Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food Review

12 Comments on Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food Review Share Email Pinterest Linkedin Twitter Facebook

Our Review Process

Our reviews are based on extensive research and, when possible, hands-on testing. Each time you make a purchase through one of our independently-chosen links, we’ll receive a percentage of the proceeds. Read more about how we’re supported here.

Does Nature’s Variety Instinct have what it takes to satisfy your cat’s carnivorous instincts? Find out in our unbiased Nature’s Variety Instinct cat food review.

The We’re All About Cats Standard—Rating Nature’s Variety Instinct on What Matters

We’ve analyzed Nature’s Variety and graded it according to the We’re All About Cats standard, evaluating the brand on species-appropriateness, ingredient quality, product variety, price, customer experience, and recall history. Here’s how it rates in each of these six key areas.

Ratings

  • Species-Appropriateness – 8/10
  • Ingredient Quality – 7/10
  • Product Variety – 10/10
  • Price – 7/10
  • Customer Experience – 8/10
  • Recall History – 4/10

Overall Score: 7.3/10

We give Nature’s Variety Instinct cat food a 44 out of 60 rating or a B grade.

As part of our review process, we’ve submitted samples to an independent lab. You can see the full report here and here.

In addition to performing our own qualitative analysis of the brands reviewed here, we submitted samples for analysis at an ISO 17025 certified food testing and analysis lab.

We bought the products at full retail price, and the entire testing process was funded by All About Cats without direct input or influence from the companies involved.

Analytical testing in a food chemistry lab gives us the exact macronutrient and micronutrient content of each recipe. The tests also look at microbial content, yeast, mold, and heavy metals, helping you ensure that you’re only putting the best in your cat’s bowl.

To access the lab reports for each food reviewed here, click the “view lab report” link in the product review.

About Nature’s Variety Instinct

Nature’s Variety began as a small pet food manufacturer in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s now owned by Agrilomen, a Barcelona-based firm. Agrolimen also owns Affinity Petcare, a leading European pet food supplier and holds 50% stake in Mogiana, a Brazilian pet food company.

Nature’s Variety continues to operate as an independent company with headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. The company focuses on meat-centric recipes and emphasizes the value of fresh, freeze-dried, and raw ingredients.

Sourcing And Manufacturing

Nature’s Variety Instinct cat food is manufactured in company-owned facilities in the United States.

Nature’s Variety ingredients are primarily sourced from the United States, with some proteins sourced from New Zealand, Australia, France, and Italy. The company doesn’t source any meat or poultry from China, but doesn’t mention sourcing other ingredients from the country.

Has Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food Been Recalled?

Nature’s Variety appears to have been recalled four times since its creation in 2002.

In 2015, Nature’s Variety recalled several varieties of chicken-based food after FDA testing revealed that the food was contaminated with salmonella. Earlier that year, the company issued a recall due to pieces of plastic in their food.

In 2012, the company recalled four sizes of kibble for dogs after learning that the food had an “off-odor” smell before its expiration date. Nature’s Variety said the food wasn’t contaminated, but voluntarily withdrew the food to ensure a top-notch experience.

Back in 2010, the company issued a recall of chicken-based raw food due to potential salmonella contamination.

What Kinds Of Cat Food Does Nature’s Variety Instinct Offer?

The Nature’s Variety Instinct cat food lineup is broken into six lines.

  • Instinct Original includes both dry and wet foods. All of the foods in this line are at least 70% animal ingredients and are made without any grains.
  • Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet foods are geared towards cats with food sensitivities and allergies. They’re made with one animal protein and a single primary vegetable ingredient. This line includes both wet and dry foods.
  • Instinct Ultimate Protein wet and dry foods are at least 90% animal-derived protein and have up to 3 times more chicken or duck than other natural brands.
  • Instinct Raw Boost is kibble with chunks of freeze-dried raw meat. The line also includes Raw Boost Mixers, which allow you to add those freeze-dried chunks to your kibble of choice.
  • The Instinct Raw line includes one recipe. It’s a frozen raw product made primarily from chicken.
  • Raw Signature includes raw frozen bites and medallions made from chicken and rabbit.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food – Top 3 Recipes Reviewed

#1 Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food Review

Instinct by Nature's Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food

Buy on Chewy Buy on Amazon

View Lab Report

Chicken appears to be the primary protein source in this wet cat food.

Our first Nature’s Variety product review is a canned food made primarily from chicken. The recipe is 95% chicken, turkey, and chicken liver, plus chicken broth. The remaining five percent of this food is composed of ground flaxseed, montmorillonite clay, peas, and carrots. The last two ingredients are high in carbohydrates and don’t add much to the food nutritionally.

The food also contains a small amount of “egg product”, which, like all feed-grade ingredients, may or may not be handled according to human food standards. Regardless of handling, eggs and egg product are nourishing sources of animal protein.

The food is fortified with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that make it nutritionally complete.

Near the end of the ingredient list are a few more food ingredients. The recipe contains a touch of menhaden fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids and a pinch of fruits and vegetables, including artichoke, cranberries, pumpkin, and parsley.

Overall, this food is high in protein with moderate fat and low carbohydrate content.

The food has 131 calories in each 3-ounce can or roughly 43 calories per ounce.

Ingredients

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Egg Product, Dicalcium Phosphate, Turkey, Peas, Carrots, Pumpkin, Tomato, Kale, Cabbage, Ground Flaxseed, Tuna Fish Oil, Guar Gum, Broccoli, Potassium Chloride, Cranberries, Blueberries, Salt, Parsley, Taurine, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Magnesium Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Iron Proteinate), Choline Chloride, Vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 Supplement).

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 10%
Crude Fat: 7.5%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 78%
Ash: 2.8%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 45.45%
Fat: 34.09%
Fiber: 13.64%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 35.44%
Fat: 64.56%

Ingredients We Liked: Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Liver, Menhaden Fish Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Ground Flaxseed, Peas, Carrots

Common Allergens: Chicken

Pros

  • Primarily made from animal protein sources
  • Contains a mix of muscle meat and organs
  • Doesn’t contain any animal by-products
  • Relies on animal-sourced fat
  • Made without artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
  • Low carbohydrate content

Cons

  • Cost is above market average

#2 Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food Review

Instinct by Nature's Variety Original Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food

Buy on Chewy Buy on Amazon

Chicken appears to be the primary protein source in this dry cat food.

This grain-free kibble is 81% animal ingredients and oils with the remaining 19% of the recipe dedicated to “fruits, vegetables and other wholesome ingredients.”

The ingredient list starts with a mix of chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, and menhaden fish meal. Like many grain-free foods, this recipe includes peas as a grainless solution to the kibble binding problem. Unlike most grain-free foods, the food doesn’t contain any more legumes or starches, helping to keep the carbohydrate content relatively low.

The food contains chicken fat as its primary fat source, tapioca as a secondary binder, and “natural flavor” for added palatability. Tomato pomace, a by-product of tomato processing, is used as a source of fiber. After this fiber source, the food contains whitefish meal, consisting of Pacific whiting, sole, and rockfish.

Along with supplemental vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, the food contains trace amounts of montmorillonite clay, fruits, vegetables, and freeze-dried organs. It’s enhanced with “guaranteed levels of live, natural probiotics”—60,000,000 CFU in each pound or about 3.5 million CFU per serving.

Overall, this dry food has high protein content with moderate fat and relatively low carbohydrate content.

The food contains 488 calories per cup or about 117 calories per ounce.

Ingredients

Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal, Peas, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Tapioca, Natural Flavor, Dried Tomato Pomace, White Fish Meal (Pacific Whiting, Pacific Sole, Pacific Rockfish), Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin), Montmorillonite Clay, Carrots, Apples, Cranberries, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide), Freeze Dried Chicken, DL-Methionine, Taurine, Freeze Dried Chicken Liver, Pumpkinseeds, Freeze Dried Chicken Heart, Dried Bacillus coagulans Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 43%
Crude Fat: 19.5%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 9%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 47.25%
Fat: 21.43%
Fiber: 3.3%
Carbs: 28.02%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 37.11%
Fat: 40.88%
Carbs: 22.01%

Ingredients We Liked: Chicken, Chicken Fat, Freeze Dried Chicken Liver, Freeze Dried Chicken Heart

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Peas, Tapioca

Common Allergens: Chicken, Fish

Pros

  • Free of animal by-products
  • Made without artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
  • Primarily made from animal protein
  • Contains a mix of muscle meat and organs
  • Free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
  • Low carbohydrate content compared to most dry foods

Cons

  • Lacks the moisture cats need

#3 Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food Review

Instinct by Nature's Variety Original Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food

Buy on Chewy Buy on Amazon

Rabbit appears to be the primary protein source in this wet cat food.

This food is made for cats with allergies and food sensitivities, so it’s made from proteins that aren’t commonly allergenic.

Excluding broth, the food is 95% composed of rabbit, pork, and liver. Rabbit and pork are novel proteins for many cats and are good choices for those with sensitivities to common allergens like chicken and beef.

The remaining 5% of the food contains ground flaxseed as a source of fiber, montmorillonite clay as a source of minerals, and peas and carrots, which increase the food’s carbohydrate content without providing much nutritional value.

The food is supplemented with menhaden fish oil, a species-appropriate source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s do a lot of great things, but most relevantly, they can reduce inflammation associated with allergies.

The food’s fortified with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that make it nutritionally complete. Near the end of the ingredient list is a smattering of fruits and vegetables.

Overall, this food is rich in protein with moderate fat and low carbohydrate content.

The food has 80 calories in each 3-ounce can or about 27 calories per ounce.

Ingredients

Rabbit, Pork, Pork Liver, Pork Broth, Ground Flaxseed, Montmorillonite Clay, Tricalcium Phosphate, Peas, Carrots, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Menhaden Fish Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Taurine, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Artichokes, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Tomato, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Parsley.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 10%
Crude Fat: 3%
Crude Fiber: 1.5%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 45.45%
Fat: 13.64%
Fiber: 6.82%
Carbs: 34.09%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 40.35%
Fat: 29.39%
Carbs: 30.26%

Ingredients We Liked: Rabbit, Pork, Pork Liver, Menhaden Fish Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Ground Flaxseed, Peas, Carrots

Common Allergens: None

Pros

  • Uses a combination of muscle meat and organs
  • Appropriate for cats with food sensitivities and allergies
  • Rich in animal-sourced protein
  • Thickened without carrageenan
  • Free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives

Cons

  • None

#4 Runner-Up: Instinct by Nature’s Variety Kitten Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe

Instinct by Nature's Variety Kitten Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food small

Buy on Chewy Buy on Amazon

Read Our Full Brand Review View Lab Report

This kitten food from Nature’s Instinct is made primarily from wholesome animal ingredients and is rich in the amino acids that help your kitten to thrive. The first ingredient is chicken, and it contains salmon as a natural source of DHA, a fatty acid with a role in brain and eye development.

This kitten recipe doesn’t contain any of the starches and plant protein that weigh your kitten down and create waste, but it does contain traces of cranberries, pumpkin, tomato, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and parsley.

Overall, however, this food is a low-carb option, with about 9% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis. It is a little more expensive than many kitten foods, but it offers good nutritional quality.

Each 3 oz can contains 103 calories, which is about average for kitten food.

Ingredients:

Chicken, Beef Liver, Chicken Broth, Salmon (Source of DHA), Eggs, Montmorillonite Clay, Dried Kelp, Taurine, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3, Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Artichokes, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Tomato, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Parsley

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 12%
Crude Fat: 6%
Crude Fiber: 1%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 54.55%
Fat: 27.27%
Fiber: 4.55%
Carbs: 13.64%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 40.58%
Fat: 49.28%
Carbs: 10.14%

What We Liked:

  • Rich in animal-based protein from chicken, beef, and salmon
  • Soft canned food offers palatable texture and hydration
  • Very low carbohydrate content
  • Rich in DHA for healthy brain and eye development

What We Didn’t Like:

  • A little more expensive than many kitten foods
  • Doesn’t receive consistently positive customer reviews

What Do Customers Think Of Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food?

Nature’s Variety foods are well-loved by customers.

The company is one of few that receives largely positive reviews on Consumer Affairs, a customer advocacy site with a definite negativity bias. Here’s what a few customers have to say about Nature’s Variety cat food:

Positive Reviews

“The Instinct Original canned cat food looks and smells good enough for human consumption! The food is juicy and moist without being watery or gravy-like–all food. My cats are loving it (as well as the Kitten version for my 7 mo old.) They had no problem transitioning from another brand.”Suze, reviewing Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe

“I have taken painful measures to find a food with no chicken or egg to help rule out allergies after trying another brand of skin sensitive food for 12 weeks to no avail. Was very happy to find this brand and all my feline friends who are indoor pets seem to love it. It is helping their coats improve and hopefully will improve their overall health. We have only been using Instinct for 4 weeks. We are just beginning. The only downside to novel protein foods is the $$$$$. Wish there were coupons. Not a big inventory at Pet Food stores either. Glad Chewy stocks so well.”SmokeysMom, reviewing Instinct by Nature’s Variety  Original Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe

Negative Reviews

“Decided to write this after switching to a different food. I tried “ natures variety” thinking grain free was a good idea. However after over 6 months of this diet, i noticed my two cats were lethargic and gaining weight. The food pellets in this food are so small that more food would fall from their automatic feeder than should have. Neither cat needed to chew the food so they would swallow it whole and later vomit it out. One cat developed very dry skin and heavy dandruff. I switched this month to a Royal Cannin food and already have noticed a difference in both cats. They are more playful and their coats are looking better.” Bentleysmom, reviewing Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food

“I’ve done tons of research of which canned food is good for my cats (I have two precious exotic shorthairs). So many pet food reviews say Instinct is one of the best—it’s not as expressive as Ziwi, but it’s definitely on the more expensive side. Anyway, long story short. I have two reservations about it: 1) my cats are not super interested in it; 2) above all, I saw giant peas in it—I don’t think cats need it and in my opinion veggies are worse than meat byproduct, as they are simply NOT what cats eat or need. Final thought: Sometimes I feel I should just go with the cheaper Fancy Feast Classic Chicken Pate. My cats like Fancy Feast and there’s no veggie in Fancy Feast Classic Chicken Pate.”Eleni, reviewing Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food

How Much Does Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food Cost?

Let’s break down how much it would cost per day to feed your cat’s Nature’s Variety. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say that your cat weighs 10 lbs and follows the feeding guidelines recommended by Nature’s Variety Instinct.

Nature’s Variety Instinct wet food would cost between $2.28 and $3.36 per day, depending on which variety you choose. Nature’s Variety dry food is significantly cheaper and would cost closer to $0.42 per day to feed the same cat. Their raw food is comparable to the canned recipes, adding up to roughly $2.30 to $3.35 per day.

All of their recipes, including their raw frozen formulas, are reasonably-priced and easy to find in stores. The brand is comparable in quality and price to Wellness CORE, except Nature’s Variety Instinct offers a wider selection of raw food.

Overall, Is Nature’s Variety Instinct A Good Choice?

Nature’s Variety cat food is a good option to consider if you’re looking for meat-centric, dye-free food. With a selection of limited-ingredient recipes and formulas focused on novel proteins, this brand is a promising choice for cats with food sensitivities and allergies.

Though the brand has been recalled a few times during a relatively short span of time, none of these recalls were associated with reports of illness. Nature’s Variety maintains a good reputation among customers and appears to be a reliable choice.

Where To Buy Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food?

Nature’s Variety cat food is sold by pet specialty retailers, including major chains like Petco and PetSmart. Click here to find a retailer near you. If you’d prefer to shop online, you’ll find Nature’s Variety cat food on Amazon, Chewy, Petco, and PetSmart.com.

Click here to shop for Nature’s Variety cat food on Chewy

12 thoughts on “Nature’s Variety Instinct Cat Food Review

  1. Samuel p

    I wish you would have went into more depth on the instinct raw food. But other than that you showed me that instinct is an alright brand.

    Reply
  2. KJ

    Hello! We have been feeding our cat the chicken pate wet food for a few months and noticed in our most recent order the recipe has changed. There is no more turkey in the ingredient list (although the label still says it has turkey), and chicken liver is third instead of second. It is also no longer made in the US and is made in Thailand. Lastly they’ve added other vegetables to the recipe like kale, tomato, cabbage and pumpkin. The calorie content for one can went from 193kcal to 240kcal as well. Would you still rate this food the same grade given these changes?

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hi KJ, we’ve updated the ingredient list here. The food seems to have the same macronutrient composition as it did previously, but some customer reviews suggest that the new formulation is different enough to make cats no longer like it. Overall, it seems like it should be similar nutritionally, but we don’t know exactly how the quality of the ingredients compares to those in Nature’s Variety’s US-made food. In conclusion, I’ll give it the same grade, but tentatively.

      Reply
  3. Irene

    I have been getting the chicken pate from Chewy for a number of years. I have found that there seems to be something strange with quality control. Some cans (by the case) have peas and carrots, and others do not. The latter also seems oilier. The two varieties also come in different types of cans — interior of some (with the peas and carrots) is white, the other looks like a regular can.
    What is going on here? The order remains the same, the packaging looks the same, but the content is not the same.

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoKate Barrington

      That’s definitely concerning, Irene! With brands like Instinct that mass produce pet food it’s to be expected that there might be some minor differences from one lot to another. It sounds like you’re saying the product looks entirely different, however.
      I found a few comments online from other customers noticing a change in the look of the product or the packaging when Nature’s Variety rebranded as Instinct in 2018. It sounds like the company was trying to use up the cans they had in stock which, if that’s the case, could account for the variation. I can’t be sure, of course, so if you want a more specific answer you may need to contact Instinct directly. Let us know what you find out!

      Reply
  4. Irene

    Thanks, Kate. I do think it’s concerning, since if I am ordering something for a reason, I expect there to be consistency. Also, the extremely different can qualities make me concerned that some may not be BPA free – something that I was expecting from Instinct.
    I would like to hear from a representative of the company about this – in a public forum. That would make me feel more comfortable about these variations.

    Reply
  5. Leslie Taylor

    I noted the lab reports…
    The results alone are not constructive without proper interpretation…and context. Yet you put them out there to be read.
    I did not appreciate that…
    Now, since you have put them in your review, could you explain the breakdown, otherwise you leave this product as being quite harmful to cats., and a poor product.

    Reply
      1. Leslie Taylor

        Perhaps you should have provided complete information in the first place, rather than lab results without context or interpretation.
        Your site has caused me considerable worry, as well as time researching. I read your article, with the lab results, on the same day that my first order of Instinct arrived, for my cat.
        I have spoken with the company today…

        Reply
  6. Yolanda

    Is instinct not a good quality food … is there something I should be concerned about I recently started transitioning my girl because we found out she might have a sensitive stomach so I started her on the limited ingredient line but now I don’t know if I should continue

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.