What every best Cat Food has:
- More meat, less grain in the top five ingredients.
- No corn, wheat or soy as carbohydrate sources.
- No artificial preservatives.
High-grade meats, but also some less-desirable ingredients. Natural Balance Original Ultra Formula 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), and you'll find brown rice seventh on the ingredient list. That's a no-no in some experts' eyes, though less of an issue to others. Most experts give high marks to the quality of the main ingredients -- chicken broth, chicken, chicken liver, duck and salmon. Carrageenan -- a seaweed-based thickener that's also commonly used in human food -- is the only other controversial ingredient, but there's no consensus regarding whether it should be a concern at the low levels that the food contains.
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. It was also touched by the 2012 recall for possible salmonella contamination at a Diamond Pet Food plant where some of its varieties were made, though none of its food tested positive. Now, Natural Balance runs an in-house lab that tests every lot of every food before releasing it to stores. That includes tests for contaminants such as E. coli, salmonella and several mold toxins that can infect grain (aflatoxin, vomitoxin, fumonisin, ochratoxin and zearalenone). Natural Balance was acquired by Del Monte Foods in the summer of 2013, and sold again -- this time to J.M. Smucker -- in early 2015. However, the company's testing program remains unchanged.
Cheaper than other premium cat foods. Natural Balance includes more grains than other premium cat foods. However, grain-free premium cat foods -- such as Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe (Est. $20 for 12 5.5 oz. cans) and Ziwi Peak New Zealand Lamb Recipe (Est. $45 for 12 6.5 oz. cans) -- usually cost substantially more. You can spend less on a supermarket brand cat food, but with rare exceptions -- such as Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner (Est. 79 cents for a 5.5-oz. can), a quality supermarket food only available at Trader Joe's stores -- these foods use more undesirable ingredients, such as meat by-products. Some supermarket brands, such as Fancy Feast Classic Chicken Feast (Est. $16 for 24 3 oz. cans), can cost more per ounce than Natural Balance.
TruthAboutPetFood.com blogger Susan Thixton rates numerous 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.
TheSpruce.com's Franny Syufy, names the best top-quality canned cat foods. Natural Balance sits at the top, and she notes that it contains no by-products and that it has high acceptance among her test cats.
Natural Balance Original Ultra Formula is rated here along with a reduced-calorie version. Overall satisfaction looks decent, and the cat foods earn a rating of 3.6 stars out of 5 following more than 325 cat owner reviews. Some issues with dented cans or possibly receiving outdated inventory are noted, but, as is typically the case, the negative reviews seem to center on cats that were too finicky for the food.
Here, there are about 130 reviews for Natural Balance Original Ultra cat food, but all are for this variety only. Satisfaction is a bit higher than at Amazon.com. It earns a 4.3-star rating, with 85 percent of those posting reviews adding that they would recommend the food.