Instinct Dog Food Review 2024

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4.5

Written by Adam Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 07/11/2023, edited: 06/05/2024

Instinct Dog Food Review 2024 image

The Wag! team conducts independent research and consults pet experts to curate our recommendations. This content is supported by our affiliate pet partners and we may receive a commission on the links provided.

Overview


Instinct produces minimally processed raw dog food that's high in protein and made with real meat and produce ‚ÄĒ no artificial preservatives or fillers here! Its range includes frozen raw foods, raw toppers, freeze-dried raw recipes, and kibble mixed with raw food.¬†

To back up its claims about the potential health benefits of raw dog food, Instinct partners with the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and has sponsored two studies on raw dog food (which we'll cover in more depth in the "Why Wag! Likes Instinct" section of this guide).

Instinct says its foods provide several other benefits, including better digestion, increased energy, and improved skin and coat. But is it the best dog food for your pup? Scroll down to learn about Instinct's flavor variations, pros and cons, recall history, and more.



Instinct dog food product variations and flavors

Instinct dog food is among the most minimally processed dog foods available, made with nutrient-dense, natural ingredients. Grain-free and grain-inclusive recipes are available across its ranges. 

All Instinct dog food recipes are "complete and balanced," meeting the Association of American Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO) nutrient profile for maintenance (adults), growth (puppies), or all life stages. 

It's worth noting that while these recipes are "complete and balanced," some aren't suitable for growth of large dogs over 70 pounds. Mixers, toppers, and treats are for supplemental feeding only. Read each food's label for more info. 

Overall, there are 94 flavors and variations of Instinct dog food at the time of writing. Let's take a closer look at the different ranges.


Instinct Original wet dog food

Instinct Original wet dog food

Instinct wet dog food

Instinct wet dog food comes in three sub-ranges: Original, Limited Ingredient Diet Wet & Pouches, and Healthy Cravings Pouches.

All variations of Instinct wet dog food list a quality named meat source as the top ingredient. Healthy Cravings Pouches list a named meat source in the top two ingredients. 

Original Wet

Instinct Original Wet is a high-protein option with recipes for small breeds, puppies, and adult dogs. It's available in six flavors, including beef, rabbit, and chicken.

Each recipe is grain-free and made with 95% animal protein. Instinct Original Wet recipes include several nutritional secondary ingredients. For example, ground flaxseed is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, while carrots are a great source of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. 

Limited Ingredient Diet Wet & Pouches

Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Wet is formulated for dogs with sensitivities, featuring one animal protein and one vegetable. For example, the lamb recipe is made primarily with lamb and peas. Recipes feature no grains, dairy, soy, or corn. 

Limited Ingredient Diet Wet & Pouches are available in three varieties: lamb, rabbit, and turkey.


Instinct Frozen Raw Meals

Instinct Frozen Raw Meals

Instinct Frozen Raw dog food

Instinct frozen raw dog food is frozen to preserve freshness and nutritional value. It comes in two sub-ranges: Frozen Raw and Frozen Raw Longevity.

Frozen Raw

Instinct markets Frozen Raw as a cost-effective raw dog food, with all adult recipes containing 85% quality meat and 15% produce. 

Each recipe lists several quality cuts of muscle and organ meat as top ingredients. Many recipes include multiple meat sources, meaning they may not be suitable for dogs with food allergies. Healthy secondary ingredients include carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes. 

Frozen Raw includes five recipes with bite-sized pieces and two patty recipes. Flavors include beef, lamb, chicken, and pollock. 

Frozen Raw Longevity

Frozen Raw Longevity is specially enriched with minerals and vitamins to ensure your dog is living their best life. All Frozen Raw Longevity recipes contain at least 85% real meat and 12% produce.

All Frozen Raw recipes list several quality cuts of muscle and organ meat as the primary ingredients. Secondary ingredients like yellow squash, apples, and broccoli are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. 

There are seven recipes made with bite-sized pieces and seven patty varieties. Flavors include beef, pollock, rabbit, and chicken.


Instinct Freeze-dried Raw Meals

Instinct Freeze-dried Raw Meals

Instinct Freeze-Dried Raw dog food

Instinct freeze-dried raw dog food is the same as its frozen dog food range but can be kept in your pantry for convenience. 

There are two sub-ranges of Instinct freeze-dried raw dog food: Freeze-Dried Raw and Freeze-Dried Law Longevity. 

Freeze-Dried Raw Meals

Instinct markets the Freeze-Dried Raw Meals range as containing three times more real meat and nutrients than standard kibble. 

All recipes include quality cuts of organ and muscle meat as the top ingredients. Other nutritionally rich secondary ingredients include pumpkin seeds, salmon oil, and apples.  

Freeze-drying also makes this food more digestible than kibble. It comes in four adult recipes and one puppy recipe. Flavors include beef, chicken, and pollock. 

Freeze-Dried Raw Longevity

Freeze-Dried Raw Longevity is largely the same as its frozen counterpart ‚ÄĒ this nutrient-dense recipe contains over 85% real meat and 12% produce.¬†

The main difference between these recipes is Freeze-Dried Raw Longevity lists guaranteed levels of some nutrients like taurine, and are specially designed to support heart, immune, and muscle health. Recipes are available for puppies, adults, and senior pups. 

Instinct Freeze-Dried Raw Longevity comes in eight varieties. Flavors include beef & cod, lamb, pollock, and chicken. 


Instinct Raw Boost Kibble

Instinct Raw Boost Kibble

Instinct Raw + Kibble dog food

Instinct raw + kibble dog food mixes 100% freeze-dried raw food with kibble. 

It's available in three sub-ranges: Raw Longevity 20% Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Blend, Raw Boost Kibble, and Raw Boost Whole Grain Kibble. 

Raw Longevity 20% Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Blend

The Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Blend mixes high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw food. All recipes contain over 70% real meat ingredients and over 27% produce. 

While a quality meat source is the top ingredient, several meat meals are listed in the top five ingredients. Recipes are rich in zinc, probiotics, and taurine to support immune, heart, and gut health. 

You can choose from five varieties of Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Blend for adults, puppies, and senior fur babies. These flavors are beef, chicken, and rabbit. 

Raw Boost Kibble

Raw Boost Kibble is similar to the Longevity range, but it's boosted with more probiotics, omega fatty acids, and antioxidants than Instinct Original. 

Raw Boost Kibble recipes are similar to 20% Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Blend, as they list a quality meat source as the top ingredient but also include several meat meals. 

It comes in 12 varieties covering specific needs, including gut health and weight management. Flavors include salmon, chicken, and beef. 

Raw Boost Whole Grain Kibble

This sub-range is grain-inclusive, containing brown rice, oatmeal, and barley as the primary grains. It's generally the same as standard Raw Boost Kibble with the inclusion of grains.

Like Raw Boost Kibble, it's nutritionally boosted to support the immune system and promote healthy skin, fur, and digestion. 

There are four varieties of Raw Boost Whole Grain Kibble. Flavors include chicken, lamb, and salmon.


Instinct Raw-coated Kibble

Instinct Raw-coated Kibble

Instinct Raw-Coated Kibble (dry food)

Raw-coated kibble is Instinct's dry food range. It comprises kibble coated in frozen raw food for added taste and nutrition. It comes in three sub-ranges: Original Kibble, Limited Ingredient Kibble, and Be Natural Kibble. 

Original Kibble

Instinct Original Kibble are grain-free recipes that contain around 70% real animal ingredients and 30% produce. 

A real meat source is listed as the top ingredient, and you'll also find meat meal in the top five. Nutritionally rich secondary ingredients include cranberries, peas, and apples. 

There are five variations of Original Kibble, including one for small breeds. These flavors are beef, chicken, rabbit, and salmon.

Limited Ingredient Diet Kibble

Limited Ingredient Diet Kibble is a grain-free kibble formulated for dogs with sensitivities. 

Each recipe contains only one meat source and one vegetable. For example, the lamb recipe contains lamb and peas as the primary ingredients. Meat meal is the top ingredient in all recipes.

There are three variations of Limited Ingredient Diet Kibble. These flavors are lamb, salmon, and turkey. 

Be Natural Kibble

Instinct Be Natural Kibble is a grain-inclusive sub-range of Instinct raw-coated kibble containing brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. 

Real named animal meat is the top ingredient across the range. Meat meal is also a chief ingredient. They are similar in composition to Instinct Original Kibble recipes. 

There are five variations, including a puppy recipe. These flavors include beef, chicken, lamb, and salmon. 


Instinct Raw Dog Food Toppers

Instinct Raw Dog Food Toppers

Instinct Raw Toppers 

Instinct Raw toppers are freeze-dried raw foods specially formulated to be used as toppers for kibble. It's available in three sub-ranges: Raw Boost Mixers, Raw Boost Mixers with Functional Ingredients, and Raw Boost Mixers Multivitamin. None of Instinct's raw toppers meet AAFCO nutrient profiles since they're designed to supplement a dog's complete and balanced diet.

Raw Boost Shakers

Raw Boost Shakers are granulated toppers you can sprinkle on your doggo's dinner. Each recipe is made with cuts of meat, meat meals, and nutritionally rich ingredients like butternut squash, carrots, and apples. 

Raw Boost Shakers are available in three varieties, including one for puppies. These flavors are beef and chicken.

Raw Boost Mixers

Raw Boost Mixers are high-protein toppers that are sure to add some excitement to your pup's meals. Each freeze-dried kibble piece consists of real cuts of meat and secondary ingredients like pumpkin seeds, carrots, and apples. 

All four recipes list named muscle meat and meat organs as the first two ingredients. Flavors include pollock, chicken, lamb, and beef. 

Raw Boost Mixers with Functional Ingredients

The Functional Ingredients range of Instinct raw toppers is specially formulated to support different health conditions and needs. They are frozen raw instead of freeze-dried, and a quality cuts of meat is the primary ingredient. 

There are eight varieties, including Mobility Support, Gut Health, and Calming Support. Chicken and turkey are the primary meats used in these recipes. 

Raw Boost Mixers Multivitamin

Raw Boost Mixers Multivitamin toppers are enriched with 27 nutrients selected by board-certified vet nutritionists to give dogs an added boost.

There are two varieties of Raw Boost Mixers Multivitamin: one for adults and one for seniors over seven years old. Beef is the only flavor of Raw Boost Mixers Multivitamin. 

Healthy Cravings Pouches

Instinct Healthy Cravings Pouches are a range of toppers and mixers designed to add flavor and nutrients to your pup's meals. The primary ingredients in these toppers and mixers are quality cuts of meat, eggs, and ground dried peas. 

Instinct Healthy Cravings Pouches are available in four varieties: chicken, lamb, salmon, and beef.


Why Wag! likes Instinct dog food

Here are a few reasons why Wag! rates Instinct as a good-quality dog food brand. 

High-quality ingredients

Instinct uses high levels of named quality protein in its dog foods. Almost all of Instinct's dog foods list a quality named meat as the top ingredient.

You won't find any fillers, artificial colors, preservatives, or GMO fruits and vegetables in Instinct's food. Its raw food recipes are also cold-pressured to remove pathogens and preserve its nutritional value.

Lots of choice and variety

With over 90 product variations and 16 sub-ranges, Instinct offers raw dog foods to meet all needs. With grain-free, grain-inclusive, and limited-ingredient recipes, Instinct is an excellent choice if you're keen to feed raw but your dog has allergies or sensitivities.

You'll also find several recipes specially formulated for different health conditions and needs, like supporting skin and coat health, boosting immunity, and improving digestion. 

Focus on sustainability

Instinct does its best to be a sustainable and environmentally-responsible company. It sources its ingredients from trusted partners, prioritizing ingredients from the U.S. before branching out globally. 

Its meats are responsibly sourced, with recipes featuring grass-fed lamb, cage-free chickens, and farm-raised rabbits. All freeze-dried and frozen food is made in the U.S. at Instinct's facility in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Instinct is also a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), an organization that helps improve companies' environmental and social impact by reviewing practices, production, and supply chain.

Partners with veterinary experts on raw pet food research

Instinct partners with Dr. Anna Hielm-Bj√∂rkman DVM, PhD, pet nutrition expert and leader of the DogRisk research program at the University of Helsinki. The DogRisk program explores the link between environmental factors and disease in dogs ‚ÄĒ pawticularly conditions that dogs and humans have in common, like cancer, diabetes, and food allergies.

At the time of writing, Instinct has sponsored two studies on how raw diets may benefit pets:

Other veterinary experts on Instinct's team include:

  • Dr. Susan Wynn DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition)
  • Stephanie Striar CVT, MS Animal Nutrition
  • J.C. Cash CVT




Concerns & considerations

Here are a few concerns and considerations to think about before purchasing Instinct dog food.

Pricier than other options

Raw dog food made with whole, minimally processed ingredients tend to be more expensive than traditional wet dog food and dry kibble.

Instinct is no exception ‚ÄĒ at the time of writing, a 24-ounce bag of Instinct's Freeze-dried Raw Meals Cage-Free Chicken Recipe retails for $56.99 on Chewy.

Concerns about raw food diets

There are concerns about the safety of feeding dogs a raw food diet. Raw food is more likely to be contaminated with bacteria like listeria and salmonella due to a lack of cooking and processing.

Both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the FDA discourage pet parents from feeding their pups raw food due to these health risks.




"I'm not personally a raw diet advocate. They put dogs and pet parents at increased risk of food poisoning, and the health benefits are not proven when compared to a complete, cooked diet."

‚ÄĒ Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS, veterinary consultant with Wag!




A study by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) on 196 samples of commercial raw dog and cat foods found that a significant percentage tested positive for listeria. It's unclear if any of Instinct's foods were analyzed as part of the study ‚ÄĒ no brands or products were disclosed in the literature.

That said, Instinct uses high-pressure processing on its frozen and freeze-dried foods to ensure they're free from pathogens. This processing method uses water and specialized pumps to apply a high amount of pressure to food products, which kills and prevents the regrowth of bacteria.

Instinct also has a Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification. The SQF program conducts strict food safety auditing to ensure its food is up to scratch. An SQF certification is not required in the pet food industry.

Lack of recipes for all life stages

Most of Instinct's recipes are not suitable for all life stages. Pet parents should pay close attention to the packaging to see which life stage(s) the product is suitable for.

You may need to switch your dog's food from one Instinct product to another as they grow. Many Instinct products are unsuitable for puppies that will weigh over 70 pounds as an adult.




What pet parents say about Instinct dog food

"In their old age my dogs have become picky eaters. They love this food. They get it morning and evening with their high quality kibble. This is always gone as soon as I set it down. So happy I found something that is good for them and that they will eat."

"My dog is loving the canned beef Instinct food. I moisten some of his dry food and mix the two together. He has previously been a grazer, eating his meal over several hours. NOT now."

Read more reviews on Chewy.




Instinct brand history

Nature's Variety, Instinct's parent company, was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2001 by Bob Milligan. Bob's experience working in pork production and pet food manufacturing inspired him to create his own pet food made with a variety of nutritious meats. In 2002, the brand's first products hit the shelves of independent pet stores.

The company grew quickly ‚ÄĒ by 2008, pet parents could shop for Nature's Variety's products online and at big-box pet stores like Petco.

In 2016, Nature's Variety was acquired by Barcelona-based consumer goods group Agrolimen. Nature's Variety remains a standalone brand and is still headquartered in St. Louis, MO.




Instinct dog food recall history

There have been five recalls directly affecting Instinct dog food. Twice in 2010 and once in 2012, the recalls affected Nature's Variety products.

2010 recalls

On February 11, 2010, Nature's Variety issued a voluntary recall for limited batches of its Chicken Formula Raw Frozen Diet due to possible salmonella contamination. Pet parents were advised to return unopened products to their retailer or dispose of the product and return with a receipt for a refund. No illnesses were recorded as a result of this recall. 

On March 8, 2010, the previous recall of Chicken Formula Raw Frozen Diet was expanded to include additional batches.

2012 recall

On July, 12, 2012, Nature's Variety voluntarily recalled batches of its Beef Meal and Barley Medley Kibble for Dogs due to a strange smell, suggesting some bags were expiring earlier than expected. Customers were advised to return the product to their retailer for an exchange or refund.

2013 recall

On February 15, 2013, Nature's Variety announced a voluntary recall of a batch of Instinct Raw Organic Chicken Formula. The recall was due to pieces of clear plastic in some bags of food, which posed a choking hazard. 

Pet parents were advised to stop feeding their dogs products with the corresponding batch numbers and return the food in its original packaging to their retailer for a refund. There have been no reports of harm to dogs or cats due to this recall.

2015 recall

On July 24, 2015, there was a voluntary recall for Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs due to potential salmonella contamination. Pet parents were advised to stop feeding their dogs products with the corresponding batch numbers and return the food in its original packaging or with proof of purchase to their retailer for a refund. There are no records of illness as a result of this recall.



Product images sourced from Chewy. Copyright Agrolimen.


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