Did you know that approximately half of all dogs in the United Kingdom1 are small/miniature breeds? What classifies as a small or mini breed of dog? Those whose ideal adult weight is 10kg or less are considered to be small or miniature, including Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Pugs, Bichon Frises to name but a few. And do these smaller dogs have health and nutritional needs as different as their shapes and sizes are to their larger cousins (from Cocker Spaniels to Neapolitan Mastiffs)? There’s no short answer to this, albeit it starts with “Yes!”
Why are smaller breeds becoming ever more popular? Our experience with these little ones suggests a number of major factors - including lifestyles, aesthetic considerations and personality. Over the last few years the world has seen ever increasing urbanisation, with more people living in urban than rural areas since 20072, meaning larger and working breeds with their greater requirements in terms of living space and/or exercise can be out of the reach of increasing proportions of pet parents. While the change in many people’s working, social and travel patterns has been unrecognisable during the pandemic, many small breeds are more amenable to fitting in with busy lives and easier to transport, with typically lower requirements for exercise and walking meaning that busy households are better able to provide for their needs. A key reason for the growing popularity of smaller dogs has been increasing knowledge of their character and personality - with their expressive faces and often affectionate manner reflecting that these breeds have been selected for their affinity with humans. Throw in increasing exposure via the world of celebrities and social media influencers showcasing their Pugs and French Bulldogs and we see another wave of new pet companionship centred on small dogs with big personalities!
As we noted in one of our previous blogs (https://wholepetfood.co.uk/blogs/news/almost-like-a-wolf-should-you-feed-your-dog-like-one) while domestic dogs appear to have a small number of common ancestors, most probably wolves, humans progressively and systematically drove the evolution and adaptation within the species into a number of clades - sub-groups with common characteristics such as size, temperament and physical strength. Selective breeding drove the creation of specific breeds, and while those such as mastiffs and spaniels were clearly intended to offer utilitarian purpose to their owners, another strand which is of particular interest here was the realisation that dogs can be perfect companions. In Asia the Shih Tzu, Pekingese and Pug became favoured lap dogs for Chinese royalty, while in Europe the Terrier clade featured “ratters” which later branched off into fancier breeds including the Yorkshire Terrier, Toy Manchester Terrier and the Griffon de Bruxelles and of course having been bred in Mexico the Chihuahua then went on to become a favourite the world over3 (with our friend Pipa a sophisticated London resident!).
In some cases this selective breeding has left us with pets who, while being delightful to be around and often longer lived than their larger cousins, have some health considerations which anyone looking to add a small bundle of furry fun to their family must be aware of. In some cases these are nothing to be concerned by, simply meaning we need to take into account different needs based on the fact that feeding a 5kg Maltese is not the same as feeding a 55kg Mastiff! Other concerns are more significant, whether they are a result of the highly selective breeding which has created small breeds or conditions to which certain of these breeds are predisposed.
As should be the case whenever considering acquiring a new pet, one should begin by considering whether to look for a specific breed or a cross-breed - in most cases, irrespective of size, many vets of our acquaintance have referred to the “hybrid robustness” of mixed breeds where it seems the broadening of the gene pool confers advantages as far as avoiding some inherited conditions is concerned. If looking at pure breeds, one should consult either breed-specific resources and/or other expert sources such as The Kennel Club, pdsa or The Dogs Trust who can provide insights into all key considerations relevant to the breed in question. In terms of the more popular breeds, responsible breeders are working with vets and breed societies to improve understanding of, and reduce the incidence of some of the most common issues to which dogs are predisposed via a combination of screening/testing and seeking to breed from healthy parents only. Anyone considering a pure breed should undertake due diligence prior to committing to buy a puppy, including asking for any screening results and ensuring that they can see the parents too.
Moving away from specific health concerns, we should also consider the needs and preferences of smaller dogs - are these different to those whose paw prints are bigger and heavier?! In general, yes there are several points on which we would look to feed differently.
First, dogs which are likely to be 10kg or less when fully grown will reach skeletal maturity (considered by vets as once they pass 80% of their ideal adult weight) quicker, in some breeds this can occur within around 9 months and generally would be the case by their first birthday (whereas large breed dogs take 15-18m to achieve this milestone). As such it is important to ensure they have a high quality puppy diet which is easily digested and has the correct energy density (along with other key nutrients) owing to the fact that smaller tums physically cannot take in large quantities. It is really important to ensure they get everything they need, and to avoid feeding anything with lower nutritional values owing to the phenomenon of bulk limitation, which occurs if a puppy’s (or indeed older dog’s) stomach is full but the contents on digestion do not provide the full spectrum of nutrition required. There have been a number of old wives’ tales over the years including feeding porridge or softened cereals to puppies in weaning - this results in exactly this owing to the high fibre of these foodstuffs which have limited protein and other key macro- and micronutrients. It’s also why we produce specific puppy diets which are typically much more energy and protein dense compared to adult formulas.
The next consideration is also related to physical size - the vast majority of pet parents of small and miniature breeds have reported significance preference for smaller kibble sizes, and that their pets accept these small bite foods much more happily than standard or large kibbles. It’s a part of why companies such as whole offer specific ranges for small breeds, and we’ve had great feedback on our range with the Angus Beef Mini product a hugely popular part of our Superfood for Dogs family of products. Smaller kibble also means a relatively increased surface area, and can help deliver a stronger taste signal to these oh so selective pooches. Palatability is another key point of difference which indexes more strongly in smaller breeds than has been observed with some of the larger dogs - it’s why we use high proportions of fresh ingredients and cook at a lower temperature than standard dry foods. Over the years I’ve spoken to many vets about the likelihood of pets to continue to accept the same flavour and texture of food long term, and in general the perception has clearly weighted towards cats and mini dogs being more fickle and likely to look for alternatives at some point. As such I have been keen to ensure we have variety in the options available from whole, with Scottish Salmon now added to the Superfoods range for Mini/Small Breeds, along with the Turkey and Chicken options in our Grain Free offering.
In terms of nutritional packages, boosting the products with functional ingredients such as prebiotics to feed healthy gut microbiomes (the friendly bacteria which aid digestion), omega 3 and 6 fatty acids promoting healthy skin and coat and antioxidants to support healthy immune function also helps provide for healthy small dogs. The natural ingredients (including natural antioxidants which also help maintain freshness) along with small resealable packs, means that kibbles retain their crunch and flavour as well as their goodness and will be enjoyed from the first bowl to the last.
We love dogs (and cats) of all shapes and sizes - but we know most of us have to make our choices when it comes to the ones we’re going to share our homes and lives with. If you’re a fan of the more compact canine form, we’ve dedicated a special part of our range just for your lovely little friends.