, especially maintaining blood, bone and electrolytes for muscle and nerve function. Common minerals incorporated include calcium, copper and iodine, as well as the more common sodium, chloride and potassium.

Now we have all the information for what should be in dog food, let’s have a look at how this can be translated into different sized breeds.

Small breed food formulation

Funnily enough, a smaller breed dog has a faster metabolism! As a result of this, smaller breed dogs (and even toy dogs) often require more calories per kilo of bodyweight than their larger breed friends. 

Without stating the obvious, a Chihuahua is going to have a substantially smaller stomach than a Labrador, so their stomachs will get full a lot quicker. A small breed food will provide a large amount of nutrients in a smaller, calorie dense and nutrient rich portion. 

A smaller breed dog will also have less time to digest their food through their smaller digestive systems. This means that their food needs to be highly digestible, with a good quality food offering the maximum amount of nutrients in a short amount of time. The body should be able to quickly extract the goodness instead of it being excreted and collected by you with a poo bag!

Medium breed food formulation

The vast majority of dogs can fall into this category. The formulation is usually a balance between small breed diets and large breed diets, to make the perfect dinner for your furry friend.

The main goal to focus on, not only with medium breed dogs but also small and large breed dogs, is that they’re getting the correct amount of food for their weight and life-stage. On the back of your dog food bag is usually a feeding guideline. Make sure you follow this for each meal, until you get used to your dog’s individual needs.

A handy tip is to get yourself a plastic cup and weigh out your dog’s required amount of food for that meal. Then, draw a line around the outside of the cup where the top of the food fills to. That way, you don’t need to weigh your dog’s meal out every time!

Over time, if your dog is gaining weight on the “recommended” portion, cut it down. If they’re losing weight, give them a little more. Remember, all dogs are individuals and the recommended portion size is right for 95%, but not 100% of dogs!

Large breed food formulation 

Large and giant dog breeds have a rather lower metabolic rate compared to small and toy breed dogs. This means that their food does not need to be condensed and have high energy levels packed into each segment of food. If a large breed dog is not fed correctly, there is a high chance that the dog can become overweight and obese, as it can be harder to them to be able to burn off excess calories. 

Even more importantly, though, larger breeds should also always be fed a large-breed formulation food from a puppy. Your veterinary practice can advise you on this. This large-breed puppy food will be specially formulated to support healthy bone and joint growth, gearing their bodies up for their adult life. Too rapid growth in large- and giant-breed puppies predisposes them to joint problems and bone disease, such as Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy and Panosteitis.

Choose a good quality food and you’re sorted

At the end of the day, there are hundreds of dog food brands to choose from and it can be overwhelming. Always seek advice from your veterinary practice to see what they recommend if you’re unsure. Some practices offer a consultation with a nurse to discuss different diets. If you choose a good quality brand, a product appropriate for your dog’s size, follow the feeding guidelines and stick to a routine, then the food will do the hard work for you, and you won’t need to worry about the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and the rest of the bells and whistles!

Want to home cook?

It is very difficult to formulate a home-cooked diet for a dog that is nutritionally complete, but it can be done. Make sure you take advice from a fully qualified Veterinary Nutritionist rather than following recipes from the internet, and make sure that you adjust the recipe you’re feeding as your dog grows.

What about raw feeding?

Despite the recognised increased health risks, raw feeding is increasingly popular. It’s entirely possible to feed a balanced healthy raw diet to dogs of any size, but again, professional advice or using a PFMA registered pre-prepared food is strongly recommended to avoid imbalances and nutritional disease.

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