Instinct Raw Frozen Diets (Raw Frozen)

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Rating: ★★★★½

Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw frozen dog food receives the Advisor’s second-highest tier rating of 4.5 stars.

The Instinct Raw product line includes 5 frozen dog foods.

Depending on the recipe, some are available as bites, medallions, and patties.

Each recipe below includes its related AAFCO nutrient profile when available on the product’s official webpage: Growth, Maintenance, All Life Stages, Supplemental or Unspecified.

Important: Because many websites do not reliably specify which Growth or All Life Stages recipes are safe for large breed puppies, we do not include that data in this report. Be sure to check actual packaging for that information.

Use links below to compare price and package sizes at an online retailer.

Instinct Raw Beef Formula was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Nature's Variety Instinct Raw Beef Formula

Raw Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 43% | Fat = 27% | Carbs = 22%

Ingredients: Beef, beef liver, beef kidney, beef spleen, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, montmorillonite clay, tricalcium phosphate, ground flaxseed, salmon oil, salt, potassium chloride, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin D3 supplement), choline chloride, minerals (zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, calcium iodate), blueberries, spinach

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 6.7%

Red items indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis13%8%NA
Dry Matter Basis43%27%22%
Calorie Weighted Basis33%50%17%
Protein = 33% | Fat = 50% | Carbs = 17%

The first ingredient in this dog food is beef. Beef is defined as “the clean flesh derived from slaughtered cattle” and includes skeletal muscle or the muscle tissues of the tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus.1

Beef is naturally rich in all ten essential amino acids required by a dog to sustain life.

The second ingredient is beef liver. This is an organ meat sourced from a named animal and thus considered a beneficial component.

The third ingredient is beef kidney, an organ meat low in fat and rich in protein and essential minerals.

The fourth ingredient is beef spleen, an organ meat sourced from a named animal and thus considered a positive addition to this recipe.

The fifth ingredient includes apples, a nutrient-rich fruit that’s also high in fiber.

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

The seventh ingredient is sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are a gluten-free source of complex carbohydrates in a dog food. They are naturally rich in dietary fiber and beta carotene.

The eighth ingredient is squash. Squash is a nutritious addition high in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

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, flaxseed is one of the best plant sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Provided they’ve first been ground into a meal, flax seeds are also rich in soluble fiber.

However, flaxseed contains about 19% protein, a factor that must be considered when judging the actual meat content of this dog food.

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.

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
Raw Frozen Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Instinct Raw looks like an above-average raw 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 43%, a fat level of 27% and estimated carbohydrates of about 22%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 42% and a mean fat level of 28%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 23% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 67%.

Near-average protein. Near-average fat. And near-average carbs when compared to a typical raw dog food.

Even when you consider the protein-boosting effect of the flaxseed, this looks like the profile of a raw product containing a notable of meat.

However, with 50% of the total calories in our example coming from fat versus just 33% from protein, some recipes may not be suitable for every animal.

Bottom line?

Instinct Raw is a meat-based raw dog food using a notable amount of named meats as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 4.5 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.

Nature’s Variety Dog Food
Recall History

The following list (if present) includes all dog food recalls since 2009 directly related to this product line. If there are no recalls listed in this section, we have not yet reported any events.

You can view a complete list of all dog food recalls sorted by date. Or view the same list sorted alphabetically by brand.

To learn why our ratings have nothing to do with a product’s recall history, please visit our Dog Food Recalls FAQ page.

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Dog Food Coupons
and Discounts

Readers are invited to check for coupons and discounts shared by others in our Dog Food Coupons Forum.

Or click the buying tip below. Please be advised we receive a fee for referrals made to the following online store.

Special FDA Alert

The FDA has announced it is investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and a type of canine heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy. Click here for details.

A Final Word

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

The Dog Food Advisor does not test dog food products.

We rely entirely on the integrity of the information provided by each company on its product label or its website. As such, the accuracy of every review is directly dependent upon the data a company chooses to share.

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.

We rely on tips from readers. To report a product change or request an update of any review, please contact us using this form.

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.

However, we do receive a fee from Chewy.com for each purchase made as a direct result of a referral from our website. This fee is a fixed dollar amount and has nothing to do with the size of an order or the brand selected for purchase.

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

Notes and Updates

07/09/2018 Last Update

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials

{ 792 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. If you wanted to feed your dog microwaved food you should have just got it some Hot Pockets.

  2. One of our chronic pukers does boneless raw with occasional (GASP!) canned food, because bone in any form causes nasty issues for him. Our others have no problem! Keep in mind we feed 10% soft, edible bones only, no ground marrow bones here.

    =D

    The vet suspects a hiatal hernia but we avoided the scope to be sure because what we’re doing works.
    Vet also asked us to try an acid reducer short term which worked; the stomach problems went away, and once the dog was off the acid reducer the problem came back twice as bad leading the vet to believe a part of his problem is chronic low stomach acid (he’s never been robust or “healthy”). We’re finding what he’s good with and not good with (he does poorly with dry or any edible bones, does very well with boneless raw, cooked meats or canned foods.)

  3. I had a similar experience as a result of listening to the homeopathic crowd.
    Went to the emergency vet, saw the x-rays, paid the vet bill.
    Even finely ground up bone can cause stomach and bowel obstructions (painful condition) it’s true.
    If you are receptive to science based veterinary medicine, go here http://www.skeptvet.com

  4. Gail, are you a vet? My dog is under the care of a vet so I’m obviously not too concerned with your opinion. If the food is suspected of being a cause of inflamation, then a person can’t wait until things are healed, now can you? So I guess you can now stop being “most puzzled”. YES I can blame this food on the issues I quite clearly explained in my posting, contrary to you saying that I can not.. Your statement of saying that I “probably” switched the food too fast is idiotic. Were you here? Are you a mind reader? If so you need to stay out of my house or switch professions. For the record it was gradually added into his diet over a period of 2 weeks. But he did go off of the food IMMEDIATELY after seeing the x-ray and at the request of my vet. Why don’t you just read the info on the website and use what you want, ignore what you dont agree with and stop with the argumentative type of posts?

  5. Gail Taraschuk says:

    I think “I “would get another vet since she is having issues admitting she is wrong.I think she needs to get updated.

  6. Gail Taraschuk says:

    Thats sounds far fetched. A dog eats many ingredients at once and some digest different than others..I highly doubt that would kill a dog.

  7. Gail Taraschuk says:

    The ingredient in RC are horrible

  8. Gail Taraschuk says:

    Your dog already had issues to begin with so you cannot really blame this food !!! Also you probably changed the dogs food way too fast when it needs to be gradual. Changing your dog’s food when it is already sick is a bad idea. The dogs body should be healed first before switching its diet. Even healthy dogs can get stomach upsets etc… from changing food. it has to be done slow. I am most puzzled that you fed your dog this food when it already had inflamed stomach and intestinal tract and are blaming this food ?

  9. If his anal gland condition becomes chronic, ask the vet about removing his anal glands, it is a simple operation and stops all issues.
    Per the search engine https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/forums/search/anal+glands/

  10. Jennifer Fariello says:

    My 10 month old Giant Schnoodle has been having issues with his anal glands for the past 3 months. We get the manually drained by the groomer or vet and 2d later, smell is back & he starts to lick his butt. We’ve tried antibiotics, leukotiene inhibitors, FortiFlora, pumpkin, cottage cheese, changing his food, etc. Switching him to NV Raw Insticts was recommended to me by numerous people. I’m really confused on exactly what and how much to give him. He’s about 75# @ 10 months. Most recently he was eating Orijen Large Breed puppy food, 2 cups, 2x/day. Any guidance/suggestions on the amount and type of food is very appreciated!!
    Jen

  11. Barbara Brehm says:

    The deep chested dogs have more problem with torsion or bloat and it happens to them most frequently, according to the studies. I will go along with the current philosophy until a proven cause is found just to avoid losing a dog with great pain for him in two hours after animal hospital hours.

  12. anon101 says:

    Next time you want to try a new food, consider Zignature. I am impressed.
    I use the kibble as a base, add bit of cooked ground turkey or something and a splash of water (2 meals a day)

  13. I don’t doubt it.. I felt awful when the vet showed me the xray… Going to try Susan’s recommendation and see how he does..

  14. Thanks for the info Susan.. Although I’m pretty sure I can’t find kangaroo here in Texas, USA, we do have Taste of the Wild.. I just went and picked up a small bag of the Lamb version and will give it a try. Thanks again!

  15. Hi Joe, my boy has IBD, I went thru a Animal Nutritionist to put him on a home made raw diet using human grade lean meat Kangaroo mince & blended green veggies & blended fruit & a supplement to replace the bone & organs, no bone or organ meats were added to his raw diet, grounded bone can irritate the bowel & organ meat can cause bad diarrhea with some dogs, my boy can NOT stomach any bone…. Stay away from the big commercial raw pet foods, it’s best to go with the smaller home pre-made organic raw diets, also they can be specially made to order…
    My nutritionist said she has been to a rendering plant where they make raw pet foods & the smell was AWFUL rotting flesh smell…Once your dogs stomach & bowel has healed, I’d start feeding a balanced home made cooked diet, your dog was probably put on a vet diet after this happened, he’ll need around 6 months for his stomach & bowel to heal fully… I feed “Taste Of The Wild” Sierra Mountain Roasted Lamb it has 1 single protein, Lamb & has limited easy to digest ingredients sweet potato egg & I also feed a cooked meal for dinner that I make a big batch once a fortnight & freeze in small meals & I feed the TOTW kibble for Breakfast & lunch…My boy is doing really well now..

  16. anon101 says:

    I have told people about this, even finely ground up bone can cause intestinal obstructions.
    Glad you were able to avoid surgery.

  17. Per Dogfood Advisor rankings I started feeding this to my dog which has issues with vomiting.. The condition got worse and I took him to a vet where he was x-rayed. My dog’s stomach and intestines lit up like a Christmas tree and my vet immediately asked “what are you feeding him? Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t helping.” Apparently the ground bone tends to attach itself to the intestinal tract and stomach. Without further research it’s unknown if the ground bone could be partially to blame for some of my dog’s issues.. He has been taken off of this food and x-rayed a couple of weeks later. X-rays seem to indicate the excess bone is now out of his system. So anyway, after the information I was given by my vet and looking at the x-rays, I would be careful with this food. Ground bone might not just have the benefit of getting calcium. It quite possible could cause problems..

  18. Yes, the frozen foods are formulated for all life stages.

  19. Tenerife Coton says:

    Is Instinct Raw Medallions formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”?

  20. Mike Oppenheim says:

    If you want her to gain weight naturally I suggest the supplement “Gain & Shine” available at Amazon. Great stuff. Dogs love it. Also UPCO bone meal, just a tablespoon per meal, dogs love it!

  21. Hi have you contacted NVI ? send them an email, if NVI is a good company they’ll have a Vet Nutritionist & they will contact you, unless you look for their old formula’s…..I know what your saying, I have a dog with IBD & there’s nothing like the formula being changed & they don’t release anything or tell no one that they have changed something…
    My vet was telling me Hills are really bad for doing this not telling no one they have changed a vet diet, the Hill Prescription vet diet Z/D kibble was changed end of last year & all these poor dogs with IBD & other health conditions became very ill, the vets didn’t know what was wrong, the soluble fiber had been increase & the ingredient list was still the same, so you didn’t know what had happened….
    It’s wrong these big pet food companies have the money to make big signs & put above their foods in the pet store’s & tell their customers we have change ??? formula’s….

  22. InkedMarie says:

    I believe, by law, that they have six months to announce formula changes on their bags.

  23. haleycookie says:

    I’ve worked pet retail for quite sometime and I’ve come to expect a formula change with a new look. Every year around summer time almost every brand in my store does a repackaging, reformulation, and/or releases new product in place of old. If you think this is bad you havent seen anything lol. I used to recommend blue wilderness to ppl, maybe a couple years ago, the formulas like rabbit and salmon for dogs who were sensitive to chicken because they didn’t have any chicken and they jammed chicken meal as second ingredient into every kind of wilderness food and raised the bags by 6-8 dollars and told nobody. That’s bad, I no longer recommend blue because of that. This company however didn’t do anything that every other company isnt doing right now. I’m sorry you’re so upset by it. I will still trust and believe in their venison and lamb raw boost formula and their regular chicken raw boost dog food.

  24. Jeff Spry says:

    No that is NOT true. I compared the bags and they are VERY different. Kilocalories much more. Fat, protein, all different. How can you say replacing Chicken Meal with Chicken, which is the inferior form, with all the water weight, is a good thing?! Plus you are avoiding the issue that they DID NOT tell consumers and nowhere on the new bag does it say the formula changed. Only the “look”. They have lost my trust and business.

  25. haleycookie says:

    NV only changed a few formulas and most of them have improved in my opinion and my rep for the company has already come to the pet store I work at and posted tags on the ones that did change. It’s mainly a bag change. The prices dropped significantly and the bags went down a pound or two.

  26. Jeff Spry says:

    BEWARE OF THIS FOOD. I am a breeder and dog show enthusiast and have used this food for years, BUT, they JUST CHANGED the bags and formulas without telling their customers. IT IS NOT THE SAME FOOD!!!! I compared the bags and they not only went from a 5lb bag to a 4lb bag, but there is not warning of a formula change in their Raw Boost Puppy Food. BAD BUSINESS!! Please call Nature’s Variety and call them out.

  27. bohicasis says:

    Different types of stones/crystals/struvite require different care. I would suggest finding out which one your canine had. Water and much of it, is very important as well as letting your dog fully empty his bladder several times a day

  28. bohicasis says:

    There is absolutely no reason to add a dry dog food or kibble. You may want to add chicken necks and chicken back so they can use their teeth and jaws rather than just eating mush.Chicken necks as the Perfect size for them . Just remember, no weight bearing bones and NEVER cooked cones. You can also add any raw meat you wish or veggies. Using canned, you are simply reverting to processed cooked .

  29. Kathryn Eden says:

    Feed a wet diet. Dry diets contribute to crystals. Same goes for cats. Add water to raw if you feed raw.

  30. disqus_SBl7sCuYS7 says:

    My dog had both (struvite and calcium oxalate), you can see my posts (anon101) if you go to forums and search bladder stones. http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/forums/search/bladder+stones/
    The main causes that I was able to determine was inadequate fluid intake and genetic predisposition.
    So, I would add water to meals and offer frequent opportunities to urinate (every 2 hours ideal, at least every 4 hours), keep the bladder flushed.
    Stagnant conditions in the bladder contribute to the formation of bladder stones.
    Also, if the dogs symptoms (uti, frequent urination etc) return after antibiotic treatment(sometimes this happens) ask your vet if he did an x-ray to rule out calcium oxalate? Dogs can have more than one type of stone.
    I would stick with the prescription diet for now, maybe presoak it with water plus add a splash of water.
    Always have fresh water available.

  31. Kaywood says:

    My dog was diagnosed with bladder crystals a month ago.
    He was put on RC urinary so. His crystals are gone so I would like to look into different food options.
    Does anyone feed this raw food diet to a dog predisposed to bladder crystals or struvites?

  32. InkedMarie says:

    Five stars except for the one noted that is 4.5

  33. The varieties without a rating, are they 5 stars or have they not been rated at all?

  34. Gabbie Grapes says:

    Thank you!
    I think it’s so hard to find a “perfect” diet! There so much info and conflicting ways to do things. It sounds like you’re pretty close though!

  35. Jennifer Ackley says:

    Hi Gabbie
    It all depends on your dog. I feed her 3x a day but small portions so she doesn’t gain weight. I’m still trying to figure out the best nutrition for her. Natures variety is not the perfect food but it’s better than what she was on. I give her about 1/2 cup a day because she’s only 10 lbs. I rotate fruits, veggies and fats to try and make it a balanced diet. I’m always searching for better though. I wish I had the perfect diet for her. Good luck with your pooch
    Jennifer

  36. Crazy4cats says:

    Does she think it’s ok to mix canned food in kibble? Like I said earlier, if you are not comfortable, by all means do not mix them. You would feel terrible for not listening to your vet if it caused your dog harm. My dogs have done fine with it for a couple of years now. I also use canned, sardines, eggs, and tripe as meal mixers.

    Are you feeding raw currently?

  37. Kathryn Eden says:

    Just checked again with the vet who said this. She said it’s not ideal to mix.

  38. Kathryn Eden says:

    Just checked again with the vet who told me this. Now she says she gives both.

  39. Kathryn Eden says:

    If raw has supplemental vitamins it’s good. Otherwise give canned too.

  40. Kathryn Eden says:

    If there is bone in the raw yes poops are smaller and smell less. Normal

  41. Kathryn Eden says:

    You can get good probiotics at Whole Foods.

  42. Gabbie Grapes says:

    I have a beagle boston mix who recently started shedding uncontrollably, has always itched, and just started getting ear issues again. I’m looking to switch her food and saw you mentioned frozen and dry kibble. What kinds?
    Also could you explain alternating the fats? She gets fish oil right now and occasionally coconut oil. I do rub coconut oil on her but don’t fed it often.
    Would you also be able to tell me what kind of fruits/veggies and where you get the kelp and probiotic from?
    Thank you and sorry for the many questions! 🙂