Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein (Dry)


Rating: ★★★★☆

Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Dog Food receives the Advisor’s second-highest tier rating of 4 stars.

The Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein product line includes 3 dry dog foods.

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.

  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Duck [M]
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Chicken [M]
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Small Breed [A]

Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Duck recipe was selected to represent both products in the line for this review.

Nature's Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Duck Recipe

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 52% | Fat = 19% | Carbs = 21%

Ingredients: Duck, chicken, chicken eggs, tapioca, ground flaxseed, canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), natural flavor, dried tomato pomace, dried whey protein concentrate, dicalcium phosphate, potassium chloride, salt, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, niacin supplement, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, thiamine mononitrate, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin A supplement, riboflavin supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B12 supplement, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement, biotin), minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, sodium selenite, ethylenediamine dihydriodide), montmorillonite clay, choline chloride, taurine, freeze dried duck (including freeze dried ground duck bone), pumpkinseeds, dried Bacillus coagulans fermentation product, rosemary extract

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 3.3%

Red items indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
Guaranteed Analysis47%17%NA
Dry Matter Basis52%19%21%
Calorie Weighted Basis44%39%18%
Protein = 44% | Fat = 39% | Carbs = 18%

The first two ingredients in this dog food are duck and chicken. Although quality items, raw poultry 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, these items would probably account for a smaller part of the total content of the finished product.

The third ingredient includes eggs. Eggs are easy to digest and have an exceptionally high biological value.

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

The fifth ingredient is ground flaxseed, one of the best plant-based sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Flax meal is particularly 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.

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.

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.

The ninth ingredient is whey protein concentrate. Whey is a by-product of the cheese industry. This particular type of whey is high in protein (80%) and moderate in the milk sugar, lactose (10%).

Concentrates of this nature can notably boost the total protein reported on the label — a factor that must be considered when judging the actual meat content of this dog food.

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 dried fermentation products in this recipe. Fermentation products are typically added to provide enzymes to aid the animal with digestion.

In addition, 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.

And lastly, this food includes menadione, a controversial form of vitamin K linked to liver toxicity, allergies and the abnormal break-down of red blood cells.

Since vitamin K isn’t required by AAFCO in either of its dog food nutrient profiles, we question the use of this substance in any canine formulation.

Nature’s Variety Instinct
Ultimate Protein Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein looks like an 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 52%, a fat level of 19% and estimated carbohydrates of about 21%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 52% and a mean fat level of 19%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 21% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 37%.

Above-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 flaxseed, this still looks like the profile of a kibble containing a significant amount of meat.

However, it’s unfortunate the company chose to include menadione in its recipe. Without this controversial ingredient, we may have been compelled to award this line a higher rating.

Bottom line?

Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein is a grain-free, meat-based dry dog food using a significant amount of named meat as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 4 stars.

Highly recommended.

However, those concerned about the presence of menadione in this recipe may wish to ignore our rating and look elsewhere for another product.

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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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".

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

Notes and Updates

08/13/2017 Last Update

  • Crazy4cats

    You only feed your dog 120 calories per day? What kind of dog is it?

  • ChiChi

    Can’t agree with this at all. I’ve tried this multiple times with my dog, with various brands. 100% without a doubt carbs cause my dog to get fat.

    My dog maintains on 120 calories when I feed her a low carb food. Does not matter which brand. 120 always works for her. I fed her a high carb brand, sticking to 120 calories a day, and she blew up in weight within a month. Nothing else had changed, excersise remained the same. It took me a long time to figure out but I know now she definitely gains on foods that have 40%+ carbs. Does not matter which brand I’ve tried, I’ve tested this with her numerous times. On high carb foods, I have to knock her down to about 85 calories a day for her to maintain her weight. Yeah no thanks.

    What matters the most to me is the results I see in my own dog.

  • Krista

    Great thanks, That makes sense. What’s the highest amount of carbs you would personally feed? I think 35% is ok but maybe not any higher. What are your thoughts?

  • Shawna

    Hi Krista,

    Dogs WITH kidney disease don’t necessarily need to be put on a low/lower protein diet until the disease is in the later stages. This has been known for A LONG TIME. Dogs that don’t have kidney disease definitely don’t need lower protein for prevention.

    Here’s a great, science based, article on this myth. “Mythology of Protein Restriction for Dogs with Reduced Renal Function”

  • Crazy4cats

    Isn’t it also true that not all carbs are created equal? For example processed carbs such as cookies and chips should be eliminated, but complex carbs such as whole grains and fiber rich fruits and veggies are healthy in moderation for a diabetic diet?

  • aimee

    Just as protein doesn’t cause kidney failure but modifying the level in the diet controls severity of disease, carbs do not cause diabetes but modifying intake is part of treatment.

  • Amateria

    So far I’ve only done Ivory Coat, Artemis, taste of the wild … I know Anja liked the ocean fish Ivory I’m not sure if she’s going to like the one I buy in the future but I can hope, she likes the high prairie of Totw to a degree, she hates the Artemis with a passion, such a diva taste buds dog haha

    Edit: Forgot this, but I think Anja is a fish dog, it’s likely she liked the Totw fish formula but I couldn’t tell them apart the smell was too similar, I also don’t want to feed entirely fish foods every rotation as too much fish is not necessarily good.

    We don’t have Merrick here, now that it’s owned by Purina they could bring it here, but I doubt it, we have a lot of competition for foods here as it is, with new ones adding themselves every month.

  • Amateria

    So why was I on the verge of diabetes when I was on a high carb diet? When I lowered my carbs my insulin resistance dropped severely in a good way and I was no longer in the line of fire for diabetes, this is what my doctor said.

  • Krista

    Ok good to know. I really do like Orijen and Acana so it sounds like this would be a good fit for her. I am defiantly planning on adding some canned and/or dehydrated raw to her diet as well.

    That makes sense that kidneys would function optimally with high moisture content. That’s what I’ve heard too.

  • Krista

    Great, I will definitely do that then!

  • Crazy4dogs

    You can do a urine specimen. It doesn’t have to be a clean catch to check for diabetes or specific gravity (kidney disease). Generally the 1st morning urine is what they want.

  • Krista

    Yes :-(. He’s been drinking more water lately so I’m looking into a blood panel for him because I’m thinking he might have diabetes. He’s 12 so he’s old for a cavalier.

  • Crazy4dogs

    That’s tough. So sorry. 🙁

  • Crazy4dogs

    Hi Krista,
    I’m not aware of cavaliers being prone to kidney disease. They do have significant heart problems. Feeding a lower protein will not prevent kidney disease. Feeding a constant diet of any kibble is your dog’s kidneys worst enemy. Fresher, wet food will help the kidneys function properly.

    I had a dog in chronic renal failure. Even in renal failure you don’t restrict protein until you reach a certain level. You must bind the phosphorus and feed quality protein. There are some protein forms that are better than others for renal failure.

  • Krista

    Yes, thank you though. I’m aware of that. My family’s older dog already has that unfortunately. Grade 5 for him.

  • Krista

    Ok, thank you. I will go ahead and ask my vet that then.

  • Pitlove

    That is something you will want to discuss with your vet. You may not need to, but only he/she would be able to advise you

  • Crazy4dogs

    Hi Krista,

    I agree with disqus on the blood panels and do them annually on all my own dogs. It gives you a heads up on possible problems. You can also see trends if you review the numbers over the years. Cavaliers, as you may already know are prone to heart problems.

  • aimee

    Hi Amateria,

    When dogs were raised on diets with different levels of carbohydrates what was found was that the dogs on the highest carbohydrate level diet had the least body fat

    In adult dogs, while feeding the same number of calories and feeding more as fat and fewer as carbs and protein the amount of fat in the body increased. I’ll attach a pic in which you can see the higher fat accumulation. This is known as the “fat fed dog model”

    While excess calories from any source will cause weight gain, it is a myth that carbs “cause” obesity just as they do not cause diabetes.

  • Krista

    Cavalier King Charles spaniel, 4 years old. She gets yearly checkups. But I will consider getting yearly blood work as well.

    I’m just not sure what protein percentage I should be feeding. My dog is at increased risk for developing kidney disease. So I’m wondering if I should be feeding a lower protein percentage (20-25%)

  • Krista

    My dog is at increased risk for kidney disease. should I feed a lower protein percentage? (20-25%)

  • Pitlove

    Hi Krista-

    When a dog is suffering from kidney disease (diagnosed) it is always recommended to reduce protein levels and also levels of phosphorus and sometimes magnesium as well. By the time a dog even shows clinical signs of kidney failure 75% of the nephrons (the functional unit of the kidney) are damaged and the filtering capability of the kidneys is highly compromised.

    A healthy dog can tolerate higher levels of protein however.

  • disqus_SBl7sCuYS7

    “My dog is healthy”
    How old is the dog? What breed? Has the dog had routine lab work done recently? What does your vet advise?
    What is it that you are so concerned about? Just curious.

    PS: If you can afford it, routine lab work done during the annual exam by your veterinarian might identify any potential problems.

  • Krista

    Ok thanks, this makes sense. My dog is healthy I was just curious.

  • disqus_SBl7sCuYS7

    “If a dog has kidney problems would you need to reduce the protein? My dog is healthy but I’m just curious.”

    It depends on the dog and the degree of kidney damage (if any) determined by testing and examination by a veterinarian. If the dog is over 7 (senior) some basic lab work may be helpful.
    I would go by your veterinarian’s recommendations.

  • Krista

    So I’m confused on one more thing. If a dog has kidney problems would you need to reduce the protein? My dog is healthy but I’m just curious.

    Yes, I’m going to start rotating brands as well. What’s your favorites to rotate? I know some of mine or Orijen and Acana. How do you feel about Merrick?

  • ChiChi

    Haha I’m similar when it comes to tech crap. I can’t stand not being able to figure out how to do something. I’m so confident in my ability to figure it out, it’s damaging if I fail 🙂

    Surprisingly, that doesn’t carry over to gaming with me. I LOVE gaming and if I can’t pass something in a game, I will sit on that thing all night until I figure out how to beat it.

  • Amateria

    If it’s as old as I think it is than yeah I wouldn’t bother either, I’d try a few times because I’m ocd like that, than my pride would take over when I couldn’t get it to work no matter what, I’d be looking a lot like my avatar haha, I’d eventually blow up because I got beaten by a phone and I don’t like being beaten like that :p and yeah s**t would hit the fan and somehow I don’t see it being worth it at all.

    Which is why I stopped doing a lot of things on my game, I only do it when I truly have a mood for it, because than I usually take it as it is and I don’t care about it, well unless I start dying a lot eventually I blow my top especially if it’s literally 5 secs after I’ve resurrected.

  • ChiChi

    Yes I’m aware of copy and paste. But I’m on an old cell phone and have never been able to get it to work. Until I get my tablet back, I’m not going to bother with it lol.

  • Amateria

    You copy and paste the link that’s how they work.

  • ChiChi

    As someone already stated, it is just a myth. There was even a study done on older dogs to see how high protein effected them. I’m not sure how to link on here but just Google search “Purdue high protein dog study.” One of the first things to pop up should be a PDF and it shows the study results.

    I also agree high protein is much better for weight loss. My dog gains weight very easily so I have to watch her calories. She can eat 150 calories of a food like Orijen daily and stay lean. I fed her 150 calories a day on a Light kibble (higher carbs) thinking it would help her stay a healthy weight. Bad idea. She gained rapidly in under a month. So even though she was eating the same amount of calories, the higher carb food caused weight gain.

  • Amateria

    Interesting indeed, a lot of the websites I read mention the fat dog epidemic and fat cat one to be because of highly processed carb laden foods, my mum can’t stop eating bread it’s like her life and she’s having trouble loosing weight despite eating healthy foods.
    My stomach bloats on carb heavy foods, but that may be due to insulin resistance.
    Also protein makes you gain muscle, maybe the people got bigger muscles and thought it was fat? No idea haha

    I don’t feel that dogs or cats need carbs either way, meat and oils are more than enough to boost energy and even add lamb tripe into that as it’s awesome for giving energy.
    I don’t have any problems with the healthier carbs though and will gladly feed them, more so saying they don’t need it.

    The Earthborn I’m going to get is the weight control one, hopefully I’ll be able to feed more of it without worrying that I’m feeding him too much on top of his other food, it’s got 7% fat and 25% protein + taurine for heart health and L carnitine to turn fat into muscle (I hope).

    I’m going to keep changing companies as part of my rotation, I still need to get the new Ivory Coat with coconut oil, I was going to get Blackbawk but their new formula is a downgrade of the older one and now contains chicken gravy aka digest which I am not going to give Rusty.
    I’ve heard from Susan that Canidae is reformulating and I’ve also found some interesting formulas within Holistic Select brand, I have a huge variety to rotate in Australia the next few years are going to be a lot of fun.

  • Krista

    Yes that’s interesting that you would say that because I’ve heard people say the opposite. (About protein making you gain weight) I tend to agree with what you are saying. Orijen also has really good articles on that.

    I was previously feeding my dog natural balance L.I.D. formulas which has over 50% carbs. After 4 days of introducing Orijen I’ve already noticed an incredible difference in her coat quality. I’m planning to rotate between Orijen and Acana. I will have to check out the brand you just mentioned too. I tend to like lower to average fat contents in food.

  • Amateria

    Yes well carbs make you fat and protein leans you out :p carbs also cause a lot of havoc and lead to diabetes while protein doesn’t give you diabetes.

    I’m still looking forward to getting Earthborn for Rusty it’s low carb kibble and low fat, but it’s still another 3-4 months before this kibble runs out at the very bare minimum, could take a lot longer.

  • Krista

    Ok, great thanks. I’m on Orijen right now and I just wanted to make sure it was ok.

    This makes sense since dogs are mainly carnivores. I would assume more Protein would be ideal rather than more carbs. Thanks for your help. This food looks great too.

  • Amateria

    That is a myth, a healthy dog can have a lot of protein no problem, some disorders require lowering of protein.

    Some dogs react to a lot of protein, but it seems pretty rare.

  • Krista


    Is the protein content in this food something to be concerned about? Will it cause any kidney problems or is that just a myth?

  • Krista

    I recommend Orijen and Acana. Both great companies!

  • Katherine Wright

    I had tried to go with freeze dried honest kitchen dog food for my maltese and Yorkiepom which is awesome food but my schedule made it hard for me to keep a consistent meal schedule. In switching I tried ziwipeak lamb formula and instinct ultimate protein, they are both great and the dogs like it. We have added a standard whoodle pup to our posse and she loves the instinct food too. we are just using the ziwipeak food for treats now. These two brands had the least offensive ingredients (could pronounce and knew definition) of any kibble I found available. if anyone knows of a kibble that has better ingredients I’d love to know. When I learned that the euthanized animals from the high kill shelters were recycled into dog food and they called it meal and that there was no dog food before the 1950’s when dogs lived 20 years it started my investigation into what I fed my dogs.

  • dad

    This food is incredible.

  • Bryan Ledford

    My JRT is about to be eleven years old and had gained weight lately. She’s on NV Prairie canned for breakfast and this for dinner now. After two months of this diet she’s back to her peak physical condition. She looks four. Couldn’t be happier.

  • Infamouz

    I’ve been using this for about 2 months now mixed with the puppy formula and my pup is as healthy as can be! He loves it.

  • Pitlove

    Let us know how your dogs do on this food when you try it. I haven’t talked to anyone yet who’s used it.

  • ChiChi

    I can’t wait to try this, got a free bag but I have a couple of other foods to get through first. This food looks soo good on paper though. The fact that 95% of the 47% protein comes from meat, and none of it is meat meals really impresses me!

    I know Nature’s Variety is known for their high ash content so thought for sure this one would be through the roof. I asked them and they said ash is 8-9%. Not bad at all! Most “high meat” foods have extreme amounts of ash.

    Hopefully they make a venison, rabbit, and/or lamb formula in this line. I know the prices will be pretty high for those though.

  • aquariangt

    Me too. I’d love to see a red meat blend with this concept

  • Crazy4dogs

    Keep us posted. I still have a couple of bags before I need to buy more. 🙂

  • Crazy4dogs

    Maybe if these formulas are successful, they’ll add additional proteins to the line. 🙂

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    I do too. I’m going to try this for one of my girls. My beagle can’t have any chicken.

  • aquariangt

    I just opened a bag last night. Nice small kibbles that I like. Hope it agrees with Dani (honestly, everything does though) and this will probably make my main rotation-going with the Duck

  • Storm’s Mom

    I wish they had a poultry-free formula 🙁

  • Crazy4dogs

    My guess would be because there are no plants until after the vitamin pack. The tapioca binder is last in the lineup. I might try this in my rotation. It looks good on paper! 😉

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    Can anyone explain why this is meat based and not plant based? It doesn’t have any meal meals in it.

  • Ya Fei Iona Chen

    my dog hv home cooked for breakfast,kibble for it ok for me to do the same with nv ultimation,as they claimed to hv higher protein content than other kibbles.does it matter if i add extra meat ?

  • Pitlove

    Happy to finally see a review of this. I wanted to know everyones thoughts about the lack of meat meals used. To me that might mean that the protein is coming from more plant based sources because of the duck and chicken being cooked and all the moisture being removed. Dr. Mike states this food as meat-based, but I’d like to hear others thoughts.

  • Crazy4cats


  • The Quiet Man

    We did a taste test on our dog and he was gaga for this food with it’s small pellets, even though he is a fairly large dog. I like the info you compiled on this formula. With the corrected numbers does it still earn a five star rating?

  • Hi Jerry (and El Doctor),

    My apologies. Although the text of the review was correct, we somehow entered the incorrect fat content into our database.

    It should now be correct. If not, you may need to clear your browser cache to see the updated figures.

    Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention.

  • Crazy4dogs

    I didn’t understand this either. The website claims 47% protein, 17% fat on both formulas, not 11%.

  • el doctor

    Hi Mike

    Jerry is right, your Guaranteed Analysis numbers for this food are off. This makes all 3 numbers for Fat and Carbohydrate content incorrect.

    Calorie Content (Calculated)
    Metabolizable Energy
    438 kcal/cup
    3850 kcal/kg

    Guaranteed Analysis
    Crude Protein (min): 47.0%
    Crude Fat (min): 17.0%
    Crude Fiber (max): 3.0%
    Moisture (max): 10.0%
    Vitamin E (min): 100 IU/kg
    *Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) (min): 85 mg/kg
    *Omega 3 Fatty Acids (min): 0.35%
    *Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min): 2.0%
    *Bacillus coagulans (min): 60,000,000 CFU/lb

  • The figures reported above are correct. Please note that on this website, all Guaranteed Analysis figures are converted to “dry matter basis”.

    We show 3 different forms of the nutrient content of this food in the table just below the ingredients list. There, you’ll find Guaranteed Analysis, Dry Matter Basis and Calorie Weighted Basis (also known as modified Atwater basis.

    To learn more, be sure to visit the link to our article on that topic in found in “The Bottom Line” section of every review.

  • Jerry Bair

    I believe your guaranteed analysis numbers on this food are wrong. According to their website the food reads as 47% protein 17% fat.