Instinct Dog Food Review

Instinct Dog Food Brand Review

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 Grain Free Dog Food Review

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
  • 39-41% protein (above-average)
  • Added 30% fruit and veggie blend
  • 6 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
  • 4 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

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Is Instinct a Good Dog Food?

Instinct Original Grain Free Dog Food Review


Nature’s Variety Instinct Original Dog Food earns The Advisor’s top rating of 5 stars.

Individual Recipe Ratings

The Instinct Original product line includes 6 dry dog foods.

Each recipe below includes its AAFCO nutrient profile when available… Growth (puppy), Maintenance (adult), All Life Stages, Supplemental or Unspecified.

Use the following links to check prices and package sizes at an online retailer.

Product Rating AAFCO
Instinct Original Grain Free Small Breed 5 A
Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Beef 5 A
Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Duck 5 A
Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Rabbit 5 A
Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Salmon 5 A
Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Chicken 5 A

Recipe and Label Analysis

Instinct Original Grain Free with Real Duck 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 Duck

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 38% | Fat = 23% | Carbs = 31%

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

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 3.3%

Red denotes controversial item

Estimated Nutrient Content
Guaranteed Analysis35%21%NA
Dry Matter Basis38%23%31%
Calorie Weighted Basis31%44%25%
Protein = 31% | Fat = 44% | Carbs = 25%

Ingredient Analysis

The first ingredient in this dog food is duck. Although it is a quality item, raw duck 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 egg product, an unspecified (wet or dry?) form of shell-free eggs. Quality can vary significantly. Lower grade egg product can even come from commercial hatcheries — from eggs that have failed to hatch.

In any case, eggs are easy to digest and have an exceptionally high biological value.

The fifth ingredient is turkey meal, another protein-rich meat concentrate.

The sixth ingredient is canola oil. Unfortunately, canola can be a controversial item. That’s because it can sometimes (but not always) be derived from genetically modified rapeseed.

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

After the natural flavor, we find montmorillonite clay, 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).

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 product.

With four notable exceptions

First, this recipe contains 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.

Next, we note the use of salmon oil. 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.

In addition, we note the inclusion of dried fermentation products in this recipe. Fermentation products are typically added to provide enzymes to aid the animal 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.

Instinct Original Dog Food Back of Package

Nutrient Summary

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

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 38%, a fat level of 23% and estimated carbohydrates of about 31%.

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.

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

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 is privately owned. We do 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.

Important FDA Alert

The FDA is investigating a potential link between diet and heart disease in dogs. Click here for details.


09/15/2020 Last Update