Natural Balance Ultra (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★½☆

Natural Balance Ultra Dog Food earns the Advisor’s mid-tier rating of 3.5 stars.

The Natural Balance Ultra product line includes three dry dog foods, two claimed to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages and one for adult maintenance.

The following is a list of recipes available at the time of this review.

  • Natural Balance Original Ultra Premium Formula
  • Natural Balance Original Ultra Premium Small Breed
  • Natural Balance Original Ultra Reduced Calorie (2.5 stars)

Natural Balance Original Ultra Premium Formula was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Natural Balance Original Ultra Premium Formula

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 26% | Fat = 14% | Carbs = 52%

Ingredients: Chicken, brown rice, lamb meal, oatmeal, barley, potatoes, carrots, chicken fat (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols), duck meal, tomato pomace, natural flavor, canola oil, brewers yeast, duck, salmon meal, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, salmon oil, whole ground flaxseed, choline chloride, taurine, natural mixed tocopherols, spinach, parsley flakes, cranberries, l-lysine, l-carnitine, Yucca schidigera extract, dried kelp, vitamin E supplement, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 3.3%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis23%13%NA
Dry Matter Basis26%14%52%
Calorie Weighted Basis23%31%46%

The first ingredient in this dog food lists chicken. Although it is a quality item, raw chicken contains about 80% water. After cooking, most of that moisture is lost, reducing the meat content to just a fraction of its original weight.

After processing, this item would probably account for a smaller part of the total content of the finished product.

The second ingredient is brown rice, a complex carbohydrate that (once cooked) can be fairly easy to digest. However, aside from its natural energy content, rice is of only modest nutritional value to a dog.

The third ingredient includes lamb meal. Lamb meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh lamb.

The fourth item is oatmeal, a whole-grain product made from coarsely ground oats. Oatmeal is naturally rich in B-vitamins, dietary fiber and can be (depending upon its level of purity) gluten-free.

The fifth item is barley. Barley is a starchy carbohydrate supplying fiber and other healthy nutrients. Unlike grains with a higher glycemic index, barley can help support more stable blood sugar levels.

The sixth ingredient is potato. Potatoes can be considered a gluten-free source of digestible carbohydrates. Yet with the exception of perhaps their caloric content, potatoes are of only modest nutritional value to a dog.

The seventh item lists carrots. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, minerals and dietary fiber.

The eighth ingredient is chicken fat. Chicken fat is obtained from rendering chicken, a process similar to making soup in which the fat itself is skimmed from the surface of the liquid.

Chicken fat is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life. Although it doesn’t sound very appetizing, chicken fat is actually a quality ingredient.

The ninth ingredient mentions duck meal, another protein-rich meat concentrate.

The tenth ingredient is tomato pomace. Tomato pomace is a controversial ingredient, a by-product remaining after processing tomatoes into juice, soup and ketchup.

Many praise tomato pomace for its high fiber and nutrient content, while others scorn it as an inexpensive pet food filler.

Just the same, there’s probably not enough tomato pomace here to make much of a difference.

After the natural flavor, we find canola oil. Many applaud canola for its favorable omega-3 content while a vocal minority condemn it as an unhealthy fat.

Much of the objection regarding canola oil appears to be related to the use of genetically modified rapeseed as its source material.

Yet others find the negative stories about canola oil more the stuff of urban legend than actual science.1

In any case, plant-based oils like canola are less biologically available to a dog than fish oil as a source of quality omega-3 fats.

From here, the list goes on to include a number of other items.

But to be realistic, ingredients located this far down the list (other than nutritional supplements) are not likely to affect the overall rating of this product.

With five notable exceptions

First, brewers yeast can be a controversial item. Although it’s a by-product of the beer making process, this ingredient is rich in minerals and other healthy nutrients.

Fans believe yeast repels fleas and supports the immune system.

Critics argue yeast ingredients can be linked to allergies. This may be true, but (like all allergies) only if your particular dog is allergic to the yeast itself.

In addition, a vocal minority insists yeast can increase the risk of developing the life-threatening condition known as bloat. However, this is a claim we’ve not been able to scientifically verify.

In any case, unless your dog is specifically allergic to it, yeast can still be considered a nutritious additive.

What’s more noteworthy here is that brewers yeast contains about 48% protein, a factor that must be considered when judging the actual meat content of this dog food.

Next, we find salmon meal, yet another protein-rich meat concentrate.

We are pleased to note that, unlike many fish meals, this particular item appears2 to be ethoxyquin-free.

In addition, salmon oil is naturally rich in the prized EPA and DHA type of omega-3 fatty acids. These two high quality fats boast the highest bio-availability to dogs and humans.

Depending on its level of freshness and purity, salmon oil should be considered a commendable addition.

Next, we find no mention of probiotics, friendly bacteria applied to the surface of the kibble after processing to help with digestion.

And lastly, this food also contains chelated minerals, minerals that have been chemically attached to protein. This makes them easier to absorb. Chelated minerals are usually found in better dog foods.

Natural Balance Ultra Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Natural Balance Ultra Dog Food looks like an above average dry product.

But ingredient quality by itself cannot tell the whole story. We still need to estimate the product’s meat content before determining a final rating.

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 26%, a fat level of 14% and estimated carbohydrates of about 52%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 24% and a mean fat level of 13%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 56% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 53%.

Below-average protein. Below-average fat. And above-average carbs when compared to a typical dry dog food.

Even if you ignore the protein-boosting effect of the brewers yeast, this still looks like the profile of a kibble containing a below average amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Natural Balance Ultra Dog Food is a plant-based kibble using a below average amount of chicken or lamb meals as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 3.5 stars.

Recommended.

Please note some products may have been given higher or lower ratings based upon our estimate of their total meat content.

Special Alert

Rice ingredients can sometimes contain arsenic. Until the US FDA establishes safe upper levels for arsenic content, pet owners may wish to limit the total amount of rice fed in a dog's daily diet.

A Final Word

The descriptions and analyses expressed in this and every article on this website represent the views and opinions of the author.

Although it's our goal to ensure all the information on this website is correct, we cannot guarantee its completeness or its accuracy; nor can we commit to ensuring all the material is kept up-to-date on a daily basis.

Each review is offered in good faith and has been designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

However, our rating system is not intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in specific health benefits for your pet.

For a better understanding of how we analyze each product, please read our article, "The Problem with Dog Food Reviews".

Remember, no dog food can possibly be appropriate for every life stage, lifestyle or health condition. So, choose wisely. And when in doubt, consult a qualified veterinary professional for help.

In closing, we do not accept money, gifts or samples from pet food companies in exchange for special consideration in the preparation of our reviews or ratings.

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Notes and Updates

01/08/2010 Original review
08/15/2010 Review updated
08/15/2010 Review updated (ethoxyquin-free)
05/11/2011 Review updated (new formula)
12/13/2012 Review updated
12/13/2012 Last Update

  1. Mikkelson, B and DP, Oil of Ole, Urban Legends Reference Pages (2005)
  2. Natural Balance Customer Service, 8/15/2010