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Instinct Dog Food Review

Mike Sagman  Karan French


Mike Sagman
Mike Sagman

Mike Sagman


Dr Mike Sagman is the creator of the Dog Food Advisor. He founded the website in 2008, after his unquestioning trust in commercial dog food led to the tragic death of his dog Penny.

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Karan French
Karan French

Karan French

Senior Researcher

Karan is a senior researcher at the Dog Food Advisor, working closely with our in-house pet nutritionist, Laura Ward, to give pet parents all the information they need to find the best food for their dog.

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Updated: June 5, 2024

Verified by Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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Laura Ward

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Is Instinct a good dog food?

In this review… The Dog Food Advisor takes a close look at Instinct Dog Food… and its six most popular sub-brands.

We’ll also reveal…

  1. Is Instinct Dog Food made in the United States?
  2. Has Instinct been recalled?
  3. Which flavors and recipes get our top ratings?

But first…

Which Instinct Sub-Brand Is Right for You?

In the section below, you’ll discover Instinct’s 6 most popular sub-brands. We’ll share what makes each one different. So, you can choose the food that best suits your dog.

Instinct Original Dry


Original is Instinct’s classic grain-free kibble… ideal for those who prefer a high-protein, dry diet.

  • No corn, wheat, rice or barley
  • 39-42% protein (above-average)
  • Added 30% fruit and veggie blend
  • 5 recipes (ratings consistent)

View Recipe Ratings

Instinct Raw Boost with Real Duck Dog Food

Instinct Raw Boost


Raw Boost is Instinct’s premium dry food. The grain-free recipe starts with a high-protein kibble… and adds in real freeze-dried raw meat… all in the same bag.

  • No BHA, BHT or other high-risk preservatives
  • 33% mean carbs (below-average)
  • 15 recipes (ratings vary)

View Recipe Ratings

Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Dog Food

Instinct Limited Ingredient Dry


This is Instinct’s limited ingredient grain-free dry kibble… and a smart choice for a dog with a suspected food sensitivity.

  • Only one animal protein, one vegetable per recipe
  • Each kibble piece is raw-coated
  • 3 recipes (ratings vary)

View Recipe Ratings

Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Rabbit Wet Dog Food

Instinct Limited Ingredient Wet


This is the wet version of Instinct’s dry limited ingredient canine diet (above). For the same reasons, this canned line may be helpful for dogs with possible food sensitivities.

  • Single animal protein source
  • Tasty topper for matching limited ingredient kibble
  • 3 recipes (ratings vary)

View Recipe Ratings

Instinct Original Dog Food Review

Instinct Original Cans


Instinct Original grain-free wet boasts a fine-chopped pate texture… which makes it an easy-to-mix, tasty topper to enhance any dry kibble.

  • 2 can sizes. Ideal for small or medium breeds
  • 95% meat, low carb recipe
  • 6 recipes (ratings vary)

View Recipe Ratings

Instinct Raw Dog Food

Instinct Raw Frozen Diet


Instinct Raw Frozen includes 100% fresh raw (not cooked) meat and veggies… minimally processed to preserve the integrity of every ingredient.

  • 85% fresh uncooked meat
  • 15% non-GMO fruits and veggies
  • 5 recipes (ratings vary)

View Recipe Ratings

A Quick Guide to Instinct Raw Boost

Thinking about Instinct Raw Boost… but confused by its unusual design? This short video from Chewy may help.

Who Makes Instinct Dog Food?

Instinct is owned by Natures Variety of Lincoln, Nebraska. All Instinct recipes are made at the company’s own facilities in Lincoln.

Nature's Variety Logo

Each Instinct dog food is formulated by the company’s on-staff professionals. This includes a veterinarian who is board-certified in both veterinary nutrition and integrative medicine.

The company’s chief scientific officer holds a PhD in food science. And one of its directors of research and development holds a masters degree in the same field.

Has Instinct Dog Food Been Recalled?

Here’s a list of all recalls since 2009 related to Instinct dog products. Updates are added as soon as new recalls are posted.

You can view a complete list of all dog food recalls here.

Get Free Lifesaving Recall Alerts

Get free recall alerts by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s recall notification list.

Is Instinct a Good Dog Food?

Instinct Original with real Chicken Dry Dog Food


Nature’s Variety Instinct Original product range is made up of 5 recipes which each receive the Dog Food Advisor’s rating, 5 stars.

Which Instinct Recipes Get Our Best Ratings?

The table below shows each recipe in this range including our rating and the AAFCO nutrient profile: Growth (puppy), Maintenance (adult), All Life Stages, Supplemental or Unspecified.

Recipe and Label Analysis

Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Chicken was selected to represent the other products in the line for detailed recipe and nutrient analysis.

Label and nutrient data below are calculated using dry matter basis.

Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Chicken

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content







Chicken, chicken meal, peas, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), tapioca, herring meal, menhaden fish meal, natural flavor, dried tomato pomace, salt, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, niacin supplement, thiamine mononitrate, d-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B12 supplement, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement, biotin), carrots, apples, cranberries, minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, sodium selenite, ethylenediamine dihydriodide), potassium chloride, montmorillonite clay, taurine, choline chloride, freeze dried chicken, freeze dried chicken liver, pumpkinseeds, freeze dried chicken heart, dried Bacillus coagulans fermentation product, rosemary extract

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 2.5%

Red denotes any controversial items

Estimated Nutrient Content
Method Protein Fat Carbs
Guaranteed Analysis 37% 20% NA
Dry Matter Basis 41% 22% 29%
Calorie Weighted Basis 33% 44% 23%

Ingredient Analysis

The first ingredient in this dog food is chicken. Although it is a quality item, raw chicken contains up to 73% 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 chicken meal. Chicken meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh chicken.

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

The next two ingredients include herring meal and menhaden fish meal, yet more high protein meat concentrates.

After the natural flavor, we find 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.

Other Notable Ingredients

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 Nature’s Variety product.

With five notable exceptions

First, this recipe 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.

Next, we note the use of sodium selenite, a controversial form of the mineral selenium. Sodium selenite appears to be nutritionally inferior to the more natural source of selenium found in selenium yeast.

In addition, we find taurine, an important amino acid associated with the healthy function of heart muscle. Although taurine is not typically considered essential in canines, some dogs have been shown to be deficient in this critical nutrient.

Since taurine deficiency appears to be more common in pets consuming grain-free diets, we view its presence in this recipe as a positive addition.

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).

And lastly, this food contains dried fermentation products. Fermentation products are typically added as probiotics to aid with digestion.

Instinct Original with real Chicken back of panel dry dog food

Nutrient Analysis

Based on its ingredients alone, Instinct Original Dog Food appears to be an above-average dry product.

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 41%, a fat level of 22% and estimated carbohydrates of about 29%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 40% and a mean fat level of 23%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 29% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

Which means this Instinct product line contains…

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

Our Rating of Instinct Dog Food

The Dog Food Advisor finds Instinct to be an exceptional grain-free dry kibble. The Original recipe uses an abundance of named meat meal as its primary source of animal protein… thus earning the brand 5 stars. The Limited Ingredient formula gets 4.5 stars.

Enthusiastically recommended with confidence.

What Do Others Say About Instinct?

As of the time of this update…

Chewy customers rate Instinct 4.6 out of 5 stars… and 94% say they would recommend it to others.

Here’s an actual user review

Sample buyer review… “I have a large breed very picky eater. I tried numerous brands (7-10) when she was a puppy and finally ended up adding gravy and hotdogs to get her to eat. She is now 6 years old and I recently tried instinct original. What a turn around. She not only gobbles it down but sits in front of the bag of food asking for more. This is literally the first dog food besides wet that she likes let alone craves. I chose it after reading multiple reviews that listed it as one of the top choices.”

Read more buyer reviews at Chewy.com

What Are Instinct’s Best Recipes?

Based on the weighted average of their popularity and ratings, here are our 7 most recommended Instinct flavors and recipes.

Does Instinct make a dog food for weight loss?

Dog foods designed for safe and effective weight loss typically contain below-average calories and fat. Instinct Raw Boost Healthy Weight meets these standards. For more options, you can view all The Dog Food Advisor’s best dog foods for weight loss here.

Is Instinct considered a healthy dog food?

All Instinct recipes meet dog food nutrient profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These standards are based on the Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats published by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington, D.C. Each Instinct recipe is complete and balanced for the canine life stage printed on the package.

Is Instinct dog food good for puppies?

Instinct offers a number of dog foods that are designed to be complete and balanced for puppies. Each recipe must meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for either growth or all life stages. Instinct dog foods made specifically for adult maintenance should not be fed to growing puppies. For more options, you can view The Dog Food Advisor’s best puppy foods here.

Is Instinct dog food good for older dogs?

Instinct Raw Boost Senior Grain-Free with Real Chicken is designed specifically for older dogs. Each recipe contains over 40% dry matter protein and about 18% fat. Calorie content is around 478 calories per cup. The recipe meets AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages… which makes it a healthy option for senior dogs. For more choices, visit The Dog Food Advisor’s best senior dog foods here.

More Instinct Reviews

Here are more Instinct reviews published by The Dog Food Advisor on this website.

A Final Word

The Dog Food Advisor does not accept money, gifts, samples or other incentives in exchange for special consideration in preparing our reviews.

However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Chewy or Amazon) and from sellers of perishable pet food when readers click over to their websites from ours. This helps cover the cost of operation of our free blog. Thanks for your support.

For more information, please visit our Disclaimer and Disclosure page.

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