Instinct Cat Food Review

Nature’s Variety, the maker of Instinct, is an independent pet food company located in St. Louis, Missouri and Lincoln, Nebraska. They make both dog and cat foods. Instinct is grain free and gluten-free. It comes in kibbles and canned formulas and they also make raw foods and treats for cats. Instinct currently comes in seven product lines for cats. The company says they are passionate about providing natural and holistic nutrition for dogs and cats.

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Who Manufactures Instinct?

The latest information we have for Nature’s Variety is that they have some manufacturing facilities of their own in Lincoln, Nebraska. This is almost certainly where their raw foods are made and perhaps other foods. At one time they used Simmons Pet Food in Emporia, Kansas to make their canned foods but we’re not sure if they still use Simmons or not. They have also used Pied Piper Mills in Hamlin, TX and CJ Foods in Bern, Kansas to manufacture kibbles in the past.

Instinct Cat Food Recalls

  • Nature’s Variety had a voluntary recall in February 2013 for one batch of Instinct® Raw Organic Chicken Formula for Cats.

Instinct Cat Food Coupons 2019

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Overall Instinct Cat Food Reviews and Analysis

The Instinct site tends to be slightly confusing (at least for me). They have seven product lines and some of the foods are various formulations of raw frozen foods, freeze-dried foods, and raw frozen food combined with kibble, as well as canned foods and simple kibbles. We’ll try to present the foods in a way that’s not confusing.

Instinct Canned Foods:

Instinct Originals Cans for Cats. All Instinct canned foods are grain-free and gluten-free. These foods are high in protein and supposed to be biologically-appropriate. They come in 3-ounce and 5.5-ounce cans. Flavors include chicken, beef, lamb, duck, venison, rabbit, and salmon. Using the duck formula as an example, the first five ingredients are: Duck, Turkey Liver, Duck Broth, Ground Flaxseed, and Montmorillonite Clay. The food contains 9 percent crude protein, 5.5 percent crude fat, 3 percent crude fiber, 78 percent moisture. Calorie Content: 1330 kcal/kg, 113 kcal/3-oz can, 207 kcal/5.5 oz can. AAFCO-approved for all life stages.

Instinct Limited Ingredient Cans for Cats. These foods are also grain free and gluten-free. No chicken, beef, eggs, or dairy. They are made with minimal ingredients and use one animal protein. The ingredients are supposed to be easy to digest. These foods would be good for cats with allergies or food sensitivities. Flavors include turkey, lamb, duck, rabbit, and pork. Using the rabbit formula as an example, the first five ingredients are: Rabbit, Water, Rabbit Liver, Peas, and Montmorillonite Clay. The food contains 10 percent crude protein, 4.5 percent crude fat, 3 percent crude fiber, 78 percent moisture, 2.84 percent ash, and 900 mg/kg taurine. Calorie Content: 1145 kcal/kg, 97 kcal/3-oz can, 178 kcal/5.5 oz can. AAFCO-approved for all life stages.

Pride by Instinct cans. Grain free, gluten-free canned foods with a variety of proteins. The food has a minced, flaked texture with thin cuts in gravy. Available in 12 formulas. Using Cheshire’s Chicken as an example, the first five ingredients in the food are: Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Peas, and Egg Whites. The food contains 8 percent crude protein, 4 percent crude fat, 3 percent crude fiber, and 80 percent moisture. Calorie Content: 970 kcal/kg, 82 kcal/3-oz can, 151 kcal/5.5 oz can. AAFCO-approved for adult maintenance.

Instinct Raw Diets:

Instinct Raw Bites for Cats. Instinct raw formulas are complete and balanced for all life stages. The food is grain free and gluten-free. The raw bites are easy to feed and thaw out in just a few minutes. Raw Bites comes in chicken, duck, rabbit, and tuna. Using the tuna formula as an example, the ingredients are: Chicken (including Ground Chicken Bone), Chicken Liver, Tuna, Yeast Culture, Pumpkinseeds, Montmorillonite Clay, Apples, Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Salt, Cod Liver Oil, Dried Kelp, Carrots, Spinach, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Blueberries. The food contains 14 percent crude protein, 8 percent crude fat, 2 percent crude fiber, 69 percent moisture. Calorie Content: 1632 kcal/kg. AAFCO-approved for all life stages. Raw Bites come in a 1.25 lb bag and a 3.5 lb bag.

Instinct Raw Medallions for Cats. Raw medallions are another version of Instinct’s raw food for cats. The formulas are the same as the Raw Bites formulas but the medallions are larger. It takes medallions several hours to defrost before you can feed them to your cat. There are only two Raw Medallion formulas for cats: chicken and rabbit. Using chicken as the example, the ingredients include: Chicken (including Ground Chicken Bone), Turkey Heart, Turkey Liver, Yeast Culture, Pumpkinseeds, Montmorillonite Clay, Apples, Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Salt, Cod Liver Oil, Dried Kelp, Carrots, Spinach, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Blueberries. The food contains 15 percent crude protein, 9 percent crude fat, 2 percent crude fiber, and 67 percent moisture. Calorie Content: 1739 kcal/kg, 49 kcal/ounce. AAFCO-approved for all life stages.

Instinct also has a freeze-dried raw food for cats. Freeze-dried raw is different from frozen raw. Freeze drying removes a lot of the moisture from the food.

Instinct Freeze Dried Raw Meals for Cats comes in three formulations: chicken, lamb, and rabbit. Using the lamb formula as an example, the first five ingredients are: Lamb, Lamb Liver, Lamb Heart, Pumpkinseeds, and Ground Lamb Bone. Unlike the raw frozen foods, Instinct does add extra vitamins and minerals to the freeze-dried food. The food contains 32 percent crude protein, 22 percent crude fat, 15 percent crude fiber, and 6 percent moisture. Calorie Content: 4233 kcal/kg, 240 kcal/cup. When preparing freeze-dried food for your cat it’s only necessary to add some water to rehydrate for a few minutes.

Both Instinct’s raw frozen and freeze-dried foods can be fed alone or added to canned or kibble food. Adding them to canned or kibble food will boost the protein content of your cat’s food, which some people like to do. Or you can feed them as treats. Instinct also makes raw and freeze-dried treats for cats.

Instinct Dry Foods:

According to Instinct, all of their kibbles are grain-free, gluten-free and free of all filler.

Instinct Raw Boost Kibble for Cats. Made for all life stages. Available in 5.1 and 11.3-lb bags. This is a high protein kibble that includes freeze-dried raw pieces in the bag. Comes in three formulas:  chicken, duck, and rabbit. Using the duck as an example, the food has 40 percent crude protein, 17.5 percent crude fat, 3 percent crude fiber, 8 percent moisture, and 5000 mg/kg taurine. The food has 433 kcal/cup. The first five ingredients in the food are: Duck, Turkey Meal, Duck Meal, Chicken Meal, and Menhaden Fish Meal.

Instinct Raw Boost Kibble Indoor Health for Cats. This is an all life stage formula made for indoor cats. Foods for indoor cats usually have slightly fewer calories. This is a high protein food with freeze-dried raw pieces. It comes in two recipes: chicken and rabbit. Using rabbit as an example, the food contains Rabbit Meal, Turkey Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tapioca, and Rabbit. It has 38 percent crude protein, 12.5 percent crude fat, 6 percent crude fiber, 8 percent moisture, and 0.2 percent taurine. It has 378 kcal/cup. Available in 5.1 lb bags.

Instinct Ultimate Protein Kibble for Cats. Available in chicken and duck recipes. This food is compared to an ancestral diet for cats and is very high in protein. It contains up to three times more chicken and duck than conventional dry pet food. No rendered meats, chicken or duck meal, or by-product meals. Using the chicken formula as an example, the food contains Chicken, Tapioca, Ground Flaxseed, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), and Natural Flavor as the first five ingredients. It has 47 percent crude protein, 17 percent crude fat, 3 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture, along with 1500 mg/kg. It has 434 kcal/cup. This is an all life stage formula. The food comes in 5 and 10.5-lb bags.

Instinct Kibble for Cats . This is an all life stage formula available in 2.2, 5.5, and 12.1 lb bags. It comes in four formulas: chicken, duck, rabbit, and salmon. According to Instinct this food is high in protein and biologically-appropriate. Using the salmon as an example, the food contains Salmon Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tapioca, Herring Meal, and Salmon as the first five ingredients. It has 40 percent crude protein, 15 percent crude fat, 4 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture. Taurine information not provided. The food has 438 kcal/cup.

Instinct Limited Ingredient Kibble for Cats. This is an all life stage formula. Each formula uses one animal protein. The foods do not contain grain, gluten, potato, dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, or fish making them good choices for cats with food allergies or sensitivities. Formulas available include turkey and rabbit. Using the turkey formula as an example, the food contains Turkey Meal, Peas, Tapioca, Canola Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), and Turkey. The food has 35 percent crude protein, 18 percent crude fat, 3.5 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture. It has 3000 mg/kg. The food has 429 kcal/cup.

Instinct Healthy Weight Kibble for Cats. This food only comes in a chicken formula. It has less fat and fewer calories than Instinct’s other formulas. It includes Raw Boost – freeze-dried raw pieces. The food contains L-carnitine, an amino acid derivative that works on the body’s metabolism and helps burn fat. The first five ingredients in the food are: Chicken Meal, Chickpeas, Peas, Chicken, and Menhaden Fish Meal. The food contains 37 percent crude protein, 12 percent crude fat, 4 percent crude fiber, and 8 percent moisture. Taurine information not provided. The food has 349 kcal/cup. This is an adult maintenance cat food. Also available as canned cat food.

Pride by Instinct Kibble. Suggested for indoor cats, Pride by Instinct Kibble provides a grain-free and gluten free diet high in animal protein. Grain free, gluten-free. The kibble has a freeze-dried raw coating. Pride includes three formulas: Cheshire’s Chicken, Diva’s Duck, and Ritzy’s Rabbit. If we look at the duck formula as an example, the food contains Turkey Meal, Duck, Peas, Chickpeas, and Dried Tomato Pomace as the first five ingredients. It has 37 percent crude protein, 14 percent crude fat, 8 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture; and it has 2000 mg/kg taurine. The food has 351 kcal/cup. This is an all life stage formula.

Overall we think most of Instinct’s foods for cats look very good. We like the canned foods and the raw foods. If you are considering a kibble for your cat, Instinct’s kibbles look like they are probably the best ones we have seen. We are not fans of peas or chickpeas in pet food but if you look at some of the kibbles where these ingredients are absent or appear lower on the list, we think these kibbles look good.

Individual Recipe Review Instinct Originals Chicken Formula Canned

Ragdollcats @ Chewy.com says…

My kitten loves his food. I mix it with the Instinct Grain Free wet food and it makes a great meal.

Instinct Originals canned foods are high in protein and Instinct calls them “biologically-appropriate,” though that may be more true for dogs than cats. We’re not sure how much cats really choose to eat fruits and vegetables left to their own devices. These foods are grain and gluten-free and include omega fatty acids for good skin and coat. These canned foods are loaf-style so they should have around 78 percent moisture. Instinct suggests rotating the formulas to give your cat some variety.

We have chosen the chicken formula for this review since chicken is popular with many cats. The first five ingredients in this food are Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, and Ground Flaxseed. Regardless of quality, three of the five products are meat or organ meat which is positive and your cat should like it. Chicken is around 60-80 percent protein and 20-40 percent fat. It’s a good source of vitamins and minerals. Turkey is not too different from chicken from a nutritional viewpoint, though it has slightly fewer calories and fat than chicken. Chicken liver has over 60 percent protein and over 30 percent fat, with just about 2 percent carbohydrates. It’s a good source of Thiamin, Zinc, Copper and Manganese, and a very good source of PVitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Iron, Phosphorus and Selenium.

You will always find water or broth in canned pet foods. Here the food contains chicken broth and it’s the fourth ingredient. Many foods contain water or broth as the first or second ingredient so it’s interesting to see it as the fourth ingredient. You have to remember that the chicken, turkey, and chicken liver that precede it in the ingredient list also contain their own moisture.

The fifth ingredient is ground flaxseed. Flaxseed has several benefits for pets. It’s a plant source of protein (about 21 percent protein), fat (41 percent) and dietary fiber (28 percent). It’s also a plant source of omega-3 fatty acid. There can be some drawbacks to giving large amounts of flaxseed to cats and dogs if you intend to breed the animals because flaxseed is a phytoestrogen and it can affect the body’s hormones, but if your cat is not a breeding animal, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about.

Other ingredients of interest in the food include eggs – a good source of protein that is easily absorbed by your cat. The food contains chelated minerals which are minerals that have been bonded to proteins so they are easier for your cat to digest them. Added taurine which is usually added to cat food today. A taurine deficiency can lead to blindness and other severe health problems for cats.

The food also contains an array of vegetables. Most of these ingredients are found near the end of the ingredient list so they are probably only found in small amounts in the food. They include things like carrots, artichokes, cabbage, and son on. They are probably added as fiber and for some particular vitamin and mineral content (carrots – beta carotene). The food also includes cranberries and blueberries which are often used as antioxidants. Cranberries, in particular, is often recommended for urinary tract health. The food also includes Montmorillonite Clay. Instinct says that they use this ingredient as an anti-caking aid in the food.

You can look up individual ingredients in the foods in Instinct’s glossary. However, you should be aware that there are often multiple reasons to use different ingredients and not all of them are included in this listing.

We think that Instinct Original Chicken formula canned food looks very good.

Calorie Content:

Metabolizable Energy: 1320 kcal/kg; 112 kcal/3-oz can; 205 kcal/5.5-oz can

Guaranteed Analysis:

Crude Protein (min)10 %
Crude Fat (min)6.5 %
Crude Fiber (max)3 %
Moisture (max)78 %

Nutritional Statement:

Nature’s Variety Instinct Chicken Formula for cats is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages.

Dry Matter Basis: This food has an estimated 45.5 percent protein, 29.5 percent fat, 13.6 percent fiber, and 2.3 percent carbohydrates. (AAFCO recommendations for protein for adult cats are a minimum of 26 percent; and 30 percent for growing kittens; and 9 percent fat for both adult cats and growing kittens.)

Final Thoughts

We like what we see in nearly all of the Instinct foods. There is meat as the first ingredient – and often as the first two or three ingredients. The foods are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. The quality of the ingredients is very good. Highly recommended.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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5 comments

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  • I LOVE this food! I have a 10 yo cat that most of her life she vomitted multiple times a day and chewed all the hair on her belly off. I tried soooo many good quality foods on the market & nothing helped her. Then tried the feline duck and turkey with raw bits and wa-la, problem solved. She was allergic to chicken for starters, as many pet are allergic to it. She vomits very little now and she has a furry belly now. Yes, it is expensive, but,finally my fur baby feels good.

    • Thank Linda for your Post!! Our 13 yo cat is also allergic to chicken and salmon, and also has licked all the fur off her belly and back legs. We are now starting her on instinct. I’m so grateful to people who post comments, so those of us searching for products hear from real people, not advertisers!! We will keep you posted!!

  • My two cats LOVE this brand! They especially love the frozen raw chicken or rabbit. It can’t thaw out fast enough for them! They will literally pull it out of the bowl and lick each piece to make it thaw faster. The canned food is also very good. The cans have an enamel inside in order to protect against the metal. I also like that you can read and pronounce the ingredients. My cats love this food and seem to have lots of energy despite their age. I’d like to switch to the raw completely.

  • I have owned Aurum since last June when I picked up this five and a half pound six year old from a local shelter. I bought Instinct canned and then the Pride variety, if Aurum had a choice, she would weigh fifty pounds by now as she loves this food and isn’t at all picky about which variety I serve her. More importantly, her coat now feels like silk and she is thriving. She looks fantastic and the food definitely agrees with her. I can’t say enough good things about Instinct.

  • I’m confused about the Boost products. Is this a complete meal? If not, why and how would I add them to a meal? How much daily would be appropriate?

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