The Best Dog Food Alternatives to Kibble, According to a Vet

updated Jun 4, 2024
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Is your dog your best friend? Same here! And, because she brings me so much joy, she deserves the best: the best snuggles, the best walks, the best toys, and (most importantly!) the best food. As it turns out, that last one can be tricky. With so many conflicting opinions on what to feed dogs (compounded with the fact that my pup has a sensitive tummy), finding the right chow seemed impossible. So I consulted Dr. Carly Fox, NYC’s Animal Medical Center staff doctor, to get some answers.

Whether you just want to feed your furry BFF clean and wholesome meals or have a pup who is picky about what they’ll eat from their bowl (in which case, read this article), Dr. Fox says the most vital thing to consider when shopping for new dog food is to “pick diets that are research-backed, have strict quality control, and employ veterinary nutritionists who make sure that the food is complete and balanced for your pet.” She adds, “Although we love them in the same way, we have to consider that their nutritional requirements are different than ours.” 

Wet Food? Dry Food? Both?

“In order to get advantages from both dry and wet foods, I personally feed my dog a combination of dry and canned,” explains Dr. Fox. “Since both dry and canned/fresh/frozen foods offer benefits to our pets, you can feel free to combine them.” While mixing wet and dry can work well for lots of precious pups, there are specific reasons you may want to feed yours a certain type. Dry food, which works well for most dogs, is “helpful to maintain healthy teeth and gums since it physically scrapes tartar off of teeth.” she says. “It’s also a great option for dogs that graze throughout the day, since it can be left out in a bowl without much worry of spoilage. Dry food is easy to measure and has a long shelf life once opened. It also is a less-expensive option, which most pet owners consider when selecting a long-term diet.”

In terms of wet food, canned is a good way to go. Dr. Fox explains that wet food can be a great solution for some dogs who have a hard time tolerating other kinds of chow. “[Wet food is a] great choice for dogs with severe dental disease or those that require an increased water intake throughout the day due to specific disease processes.” She further notes that wet food works well for picky eaters or pups that appreciate variety in their diets due to the increased palatability. Something to note with wet food: Once cans are opened, they do spoil and can take up space in your fridge.

While lots of sources may advise you to cook your dog’s food yourself, Dr. Fox doesn’t recommend doing so unless it’s under the guidance of a boarded veterinary nutritionist.  “Most home-cooked diets are deficient in vitamins and nutrients your pet requires.”

Why Ditch The Kibble?

“Alternative foods are generally more palatable for pets,” says Dr. Fox. “They may help take a picky eater and turn them into a more consistent eater.  Due to the high-calorie count in wet food (and some of the freeze-dried alternatives), it also may help your pet feel fuller faster compared to kibble.” One reminder when you’re making the transition from kibble to an alternative: Be sure to incrementally mix the foods to ease the transition for your doggo. Slowly increasing the quantity of the new food while decreasing the amount of the old food helps your pup avoid any tummy issues and allows you to get a clear understanding of whether or not the new food is the right choice for your deserving pet.

Below are eight healthy kibble alternatives to consider for your beloved pup.

The Best Dog Food Alternatives to Kibble

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This freeze-dried doggy meal is crafted to focus on skin, bone, and digestive health, so your best friend can live their best and longest life. All you have to do is add water to rehydrate the healthful ingredients to ensure your pup is getting a fresh and nutritious bowlful without all the hassle of cooking yourself or defrosting a pricey frozen option. These small-batch bags of grain-free goodness come in three different flavors; the salmon recipe is also packed with hemp seeds, coconut oil, and kale – sounds like something you want to put on your own dinner plate!

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Weruva has taken the extra steps to make sure your pooch is munching on high-quality chow; the brand manufactures the canned food in a human food facility, so all the ingredients and standards are quite literally human-grade. This gourmet puppy fuel is made with pure protein and vegetables, as well as added vitamins and minerals to optimize health. Grain and gluten-free, these cans are perfect for all pups, whether they have a sensitive tummy or just love a delicious dinner! No matter if you plan to feed your canine this can alone or use the wet food as a topper, Weruva has a plethora of flavor options to satisfy all doggos.

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With an ingredient list that includes items like "duck gizzard" and "herring oil," these mini-nibs may not sound appetizing to you, but they sure will be for your pup! Based on an "Alpha" prey diet, Vital Essential's freeze-dried nibs are made with the ingredients that dogs' digestive systems were processing long before domestication. These nibs are small enough for the littlest pets and mimic kibble, so transitioning your pooch to this healthy alternative is extra easy. Flavors like rabbit, beef, and turkey are sure to fit any preferences, but the brand also makes other awesome food alternatives, like these dinner patties.

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Honest Kitchen's grain-free clusters are truly a kibble alternative. These cold-pressed, roasted-then-dehydrated nuggets are made with human-grade whole foods, aka this is the good stuff. Unlike other options that require a multi-step preparation before serving, this single scoop-and-serve is easy to dole out to your canine companion. And the clusters are formulated with GMO-free low glycemic carbs, beneficial fats, and live probiotics, so you can rest assured that your pup's meal is delicious and nutritious. These nutrient-rich clusters also come in beef and chicken options, so every four-legged friend can enjoy a flavor they like. While you're at it, check out Honest Kitchen's rawhide alternatives and meal toppers.

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Sourced from only 100 percent free-range, grass-fed, and wild-caught components, this nourishing air-dried blend is made up of meat, organs, bones, green mussels, and kelp. Ziwi Peak's kibble-like bites have no fillers, preservatives, sugars, or glycerin and are grain-free. In other words, they're everything you want for your furry friend. Designed to generally optimize health, this crunchy meal reduces inflammation, aids in building a smoother skin and coat, and promotes heart and brain health. Aside from an awesome sustainable background and health-forward approach, this wholesome pup meal gets rave reviews from owners who "wish their dogs could talk" to share how delicious their dinners really are.

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Stella & Chewy's freeze-dried patties can be served as crunchy disks or rehydrated with water to make a soft bowlful. A blend of certified organic fruits and veggies, as well as sustainably sourced raw protein (including meat, bone, and organs), these nutrient-dense patties can help relieve allergies and have added probiotics to make them extra perfect for pups with sensitive tummies. This innovative alternative to traditional chow is made in the brand's very own kitchen to assure high-quality ingredients and production.

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What dog (or human, for that matter) could turn down bacon? Evanger's certainly has their flavor options down! These scrumptious wet mixes never include soy, corn, wheat, artificial ingredients, or preservatives, so you can feel good while you plop down that bowl of grub. Vet approved and family made, this dog food is packed with all the good ingredients your furry friend deserves. These cans get a whole lot of five-star reviews with contented dog owners who claim this is the "only food" their picky pups will "devour" and that finding this awesome alternative is a huge time and money saver for owners who were previously cooking up their own mixtures.

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Another Grandma Lucy's pick, PUREformance is a freeze-dried option that's jam-packed with all sorts of vitamins and minerals. Their freeze-drying method maintains the taste of all their ingredients, so your four-legged BFF can enjoy the fruits, veggies, and protein in this blend. The only steps involved in serving this tasty meal are to scoop, hydrate, and serve. While Grandma Lucy clearly does the vitamin-infused kibble alternative really well, the brand also produces some crowd-favorite treats and a special blend formulated specifically for those times your doggo's tummy is reacting poorly.