Nature’s Variety Instinct (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★★★

Nature’s Variety Instinct Dog Food receives the Advisor’s top rating of 5 stars.

The Nature’s Variety Instinct product line lists five dry dog foods, each claimed to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages.

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

  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Rabbit Meal
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Salmon Meal
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Chicken Meal
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Beef and Lamb Meal
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Duck and Turkey Meal

Nature’s Variety Instinct Duck and Turkey Meal formula was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Nature's Variety Instinct Duck and Turkey Meal

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 39% | Fat = 22% | Carbs = 31%

Ingredients: Duck, turkey meal, salmon meal, tapioca, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), peas, duck meal, tomato pomace, suncured alfalfa meal, montmorillonite clay, natural flavor, salt, carrots, apples, cranberries, vitamins (vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, niacin supplement, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, d-calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement), choline chloride, minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, ethylenediamine dihydriodide, sodium selenite), potassium chloride, freeze dried turkey, freeze dried duck (including freeze dried ground duck bone), freeze dried turkey liver, pumpkinseeds, dried Bacillus coagulans fermentation product, rosemary extract, butternut squash, ground flaxseed, dried kelp, broccoli, apple cider vinegar, salmon oil, dried chicory root, blueberries

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 4.4%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis35%20%NA
Dry Matter Basis39%22%31%
Calorie Weighted Basis31%44%25%

The first ingredient is duck. Although it is a quality item, raw duck 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 turkey meal. Turkey meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh turkey.

The third ingredient is salmon meal, another high protein meat concentrate.

Fish meal is typically obtained from the “clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish and fish cuttings” of commercial fish operations.1

The fourth ingredient is tapioca, a gluten-free, starchy carbohydrate extract made from the root of the cassava plant.

The fifth 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 sixth ingredient is peas. Peas are a quality source of carbohydrates. And like all legumes, they’re rich in natural fiber.

However, peas contain about 25% protein, a factor that must be considered when judging the meat content of this dog food.

The seventh ingredient is duck meal, yet another high protein meat concentrate.

The eighth 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.

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, although alfalfa meal is high in plant protein (about 18%) and fiber (25%), this hay-family item is more commonly associated with horse feeds.

Next, montmorillonite clay is a naturally occurring compound rich in many trace minerals. Montmorillonite has been approved for use in USDA Organic Certified products.

Reported benefits include the binding of certain mold-based toxins and even controlling diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition, chicory root is rich in inulin, a starch-like compound made up of repeating units of carbohydrates and found in certain roots and tubers.

Not only is inulin a natural source of soluble dietary fiber, it’s also a prebiotic used to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in a dog’s digestive tract.

Next, 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.

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.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Nature’s Variety Instinct 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 39%, a fat level of 22% and estimated carbohydrates of about 31%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 40% and a mean fat level of 21%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 30% for the overall product line.

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

Above-average protein. Above-average fat. And below-average carbs when compared to a typical dry dog food.

Even when you consider the protein-boosting effect of the peas and alfalfa meal, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a significant amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Nature’s Variety Instinct is a grain-free meat-based dry dog food using a significant amount of various named species as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 5 stars.

Enthusiastically recommended.

A Final Word

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

We rely almost entirely on the integrity of the information posted by each company on its website. As such, the accuracy of every report is directly dependent upon the quality of that data.

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, due to the biological uniqueness of every animal, none of our ratings are intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in a specific dietary response or health benefit 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.

To learn how we support the cost of operating this website, please visit our public Disclosure and Disclaimer page.

Have an opinion about this dog food? Or maybe the review itself? Please know we welcome your comments.

Notes and Updates

06/03/2014 Last Update

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  • dogist

    Hi Pat,

    That depends on several things.

    Size, age and weight of dog
    What are you feeding
    How’s your dog’s poop
    How’s your dog’s skin

  • theBCnut

    The egg white has enough abiding in it to bind more biotin than what the yolk contains. If you are feeding a meat rich diet and don’t give raw eggs daily, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you give raw eggs every day or feed a lower protein diet, it could become a problem.
    Sent from my iPod

  • Pat C.

    I read that there is a component in egg whites that can create a biotin deficiency if fed without the yolk. The yolk has extra biotin in it which it makes up for the loss, so it’s better to feed the entire egg. True?

  • Pat C.

    How does one determine how much fiber to add to the diet? Thanks

  • JudyandSam Simpson Norris

    My Abbie’s itching was so bad we finally had to do allergy testing. Came back she’s badly allergic to chicken and potatoe. Both her and my Emma have been on Fromm Grain Free for about 3yrs not but I was varing it between flavors, but since we got back her results in August, I. Have had them on nothing but Fromm Lamb & Lentils and they are both so much better. Abbie is also allergic to Johnson grass. Maybe that’s why your pup is itching on her paws.

  • Kathy Niskala

    Dori..I also rotate with the commercial raws ,as you do,now I’m stressed,because I just read from Dr. Jean Dodds..about dogs can get hyperthyroid from consuming too much raw thyroid tissue,as from necks,gullets or tracheas, and Vital Essentials told me they do use ground necks in their blends..they all probably do,so now what??? HELP???

  • Dori

    : (

  • theBCnut

    Fall is the worst for me too for allergies.

  • theBCnut

    And let’s not forget rolling in dead earthworms, my dogs would never do that.

  • Cyndi

    Bailey kills things (mice) but doesn’t eat them. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s gotten and killed 3 mice in the past couple months. :( I don’t like hearing them scream. :(

  • maru

    Thanks so much! I’ll definitely check that out! I remember that a year ago I gave Matias egg whites of one cooked egg and he got sick with diarrhea so I think that since I did not know how much to give him it was maybe way too much protein in addition to the kibble for him. He’s 7.5 pounds so his little tummy did not tolerate mommy’s ignorance :(

  • Dori

    Thanks BC. I’ll stick with giving eggs only to Hannah and Lola. Katie’s doing really well now as far as food intolerances. Environmental issues she’s actually doing better than I am. Fall is my favorite time of the year but, unfortunately, the worst for my allergies. : (

  • Crazy4cats

    Yes, BC, you are definitely the only one who has dogs who eat dead things. Mine would NEVER pick up a dead snake on the side of the road and gobble it up before I get a chance to get it away from him.

  • theBCnut

    Maybe I’m the only one who has dogs that eat dead things and so could potentially be shedding salmonella at any time, but I just don’t think so. I have heard that shedding salmonella is considered normal and not indicative of much of anything, and so must come from more than just raw feeding, since there aren’t all that many people feeding raw. Delta needs to ban all dogs from therapy work, if they think that way.

  • theBCnut

    I like to reap some of the benefits that I have read about when feeding raw eggs, but I do think that feeding them every day is a bad idea. I feed every third egg raw.

  • theBCnut

    Micah doesn’t get chicken in any form, including eggs, but he does great on turkey and duck. Every once in a while I can get duck eggs. I have never let him have goose, you could say I’m saving that protein, just in case.

  • aimee

    I agree with you in regards to Salmonella coming from the food source people don’t take the precautions they need to.

    My concern though lies not with the food but with what is coming through by way of the dog. A dog eating raw protein is much more likely to contact and shed Salmonella into the environment than a dog that isn’t eating raw protein.

    As there are documented infections of children becoming ill from living with a dog who was shedding Salmonella that is what I’d be most concerned about.

    This is why Delta banned raw protein fed dogs from therapy work.

  • Dori

    Feeding eggs is also good when feeding a lower protein kibble. It ups the protein level.

  • Dori

    Hey BC, just wondering if you give eggs to Micah? I know he has issues with chicken. I’ve been afraid to give Katie eggs due to her intolerance to all things poultry. Do you find the same is true with Micah and eggs? Can Micah eat any other forms of fowl?

  • Susan

    Hi Maru, tell me about it, I too have been looking & trying to find a kibble that agrees with my boy & doesnt irratate his skin, i’lI find something then it upsets his stomach/bowel or its good for his stomach/bowel but makes him itch, I think home cooked is the best……. With the star ratings if there’s no ingredients high lighted in red & has lower stars (3 1/2) thats cause the protein is lower, foods with higher protein get more stars, I dont bother with the stars, sometimes cause that food may just work for my dog, the Holistic Select Fish has no potatoes no chicken fat & no PEAS.. Peas are in alot of foods now..they give my boy bad wind, the only other brand Ive tried was the Wellness Simple Lamb & Oatmeal but has lower stars cause the protein is lower then 25%….Wellpet make Holistic Select, Wellness & Eagle Pack..the Wellness has their “small breed” range that has higher protein, so it will get higher stars, here’s a link to have a look at all the Wellness foods..Core, Simple, toy breed, Small Breed & Complete Health….there’s a few to have a look at…even if you use 1 of the wellness kibbles in ur boys rotation, or like I did I gave him the Simple for breakfast then his Intestinal for dinner…
    http://www.wellnesspetfood.com/recipes.aspx?pet=dog&ft=1#Complete

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    Thank you!

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    Thank you im going to try it!

  • theBCnut

    Gideon is big enough that I could add an egg every day. For Angel, my JRT, I only give her an egg twice a week. I give the whole egg if I’m giving some raw that could use more calcium or if I’m feeding something that could use less calcium I give a lightly cooked egg. You can cook a 3 minute, or soft boiled, egg or a sunny side up egg or even separate the white from the yolk and just cook the white(my favorite method, but more time consuming).

  • Crazy4cats

    Hi-
    Not, BC, but would like to share that I feed my 80lb dogs four eggs per week, two each twice per week. I lightly cook them in a microwave poacher. Some say to feed raw, some say to cook the whites. Just depends who you ask! Just remember to decrease kibble fed as eggs are actually pretty high in calories. I believe their coats are shinier since I have started feeding them. Give it a try!

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    How often is it good to add an egg to kibble? Do you add the whole egg? How do you cook it?

  • Crazy4cats

    Hi Maru-
    Here is a download that I found is very helpful for kibble feeders. It contains a chart of valuable nutritious supplements to add to your dog’s kibble to bump up the health benefits of his meals. I mostly feed kibble, but mix in either a little canned, dehydrated, or fresh food ingredients. This download explains how much eggs, sardines, organ meats, fruits and veggies to either make a meal every week or to add something different to a meal everyday. http://www.seespotlivelonger.com/home/sll/cpage_8/health_benefits.html

    Welcome to DFA!

  • Dori

    I’ve been feeding raw for almost three years, before that kibble and canned. I’ve had dogs all my life (I’m 66 years old). I have ALWAYS picked up all my dogs bowls after each and every meal whether feeding kibble, canned or raw and thoroughly rinse them and put them in the dishwasher. I have many many bowls for that reason. I wouldn’t eat out of a dirty (or used) dish, why should they.

  • theBCnut

    We usually like a good discussion here and to hear different peoples point of view. Feeding raw is definitely a big commitment and has its own set of problems. It definitely isn’t for everyone and it’s much better that you realize that because you asked questions and got answers rather than not finding out and jumping into what could have been a big mistake for you.is nothing wrong with feeding a good kibble and if you feel a need to improve on that you can always add sardines, lightly cooked eggs, and other healthy foods. We are all looking for what is best for ourselves and our dogs.

  • maru

    True! Thanks for taking the time and helping me with great insights and information! So I made my decision and I’m staying with kibble!

  • Bob K

    maru – This website is about education to make an informed decision. Debate and discussion are usually good things. Raw is usually more expensive and time consuming . Most peoples refrigerators are often full of human food.

  • theBCnut

    No, not all Instinct kibbles are raw.

  • theBCnut

    Yes, there are people everywhere who do things that they know better than to do. And people have gotten sick from salmonella in contaminated kibble. I think that they are much more likely to get sick from a source that they don’t even know they should be careful of than from a source that they know they should be careful of. Dogs who eat contaminated kibble can also shed salmonella in the house. I still think you are safer from a potential problem that you know about and can take precautions against than from one you don’t know about and take no precautions against.

  • maru

    Sorry I didn’t mean to open a debate here.. I think there is no right or wrong, but I definitely agree that we should all be comfortable with what we feed our dogs with. I’m glad that Amy you brought up the always common habit of dogs rubbing their bottoms on the floor since Matias does that quite often and I vacuum every day for that reason, especially because My bedrooms are carpeted. Having said that, I think I make my final decision of not feeding raw, not only because of that but to Bob’s point, I usually put the kibble on Matias plate and he’s not finished before I have to leave to work so I just leave and sometimes when I’m back I find leftovers in his plate. So doing that with raw food is not going to work for me. I appreciate and respect everyone’s opinions and feedback here! Thanks so much again for your time and input!

  • theBCnut

    You have totally and entirely missed the point of the post because you are so focused on your own agenda. You can’t understand a single thing anybody posts except for how it may or may not fit into your world view. I’m not comparing what would happen if a toddler ate raw that sat out for 4 hour to anything. That has absolutely nothing to do with what I am talking about. Good grief, I often wonder where your head is.

  • theBCnut

    No, I didn’t mention any thing at all about recalls. I was talking about handling food, not recalls. Try reading what I actually wrote.

  • maru

    Hi Susan! Thanks for the reco! I searched for Holistic Select but the anchovys sardine salmon formula is rated with 3.5 stars here in DFA. I think that potatoes might be the cause of allergies and also the chicken fat. I put together a list of all the ingredients for each of the foods that I’ve fed Matias so far and the only 2 that don’t contain potatoes or sweet potatoes and chicken fat were the ones that he did best but no perfect. Also, the other ingredient that was common in all foods except for one is peas. So, I guess I should now try to find something without potatoes, chicken fat and peas. Any ideas??? This is so frustrating. I’ve been doing trial and error for 2 years now.

  • maru

    My response to both of your questions id yes. I live in an apartment so Matias only goes out with me and of course I make sure he doesn’t eat any dead frogs, although I don’t think they even fit in his tiny mouth lol..he’s a chihuahua.. The vet said the same thing that you mentioned, and to her point, which is valid, we manupilate raw meat but we cook it right away while dogs would eat it and then give us a kiss and we can be at a potential risk of getting sick. Anyway, I know there are pros and cons, but My hesitation is mainly because I had fed him with Instinct before. Are all Instinct kibbles raw? If so, I will not mind on putting him back on that kibble.

  • aimee

    I think you’ll have to find your own comfort level. Raw protein products do come with a higher risk of bacterial pathogens than kibble.

    Dogs consuming raw proteins have a higher recovery rate of pathogens in their feces then dogs not eating these types of products.Though the dogs may not become ill, they serve as a source of environmental contamination.

    Infants, children, elderly and those with compromised people are at a higher risk for than healthy adults.

    Because this is such a serious concern manufactures of commercial frozen/freeze dried raw are taking measures to mitigate the risk using high pressure pasteurization and test and hold practices.

    Using this type of option may be safer than buying fresh ground/whole meat.

    Your vet had a duty to inform you of the increased risks associated with raw feeding.

  • aquariangt

    Well, me for one, and I’m not even a raw feeder. I wash the bowls after meals because I top with canned, raw, dehydrated… so when they’re done, they get washed out. The majority of people who do feed raw are going to be more proactive than the general masses, if for no other reason than the fact they have researched and decided on raw. Of course raw has safety issues, but they aren’t all that different from preparing your own meat from raw for your family.

  • Bob K

    you are the one that mentioned salmonella recalls in your previous post.

  • aimee

    I think you make a good point. People recognize that they should wash after handling raw meat but then think nothing of handling kibble or dog treats without practicing that same level of hygiene.

    That said, based on the data, I still see the contamination risk of raw feeding as being greater than kibble.

    I’m looking from the perspective of the dog being a source of environmental contamination. The dogs get it on their fur, shed it in their feces and rub their faces and butts on the ground. It happens.

    In one small study over 10 % ??of the vacuum cleaner bag contents from raw fed dog homes tested positive for Salmonella. This isn’t to say non raw fed homes vacuums cleaner bags were salmonella free as 4 ??% were positive as well. And with the small study size as I recall the difference wasn’t significant but still something to think about.

    There are cases of infants/ elderly becoming ill with Salmonella from the dog/environmental contamination. It happens.

    In regards to leaving food out…I personally know of someone who had to take his two dogs to ER, one couldn’t even walk had to be carried in she was so weak, both with profuse vomiting and diarrhea. He was sure it was because the dogs didn’t eat their raw diet until over 7 hours after he fed it. Apparently, there are people who leave it out .