Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★★☆

Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Dog Food receives the Advisor’s second-highest tier rating of 4 stars.

The Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet product line includes four 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.

  • Instinct LID Duck Meal Formula
  • Instinct LID Rabbit Meal Formula
  • Instinct LID Turkey Meal Formula
  • Instinct LID Lamb Meal and Peas Formula (3 stars)

Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Rabbit Meal Formula was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Nature's Variety Instinct LID Rabbit Meal Formula

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 28% | Fat = 18% | Carbs = 46%

Ingredients: Rabbit meal, peas, tapioca, canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), rabbit, natural flavor, montmorillonite clay, coconut oil, potassium chloride, salt, 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), green tea extract, rosemary extract

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 4.4%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis25%17%NA
Dry Matter Basis28%18%46%
Calorie Weighted Basis24%38%39%

The first ingredient in this dog food is rabbit meal. Rabbit meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh rabbit.

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

The fourth ingredient is canola oil. Unfortunately, canola can be a controversial item. That’s because some worry that canola oil is made from rapeseed, a genetically modified (GMO) raw material.

Yet others cite the fact canola oil can be a significant source of essential omega-3 fatty acids.

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.

The fifth ingredient is rabbit. Although it is a quality item, raw rabbit 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.

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 four notable exceptions

First, 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).

Next, we note the inclusion of coconut oil. Depending upon the quality of the raw material, coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids.

Coconut oil has been reported to have a beneficial effect on a dog’s skin and coat, improve digestion, and reduce allergic reactions.1

In addition, 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 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
Limited Ingredient Diet Dry Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet looks like an above-average dry dog food.

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 28%, a fat level of 18% and estimated carbohydrates of about 46%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 27% and a mean fat level of 19%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 46% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 68%.

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

When you consider the protein-boosting effect of the peas, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a moderate amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet is a plant-based dry dog food using a moderate amount of various species as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 4 stars.

Highly recommended.

Please note certain recipes are sometimes given a higher or lower rating based upon our estimate of their total meat content and (when appropriate) their fat-to-protein ratios.

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, 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

06/05/2014 Last Update

  1. Dr. Bruce Fife, Healthy Ways Newsletter, Vol 4:3
  • Tammy

    I too have similar issues with the recent formulation. Shame on Nature’s Variety and I plan on sending a letter to the company. My dog was diagnosed with IBD and this was one of the foods that she tolerated and I was a loyal customer for 2 years. I managed to find a store with one bag of the old formula left and will be feeding that and switching to Zignature.

  • jess

    I had also switched my poodle from Merrick Grain Free Duck to Zignature Duck LID. He had terrible skin allergy with red spots, itchiness & also shed a lot when he was on Merrick. Took him to the vet thrice but not much help until I bought Zignature Duck to just give it a try as I had tried many premium food on top of Merrick. My poodle has been doing quite well on this food. He has now less itchiness & able to gobble up the kibbles without any wet food on top. The only problem is he poops a lot. Almost 4-5 times a day. The appearance of his stool is far more than usual & also much fluffier. Anyway, I hope this helps him with his scooting and no more backed up. Believes it is also because this food is high in fiber (6.5%). You can give it a try.

  • Nichole Clagett

    Erin, we had the same issues with our dog in the LID Lamb formula – we ended up switching to Zignature Lamb Limited Ingredient over a 14 day period since it had similar crude protein, fat, etc as Natures Variety before the reformulation. Our dog has been doing very well with the switch so far. Sorry to hear about your westie!

  • Betsy Greer

    What about the possibility of switching to one of the other varieties? None of them use pea protein, only peas. Obviously, it’s not a good idea to feed anything long term and I would recommend rotating proteins and binders, but at least that might buy you a little time.

    If you’re still needing a LID, take a look at Wellness LIDs.

  • Angela

    They added pea protein. In the old formulas they just used pea. Now its pea protein and pea. pea protein completely lets them change the protein source. On the lamb, it went from 29% to 22% protein and now most of that is from pea. completely different for your dogs digestion. My dog is not doing well. I will be switching for sure!!!

  • Betsy Greer

    Did his symptoms resolve completely on this food?

    I’m just surprised that his reaction was so strong when the ingredients didn’t really change, but we’re just reordered.

    Did NV tell you that there was some ingredient changes beyond less tapioca and more peas?

  • Erin

    Hi has been on it since January with no issues whatsoever.

    When he was a puppy he was scratching constantly, so I brought it up to the vet and they put him on a hypoallergenic food. He is our first pup, so I just went with what the vet said.

    I have known for a while that it wasn’t the best food for him and so after a lot of research and consultation with a local pet store (who are beyond amazing and extremely well educated) we decided to switch to this brand and formula because he has always been on hypoallergenic food before.

    Thanks for the advice about picking out some new food, I will definitely do that!

  • Betsy Greer

    How long has he been eating it?

    It’s he eating a LID diet because of food intolerance / allergy issues?

    Whatever food you replace it with, I would make sure to choose not only a different protein, but also a different binder.

  • Erin

    Yes he has always been on the duck formula. I actually spoke with the company this afternoon and they did confirm slight changes in all formulas.

  • Betsy Greer

    The ingredients in the duck formula are the same, they’re just in a different order. Peas used to be the third ingredient and tapioca third, but now they’re reversed. Was your dog eating the duck before?

  • Erin

    Bought a new bag of Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient duck kibble and my Westie has been on the new bag for a week. He has had soft stools, is itchy and has developed something almost like seborrhea. Very disappointed as he has been doing extremely well before the ingredient change. Will be switching to another brand.

  • Crazy4cats

    That’s crazy for the amount they charge for that food! I hope you can find something else.

  • Nichole Clagett

    I got through almost the entire bag with puddle poops every day and after a lot of research we are switching to zignature lamb limited ingredient. It looks like they have a lot better controls over their supply chains and all food is usda certified. We are making the switch over a 14 day period. I’m so very disappointed with natures variety – we have been loyal customers for 2 years.

  • Betsy Greer

    I noticed that too, Nichole. I wasn’t happy about it either. The protein and fat have both dropped. They changed from peas to press protein. The turkey now has the highest protein at 25%.

    I have a Golden with lots of food intolerance issues and found that he could eat this one particular food last month. I intended to keep him on it for at least eight weeks and will now begin looking for other foods with which to rotate the NVI LID. I started adding the corresponding canned food to increase the protein.

  • Nichole Clagett

    Nature’s variety just reformulated the lamb limited ingredient and my golden retriever has truly suffered – the minimum crude protein was decreased from 29% to 22% which is the difference between a high end and low end food – and they are charging the same price!!! We have had to switch our golden off of this food since it is making her so sick.

  • Pearl

    After researching I am considering Natures Variety LID lamb for my 11 month old OLd English Sheepdog. He was on IAMs Chicken as that was what the breeder was using, and Orijen LBP…consistently itchy in the groin, biting paws, and had anal gland issues. Switched him to Acana Pacifica, no more anal gland issues however still itchy. We have been to the vet two times already for antibiotics, etc.
    I want a good dry food for a large breed dog with limited ingredients. However we are concerned with the Montmorillonite Clay in Natures Variety. Is this something to be worried about? Any feedback is appreciated! Thank you!

  • SandyandMila

    Awesome! Enjoy your day!!

  • SandyandMila

    The same store I mentioned sells a sprouter jar so maybe that something I could research and do myself. I know See Spot Live Longer and other premixes recommend mixing oils so I wasn’t sure if the one tin of sardines a week would be enough or if I needed to add fish oils as well, so thanks for clearing that up. If I’m feeding the one meal of a Hares salmon grind I wouldn’t need to add the multi to that right, maybe just a whole food green multi or fruit and veggies? I’m definently excited to go all in with the raw, I’m appreciate you helping me. I just need to everything and learn as I go. I was planning on rotating between all the diets methods that you mentioned, so I’m glad that it’s ok and recommended by you. :)

  • Hound Dog Mom

    You had perfect timing – I was just checking DFA before leaving for work! :)

  • SandyandMila

    That was quick! I hope you and your pups have an amazing day. Thanks for everything!

  • Hound Dog Mom

    It’s fine to rotate between methods – I do it all the time. In fact rotating between different recipes and recipes balanced with whole foods vs. recipes balanced with a multivitamin supplement and even feeding some commercial raw or using a pre-mix once in awhile will be better assurance that the dog is getting a balanced diet (imo).

    My favorite nuts and seeds to use are sprouted sunflower seeds and sprouted pumpkin seeds. I order them from nuts.com. Just run them through a coffee grinder.

    As long as your feeding Mila a tin of sardines once a week you shouldn’t need to add any fish oil. You could also do a meal a week using one of the sardine or salmon grinds from Hare – either way would work. For Gertie and Mabel they each get 1 tin of sardines, 1 small tin of salmon and 3 cage free eggs per week for their omega 3′s. They’re probably a little bigger than Mila though.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    The a multi or a recipe balanced from scratch should be balanced without the glandular. I just use the glandular as an additional supplement for the health benefits, I don’t factor it into the nutritional analysis (the serving is so small I doubt it would make much of a difference). Therefore, it can be used with any recipe.

  • SandyandMila

    I hope this will be my last question. :) When using a glandular supplement, can it be used with a multi (like Twinlab Daily One or Solgar Formula VM 75) or is it to be used when making the diet from scratch with whole foods? I guess I’m asking whether or not the multi already supplies those nutrients you would get from the glandular supplement? I found them at the natural food store as well.

  • SandyandMila

    Thanks for everything, HDM! I think I will check out the book so that I can see the recipes. I know with your busy schedule you’ve been using the multi route. Could you rotate from one day using the multi and another using whole foods or is it better to stick to one method? I do feed dairy, eggs, sardines, just haven’t used seeds/nuts yet but I’m sure it’s simple enough. When using the Dinner Mix (probably 3 meals a week) should I add a fish oil (salmon, anchovy/sardine, etc) or will coconut oil be fine and continue feeding a can of sardines once a week? Or maybe make one meal a week be ground salmon or sardines? I know you’ve probably answered the same questions before, I apologize.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Unlocking the Canine Ancestral diet will provide balanced recipes using whole food ingredients (I believe the only vitamin that needs to be added it vitamin e). I like the See Spot Live Longer Dinner Mix a lot as well – I like it because it doesn’t contain all the veggies and fruit and other extras so I have the freedom to add them on my own, I also find that the pre-mixes which contain fruits and veggies have them in a dehydrated form and they tend not to digest well.

    Basically, balancing recipes from whole food ingredients alone does involve lots of calculating but once you do it for awhile you’ll start to gain a feel for which foods are dense in which nutrients and which foods are lacking in certain nutrients and you’ll then be able to intuitively begin forming recipes that only involve some minor tweaking. For example, when I formulated the recipes I have posted in the forums which are AAFCO compliant, I made the recipe then ran the nutrient analysis and there were only maybe one or two trace nutrients that were slightly below AAFCO standards which I had to make adjustments for.

  • SandyandMila

    I know you’re busy that’s why I appreciate so much you helping me and everyone else on DFA. It’d be nice to do everything from scratch but easy is good too. I’ll try it both ways if I can. Would the book Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet go more into depth of the calculations and how to balance the diet? I plan on purchasing the book (so I can stop bugging you lol) and using See Spot Live Longer dinner mix as well. (I like the ingredients and it seems to be easier than using other premix) I think I could figure it out from everything you’ve said but like you said there’s a lot of calculating and measuring so maybe the book or other resources could help?

  • Hound Dog Mom

    I prefer to balance everything using whole foods, I believe that
    whole food-derived nutrients are superior to synthetic nutrients.
    However, balancing recipes using whole foods only is a lot more time
    intensive – it involves a lot of calculations, a lot of measuring and a
    lot of ingredients (making it more expensive). I don’t always have time
    to do this, especially now that my schedule is so hectic with being back
    in school. So sometimes it’s just easier to take a pound of meat and
    mix in a multi, some calcium, some veggies and some fish oil and call it
    a day!

    As long as you’re feeding equal (or close to equal)
    amounts of both red meat and poultry you shouldn’t need to worry about
    balancing the feeds and, for this reason, shouldn’t need to add any
    plant-based fats – just add some fish or fish oil. The plant-based fats
    are just to balance the fatty acid profiles if the diet is predominantly
    one type of protein.

  • SandyandMila

    Thank you so very much for your time and quick reply. I feel I’m understanding it a lot better. I appreciate you being very thorough in all my questions. I save them all so I can go back as a frame of reference. I apologize for so many of them. Do you get better results from using the multi or by adding the cod liver oil, vitamin e, and other whole food supplements? Is it better to do both in the rotation? When feeding different proteins like llama/alpaca, goat, rabbit, or tripe/organ mix (all I’ve never fed before) which plant based omegas would you add to them or do you just add a multi and not worry about it? Sorry for all the questions again, I appreciate whatever info you can help me with.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Hi Sandy –

    I use the Twinlab Daily One with iron. The reason for this is that, depending on what type of meat and extras you use, the recipe may or may not have adequate levels of iron. The AAFCO minimum is 80 mg/kg. Chicken breast (assuming ~80% moisture) has only 35 mg./kg and ground pork has only 45 mg/kg. Now if you were to use beef (about 100 mg./kg) or some organ meat or oysters or added some iron rich veggies (like dark leafy greens) you would likely have adequate levels, but with the iron inclusive supplement you have that extra insurance. You also don’t have to worry about providing toxic levels of iron because there is only 10 mg. per capsule (AAFCO max is 3,000 mg/kg). I give Gertie and Mabel each one when I use them. If Mila weighs over 50 lbs. I’d say you should be fine giving her one per day.

    I’ve used both the gel caps and the bottled cod liver oil from Carlson’s although I think I prefer the caps because I don’t have to measure. If you’re using a multivitamin you don’t need to use cod liver oil though – I just use that for vitamin d when I’m balancing from scratch. The multi has vitamin d. I’ve always used the non-flavored, but I don’t see why the lemon flavoring would hurt the dog if it’s all you could find.

    If you can’t find organic walnut oil regular is okay. But as long as you aren’t feeding predominantly red meat you shouldn’t need walnut oil. That’s just used to balance the fats if you’re feeding only red meat. Hempseeds can also be used. Expeller-pressed means pressure is used to extract the oil – this may or may not involve heat. True cold-pressed oils are best, but as long as the oil is from a trusted company it should be fine. Oils are one of the ingredients you don’t want to go cheap on.

    Solger or Twinlab vitamin e should both be fine. Although I prefer supplements that contain both mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. I use NOW Foods Advanced Gamma E Complex – it contains the full spectrum of tocopherols and tocotrienols. Although if you’re using the multivitamin you don’t need to add vitamin e. There’s adequate vitamin e in the multi. If you make meals without the multi, I’d give her 100-200 IU per day (if you use 400 IU caps you can give one every other day).

    I’ve never used honey in my dog’s recipes, just bee pollen but I’d say probably just a teaspoon or so. Raw honey is healthy but it’s also high in sugar so you don’t want to go overboard.

    Both of those products you liked to look fine to include in meals.