As I have been on my own health journey over the years, I have learned the importance of the quality of the food that I eat for my overall health. I have also learned the hard way that you cannot always take brands at their word when it comes to the quality of their product.
Just as I want to nourish myself with the best possible food, I want the same for my cat. I want to know that the food that I am investing in for her is actually good for her, and not just marketing hype.
I have looked at a number of brands over the years, and there are a lot of premium brands on the market that offer extremely high-quality foods for cats, but unfortunately, they are also expensive. I looked at Natural Balance as an alternative, mid-range, more affordable brand that I could also feed my cat.
While their aspirations might be loftier than their delivery, Natural Balance is a strong mid-range brand. To get the best food for your cat, invest in their high protein wet and dry food lines. The other benefit with Natural Balance is that when you buy a product, you can be sure that what it says is inside the bag is actually inside the bag, thanks to their quality guarantee process.
In this article I will take a look at the brand itself and its aspirations and principles, and then go through their main lines, highlighting the pros and cons of each.
At a Glance: The Brand’s Cat Food Range
- Natural Balance L.I.D. – For cats with food sensitivities
- Natural Balance Original Ultra – Premium line for optimum health
- Natural Balance Platefulls – Wholesome meals in tasty gravy
- Natural Balance Delectable Delights – For picky eaters
- Natural Balance Fat Cats – For overweight pets
The Natural Balance limited ingredient range is a good choice for cats with sensitive stomachs.
Some cats can find digesting a mixture of different meat protein and carbohydrate sources in the same meal challenging and more likely to cause them irritation. To counter this, Natural Balance makes a range of limited ingredient dry and wet foods which are based around one meat protein and one carbohydrate. They can contain traces of other meats and carbohydrates in the food, but not enough to be a concern unless your cat has an allergy. However, these traces do mean that this is not an appropriate cat food f you are starting your cat on an elimination diet to identify the source of their allergy.
The range of flavors available means that there is something for every picky palate, and that you can rotate through different foods. It is never a good idea to feed your cat the same food all the time as cats are most likely to develop allergies to the foods they eat the most. Prevent allergies by rotating their food.
- Natural Balance Green Pea and Duck Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance Green Pea and Chicken Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance Green Pea and Salmon Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance Indoor Salmon and Chickpea Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance Indoor Turkey and Chickpea Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
These recipes offer 30% protein, which is moderate for dry cat foods. The first three recipes combine this with 12% fat and 4% fiber, while the indoor recipes have 8% fat and 8% fiber. This is because more sedentary cats need less energy, so it is good that they have less fat and more fiber.
The increased fiber will encourage them to eat less by making them feel fuller faster and for longer, and will also help with any digestion problems, such as hairballs, which are particularly prevalent among indoor cats.
You will notice that in the first three recipes green peas are listed as the first ingredient, which means that there are actually more green peas in the recipe than there is duck. Green peas are being used as a more digestible carbohydrate alternative to grains. However, having so many green peas in the recipe means that there is less meat. Also, because peas contain protein, it may be artificially increasing the protein content of the recipe.
Cats have evolved to eat meats, and unlike humans and dogs, cats can only produce the essential amino acids that they need from animal protein; they cannot produce it from plant-based protein. So while the peas are not doing your cat any harm, they are basically a filler ingredient, which means that these recipes have less animal protein than they could.
Dry foods need carbohydrates to make the food the correct consistency. Premium cat brands make up for the lack of animal meat by making sure that the meat they do use is premium muscle and organ meat, avoiding meal, though this naturally makes their food more expensive. This line from Natural Balance tops up their meat content with meal, though there are no animal by-products present. This makes for a more affordable but lower quality cat food.
- Duck and Green Pea Grain-Free Wet
- Chicken and Green Pea Grain-Free Wet
- Venison and Green Pea Grain-Free Wet
This range offers 8-9% protein, 6-7% fat, and 2% fiber, which seems low after looking at the figures for dry cat food, but you have to remember that wet cat food is also about 80% water. This means that about 90% of this food is made from meat, which is ideal for cats.
These particular recipes are made primarily with muscle and organ meat, with only a small amount of meal. The level of green peas in this formula is also relatively low, so it is not taking up much meat protein capacity but is adding essential fiber.
This recipe is also pretty low in calories, at only about 200 calories per six ounces. Overall this makes it a good quality cat food for the price tag.
Natural Balance also makes high protein products within their limited ingredient cat food line. They use more meat and less carbohydrate filler to create a dish that more closely resembles your cat’s natural diet in the wild.
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Salmon Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Chicken Dry Cat Food
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Tuna Dry Cat Food
These dry cat foods are much higher in protein than their normal limited ingredient counterparts at 37%. Naturally, this means that it is also higher in fat, at 15%, as the two go hand-in-hand. Like the normal limited ingredient food, green peas are the main carbohydrate source in these recipes, but they are present at a much lower level, making them less problematic for your cat’s diet.
While the animal protein in this formula still does come from a combination of quality meats and meal, overall it is a significantly better choice if you are looking for a limited ingredient dry cat food for your cat.
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Chicken in Broth Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Tuna in Broth Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance LID High Protein Whitefish in Broth Wet Cat Food
The high protein version of the limited ingredient wet cat food from Natural Balance is also much higher in protein than its normal counterpart at 11%. But it manages to do this at only around 140 calories per six ounces. It also replaced green peas as its carbohydrate source with pumpkin, tapioca, and carrots, all of which are a healthier source of carbohydrates for your cat than green peas.
Overall this is a very good quality wet cat food for the price tag.
Indoor Cat Formulas
In addition to their indoor limited ingredient cat food, Natural Balance offers a range of other cat foods specifically designed for indoor cats. This generally means a recipe that is lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. This combination means that they are less likely to overeat and become overweight due to their sedentary lifestyle. The extra fiber should make them feel fuller faster and for longer, and the lower calories mean that they can eat a bit more.
Dry Food: Natural Balance Indoor Ultra
Aside from the limited ingredient indoor dry foods already listed, Natural Balance also has an Indoor Ultra Chicken and Salmon Dry Cat Food. This food mixes two proteins, which is fine for cats that do not have sensitive stomachs. This results in a recipe with the same level of protein (30%) and fiber (8%) as the limited ingredient recipe, but much less fat at only 1%. Also, it uses brown rice as its main source of carbohydrates, which is a much better choice than green peas.
Wet Food: Natural Balance Platefulls Range
Natural Balance’s main wet food indoor range is within the Platefulls line. There is a wide variety of recipes available. Choose from:
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Duck, Chicken and Pumpkin in Gravy Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Turkey and Duck in Gravy Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Salmon, Tuna, Chicken and Shrimp in Gravy Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Chicken and Chicken Liver in Gravy Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Mackerel and Sardine in Gravy Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Natural Balance Platefulls Indoor Turkey, Salmon and Chicken Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
These recipes contain a moderate amount of protein for wet cat food at 8%, which keeps the fat down to around 3% per recipe. This results in a very low-calorie recipe, with only around 150 calories per six ounces. This is actually less than Natural Balance’s weight loss recipes. However, it is not particularly high in fiber, which is obtained from peas and potatoes, neither of which is an ideal carbohydrate source for cats but are only present in the recipe in low levels.
If your indoor cat does not have stomach issues, this is a better choice than the limited ingredient indoor dry cat food.
As I already mentioned, Natural Balance also does weight management food. If your cat needs to lose weight, you don’t really need a weight management food, you just need to watch what they eat. In general, that means not overfeeding them, and making sure that their food is full of the healthy nutrients that they need.
The average cat of around eight to ten pounds only really needs to eat about 200 calories a day, though most loving pet parents feed their cats much more. Low-calorie foods mean that you can put more food in their bowls, but you could achieve the same effect by just reducing the amount of normal food you feed them. However, you should never reduce a cat’s diet suddenly, it will just leave them feeling underfed, causing them to beg for food or kill things to eat. Reduce their food intake gradually over the course of a few weeks.
For humans, diets aren’t just about how much you eat, but about what you eat. You feel better when you eat foods that are full of the nutrients that nourish you and feel pretty bad when you survive off highly processed foods that leave you deficit in important vitamins and minerals. The same goes for cats.
As already discussed, cats have evolved to be carnivores, so they need a lot of meat in their diet. They turn protein into energy, they use protein to keep muscles strong, and they convert protein into the essential amino acids that they need to survive. While plant proteins don’t hurt them, cats cannot convert them into the things that they need. So all cats should eat a diet that is high in animal protein, but especially cats that are on a diet and may feel like they are missing out on something.
Therefore, a good weight management cat food should be low in calories and high in animal protein. It is also useful if it is high in fiber as it will leave them feeling fuller faster and for longer. Both the dry and wet management cat food produced by Natural Balance ticks these boxes.
Dry Food: Natural Balance Fat Cats Dry Cat Food and Natural Balance Original Ultra Reduced Calorie Formula Dry Cat Food
Both are relatively high in protein for dry cat food at 35%, and also have 9% fiber to give your cat that full feeling, while being only around 300 calories per cup. Both recipes use a mixture of quality meat and meal and use a mixture of plant proteins for carbohydrates, including peas. The original formula primarily relies on brown rice for its protein, making it a slightly better choice.
Check out products from Nulo, a newer brand with similar benefits as this line.
The formula is relatively high in protein at 8.5% and low in calories at only 200 calories per six ounces. However, considering that it is not particularly high in fiber, uses a mix of quality meat and meal, and is higher in calories than Natural Balance’s High Protein wet food formula, the high protein formula is probably a better choice for every cat, including one on a diet.
About Natural Balance
Natural Balance Pet Foods was created in 1989 by entertainers Dick Van Patten and Joey Herrick when they discovered their shared love of animals. Their aim was to meet the growing demand for organic pet food free from filler ingredients.
In 2013 the company merged with Del Monte, a conglomerate behind numerous pet food brands, and then two years later J.M. Smucker purchased Natural Balance as part of their Big Heart Pet Brands acquisition.
First and foremost, Natural Balance believes in making their foods with premium ingredients. This means quality meats sourced from locations including the United States, France, India, New Zealand, and Canada. The source of their carbohydrate ingredients is less transparent. All of their foods are manufactured and packed in the United States to ensure quality control. However, their products are not organic or made with a large quantity of organic certified ingredients.
Natural Balance also wants to avoid nasty unnatural things that shouldn’t be part of anyone’s diet, human or animal. Their foods are free from artificial flavors and chemical preservatives, as well as animal by-products and refined grains.
They also want to avoid fillers that often make their way into cheaper cat foods, but are not a natural part of a cat’s diet. Primary among these are grains. However, the grains that are used for carbohydrates in cat foods do need to be replaced by other carbohydrates in grain-free formulas. Some of Natural Balance’s formulas are very high in peas and pea protein. While this will not harm your cat, it is also not a natural part of their diet, does not add nutritional value, and is filler that replaces animal protein.
The other primary principle on which Natural Balance is built is reliability and safety. Often when cat foods are tested they are found to contain nasty chemicals and contaminants that food companies claim to have had no idea was part of their formula.
Natural Balance themselves had a problem with this in 2007, with some of their foods needing to be recalled. In response, Natural Balance introduced extensive safety testing. Every batch of Natural Balance cat food is tested by an independent laboratory before hitting the shelves which makes sure that it is free from nine known contaminants that are known to be problematic for cat foods. You can see the lab results for your individual food batch in the Natural Balance website.
Natural Balance is also dedicated to customer service, claiming that every member of their customer service team has a degree in Animal Health Science. This means that when you call to speak to them, you will be speaking to someone who can help you. They also have an online advice page where you just enter some details about your pet and it will help you pick the right cat food.
Overall, Natural Balance is a good mid-range brand. It aspires to provide foods that mimic what cats would eat in the wild. This means high protein, free from artificial chemicals, and free from grains. However, in order to make their product affordable, they have had to make some compromises in terms of using meal meat alongside high-quality meats and packing their dry food with carbohydrates that cats don’t really need. This means that the premium brands are high in protein and quality meat, and free from useless problematic carbohydrates, but they are also notably more expensive. If you have a bit of leeway in your budget, you can check out Fromm’s artisanal options, or Tiki Pets’ popular variants.
To make the most out of the Natural Balance brand, invest in their high protein line. Both their wet and dry food ranges are high in quality proteins and have an affordable price sticker.
The other bonus with Natural Balance is that you can be confident that what it says on the package is what you get inside the bag. Too often tests on cat foods have shown that this is not the case. Every batch of Natural Balance cat food is laboratory tested before being shipped to ensure its quality, and you can see the lab results of your individual shipment on their website. You can buy with the confidence that you are getting what you paid for.