Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula costs less than other premium canned cat foods. Still, unlike many supermarket brands, you won't find any byproducts or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in it. Natural Balance does contain grain -- not great for cats, some experts say -- but overall, reviewers say it's a good alternative to the super-pricey premium cat foods.
High-grade meats, but also some less-desirable ingredients. Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats, has tried lots of expensive canned cat foods with her cats. Their very favorite? Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula.
"It has a pleasant aroma, a nice paté consistency, and my test cats dive into it every time it is served," Syufy writes. Most Amazon.com customers who review Indoor Cat Formula agree that their cats adore it -- including one with a severely food-allergic cat so finicky that he lost more than 10 pounds while turning his nose up at food after food. "I have tried several flavors of the Natural Balance foods with my cat and so far he has eaten them all without any hesitation or problem," she writes.
Natural Balance is higher in carbs than some experts like for cats (which are obligate carnivores that need to get most of their calories from protein and fat). Oat bran is the fifth ingredient, and brown rice flour is the sixth.
However, other experts see no problem with those ingredients. One doesn't like that Natural Balance includes carrageenan -- a seaweed-based thickener that some animal studies have linked to intestinal problems -- but gives Natural Balance the highest possible rating anyway. This expert points out that its main ingredients (chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver and salmon) are the same grade that humans would eat, and they're good for cats.
After recall, Natural Balance now tests every lot of its pet food. Natural Balance cat and dog foods were both involved in the notorious 2007 melamine recall, in which tainted ingredients from China made their way into hundreds of American pet foods, poisoning and killing many pets.
Now, Natural Balance runs an in-house lab that tests every lot of every food before releasing it to stores. It tests for contaminants such as E. coli, salmonella and several mold toxins that can infect grain (aflatoxin, vomitoxin, fumonisin, ochratoxin and zearalenone).
In May 2012, Natural Balance recalled several varieties of dry dog food that was made for the company by Diamond Pet Foods. Diamond makes several brands of pet food, and some of them tested positive for salmonella. Natural Balance did not test positive, but the company recalled the food anyway as a precaution. (No dry cat food was recalled, and a different company makes Natural Balance's canned foods.)
One expert review source notes that Natural Balance now gets all of the ingredients for the 12 canned flavors reviewed there (including the Indoor Cat Formula) from the United States. This source also notes that Natural Balance's cans are bisphenol A (BPA)-free, avoiding a chemical that studies have linked to reproductive problems, cancers and other diseases.
Cheaper than other premium cat foods. Natural Balance includes more grains than other premium cat foods -- and it costs less. Felidae Cat and Kitten Formula (*Est. $1.30 for a 5.5-oz. can) comes highly recommended and contains more fat and fewer carbs (less brown rice) than Natural Balance, but it also costs a little more. Organic canned cat food, like Newman's Own Organics Chicken and Brown Rice (*Est. $1.40 for a 5.5-oz. can), costs still more.
Grain-free premium cat foods -- designed to more closely mimic a cat's wild diet -- usually cost the most. Examples include Merrick Cowboy Cookout (*Est. $1.40 for a 5.5-oz. can), Evo Cat and Kitten Food (*Est. $1.40 for a 5.5-oz. can), Wellness Chicken Formula (*Est. $1.50 for a 5.5-oz. can), Wysong Au Jus Chicken (*Est. $1.60 for a 5.5-oz. can) and Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe (*Est. $1.60 for a 5.5-oz. can).
Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula contains more grain than some experts would like, and some wish it didn't have carrageenan in it. However, it still offers a premium food -- high-quality ingredients, no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and an impressive safety-testing program -- at a less-than-premium price, making it a strong value among better cat foods according to reviews.
Excellent Truth About Pet Food blogger Susan Thixton rates dozens of cat food brands here, including Natural Balance. She notes where the food is made, where the ingredients are sourced, and she digs through the ingredient lists of individual flavors to point out which ingredients are good for cats -- and which are bad.
Review: Natural Balance Cat Food, Susan Thixton, Updated March 2011
Excellent Dr. Lisa Pierson, DVM, advocates feeding cats a raw meat diet with no grains or vegetables. That said, she names a small number of better-quality canned cat foods -- including Natural Balance -- on her site. The results of a project collecting nutritional information from cat food makers are provided in a comparison cat food chart.
Review: Commercial Foods, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, As of October 2012
Very Good About.com's guide to cats, Franny Syufy, names the best top-quality canned cat foods -- ranked by her own cats' preference. Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula is their very favorite. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: Top Canned Cat Food, Franny Syufy, Not Dated
Very Good A couple of flavors of Natural Balance cat food make this best cat food list by Tracie Hotchner, author of "The Cat Bible" and host of the syndicated radio show "Cat Chat." Hotchner approves of the grain-free Duck and Pea flavor, as well as the Chicken and Liver Paté. The Indoor Cat Formula does not make the list, however.
Review: Cat Chat Approved Foods, Tracie Hotchner, Not Dated
Fair While other retail websites lump user reviews for all Natural Balance flavors together, Amazon.com sorts them by flavor -- but the Indoor Cat Formula gets only 10 reviews. Still, there's a good balance of opinions here: Most say their cats love it and it has been great for their health. One says her cat didn't like it, and one got a batch with "a sour off-smell" after feeding Natural Balance for a year with great results.
Review: Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula Cat Food, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2012