Buying a dog food is a lot harder than it should be. There are so many options out there, and there’s so much information to take in; we don’t blame you if your eyes start rolling back in your head at the thought of reading another ingredients list.
That’s why we did the work for you. Today, we’re comparing two common, premium dog foods — Natural Balance and Blue Buffalo — to find which one is better able to live up to the promises it makes on the package.
Which one should you feed your dog? You’ll have to keep reading our Natural Balance vs Blue Buffalo Dog Food comparison to find out.
A Sneak Peek at the Winner: Natural Balance
While both dog foods use high-quality ingredients, and both avoid cheap fillers and animal by-products, we feel that Natural Balance offers just a bit more nutrition. We also think their safety history makes them a more reputable brand overall.
During our research, we came across the following three recipes that we think demonstrate the brand’s quality nicely:
- Natural Balance Original Ultra
- Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Grain-Free
- Natural Balance Synergy Ultra Premium
Even though Natural Balance won, that doesn’t mean that Blue Buffalo puts out a bad dog food. Far from it, and we found several things we really liked about that brand (more on that later).
About Natural Balance
Natural Balance traces its origins back to Burbank, California, where it was founded in 1989.
Natural Balance Was Founded by a Well-Known Actor
The brand was started by actor Dick Van Patten, who in addition to his starring role in Eight is Enough was also a passionate animal welfare advocate.
Van Patten wanted to make a dog food that used the highest-quality foods, so that dogs could have a tasty, nutritious meal in every bowl.
They Don’t Use Fillers or Animal By-Products
Given that Van Patten wanted animals’ health kept as the foremost priority, Natural Balance’s foods don’t contain cheap fillers, low-grade animal by-products, or other dodgy ingredients.
They’re Famous for Their Limited-Ingredient Foods
Many of their dog foods are produced under their Limited Ingredient Diet (L.I.D.) line.
The company clearly feels that producing kibble that’s made using only a few select, high-end ingredients is superior to jamming as much food as possible into each bag.
Their Recipes Don’t Always Contain Very Much Protein
If you read their labels, you’ll often find that some sort of carbohydrate is listed as the first ingredient rather than lean meat. This reduces the overall amount of protein in the dog food, which is one of the easiest ways to determine a food’s quality.
Still, we’d much rather a dog food use a limited amount of high-quality meat than fill the kibble with meat that they should have thrown away.
About Blue Buffalo
While Blue Buffalo wasn’t started by a famous actor, they’ve managed to accrue quite a reputation in their own right.
Blue Buffalo Was Started for the Love of a Dog
The founders of Blue Buffalo, the Bishop family, owned an Airedale named Blue. When Blue was diagnosed with cancer, they started a crusade to save him, with a focus on feeding him the most nutritious diet possible.
To that end, they consulted a host of vets and nutritionists in order to determine the best recipe. The one they settled on formed the basis of their flagship kibble, which they began to mass-produce and sell themselves.
Despite being less than two decades old, the company is now one of the biggest names in dog food — and it all started for the love of a dog.
Blue Buffalo Doesn’t Use Fillers or Animal By-Products (Allegedly)
Blue Buffalo’s emphasis on nutrition caused them to eliminate cheap fillers or animal by-products from their foods, a fact that they’ve advertised far and wide.
However, the company was sued by Purina for false advertising in 2014, and during the trial, they admitted to using by-products in many of their foods. They claim they’ve since stopped, but it’s up to you whether to believe them.
We’re Big Fans of Blue Buffalo’s High Protein Line
Blue Buffalo has a product line, Wilderness, which is extremely high in protein. This is by far our favorite of their dog foods and one that we’d put against just about any other dog food in its class.
As you’ll soon see, however, not all Blue Buffalo foods are at that same level.
Blue Buffalo Nutrient Levels Aren’t Consistent
While the Wilderness line is packed with protein, many of their other foods have very little protein at all. It can be terribly confusing.
That’s why you should read the label before buying any Blue Buffalo products, because you can never be too sure of what you’re going to get.
3 Most Popular Natural Balance Dog Food Recipes
1. Natural Balance Original Ultra
This is the brand’s basic kibble, and it’s rather good, as far as basic kibbles go.
The protein and fat levels are on the higher side of average (27% and 15%, respectively), and chicken is the first ingredient. There’s a variety of important nutrients inside, including glucosamine (from chicken fat) and omega fatty acids (from flaxseed).
Some of the protein comes from peas, which lack the essential amino acids found in animal sources. Also, the sodium levels are high in this dog food.
A few ingredients have been known to cause digestive issues, but they’re counterbalanced by foods like brown rice and oats, which are helpful for soothing upset stomachs. We’d still find another dog food if your dog is allergy-prone.
As is usually the case, this brand’s basic kibble has been eclipsed by some of the other formulas that have followed it. This is one of the better flagship foods we’ve seen.
2. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Grain-Free
The L.I.D. line is what Natural Balance is best-known for. The philosophy behind these foods is to reduce the number of foods in the kibble, and thereby attempt to reduce the risk of allergic reactions.
This formula is grain-free, though not all of the L.I.D. foods are. It has much less protein and fat than the basic kibble (21% and 10%, respectively). In fact, meat’s not even the first ingredient — sweet potatoes are.
The food has quite a bit of potato protein in it as well, which we find confusing. For one thing, potatoes cause digestive issues in many dogs, and for another, plant protein isn’t as good as animal protein for dogs.
There’s also way too much salt in here.
We do appreciate their effort to add as many omega fatty acids as possible, and to that end they’ve included canola and salmon oil. Overall, though, we think most dogs would do better on a more substantial food, even if they do have food sensitivities.
3. Natural Balance Synergy Ultra Premium
The Synergy line is dedicated to improving your mutt’s digestive tract. It’s packed with pre- and probiotics, and it uses clean meats and stomach-friendly carbs as well.
The protein and fat levels are good, at 28% and 16%, respectively. Chicken and chicken meal are the first two ingredients, and there’s also salmon and lamb meal, plus some chicken fat.
Most of the carbs come from brown rice, barley, and oats, all of which are easily digested by most dogs. There are also quite a few superfoods inside, like spinach, cranberries, and kelp.
We do have a few slight issues with this kibble, but they’re hardly deal breakers. It has eggs, which some dogs struggle to digest, and, like most of their foods, there’s too much salt.
Overall, though, this is one of our favorite Natural Balance offerings.
3 Most Popular Blue Buffalo Dog Food Recipes
1. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Adult
This is Blue Buffalo’s basic kibble, and its biggest claim to fame is the inclusion of LifeSource Bits. These are chunks of vitamins and antioxidants that are mixed in with the kibble to give your dog a boost of nutrition.
It’s good they’re in there, too, because otherwise this is a pretty nondescript food. The protein, fat, and fiber levels are all average, as is the number of calories.
It does have high omega levels, thanks to the flaxseed in it, and there’s a fair amount of glucosamine from the chicken meal.
However, some of the protein comes from peas, the salt levels are unacceptable, and it has potatoes in it. This keeps us from recommending it too vigorously.
All in all, this is a very “ok” food. It won’t hurt your dog, but you could do a lot better.
2. Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Natural Adult
After reading this Blue Buffalo ingredient label, we realize we might have been too harsh on their basic kibble.
There’s only 18% protein and 10% fat in this food, so hopefully your dog can hunt down a snack in between meals. The fiber levels are good at 7%, and it’s packed with glucosamine and chondroitin, but beyond that, there’s little worth recommending about this food.
It does have canola and fish oil for omega fatty acids, but the overall levels are still low. Also, the fourth ingredient is potatoes, and some of the measly amount of protein comes from peas.
We get that you might want to take extreme measures if you have a dog with a sensitive disposition, but this food is too extreme for our tastes.
3. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Denali Dinner High Protein Grain-Free Natural
To be honest, we wonder how the Blue Buffalo can make the food above and then turn around and create a kibble like this.
This has a bunch of protein (30%), and it comes from lean, omega-rich foods like salmon, fish meal, venison, halibut, and crab meal. Some of the protein comes from plants, true, but at least there’s a lot of meat in here.
Blue Buffalo didn’t eliminate the bad ingredients, but at least they pushed them further down the list, as there’s much less potatoes and salt in here. They also negate them a bit by adding fantastic foods like sweet potatoes, cranberries, blueberries, and kelp.
We wish Blue Buffalo would boost the fat levels a bit, but that’s hard to do with a fish-based food.
This isn’t a perfect food by any means, but it’s far and away better than the other two Blue Buffalo foods we reviewed above.
Recall History of Natural Balance and Blue Buffalo
Both companies have had their fair share of recalls in the past few years.
The worst for both came when they were included in the Great Melamine Recall of 2007. Over 100 foods were recalled due to the presence of melamine, a lethal chemical found in plastics. Many pets died from eating tainted food, but we don’t know if any of that was as a result of these brands.
Natural Balance had another recall in 2007, this time for botulinum contamination. They also endured two Salmonella-related recalls, one in 2010 and the other in 2012.
Blue Buffalo had their own recall to deal with in 2010, this one on account of elevated vitamin D levels. Then, in 2015, they recalled some chew bones due to Salmonella contamination.
In 2016 and 2017, Blue Buffalo had several recalls of their canned foods. One was due to mold, another because of metal bits, and the final one because of elevated beef thyroid hormone levels.
Also, we should mention that Blue Buffalo is one of over a dozen foods that has been linked to an elevated risk of heart disease by the FDA. There’s no smoking gun yet, but the allegations are troubling all the same.
Natural Balance vs. Blue Buffalo Comparison
These two foods are remarkably close in terms of quality, so it may behoove us to compare them in a few head-to-head categories:
They use similar ingredients, so the flavors shouldn’t be too terribly different. However, Natural Balance primarily uses animal meals, whereas Blue Buffalo uses a combination of meals and lean meat.
While your dog shouldn’t turn his nose up at either, we think he might like Blue Buffalo a bit more.
This category will depend greatly on which recipes you’re comparing. At the top and middle of the spectrum, the foods should be roughly similar.
However, Natural Balance’s worst food is far and away better than Blue Buffalo’s worst, so we’ll give them the edge here.
These foods are evenly priced for the most part. Blue Buffalo’s higher-end foods may be more expensive than anything Natural Balance has to offer, but the value is usually there, too.
This one’s too close to call.
Blue Buffalo has a few more product lines, including their high-protein Wilderness option, but Natural Balance’s regular flavors tend to be higher in protein than Blue Buffalo’s, so it balances out somewhat. They both offer regular, limited ingredient, and grain-free options.
We would say the Wilderness line gives Blue Buffalo the tiniest of edges in this category.
Blue Buffalo comes out ahead 2-1 in the categories above, but we’re still going to declare Natural Balance the winner. Why? Most of the categories were extremely close, but Natural Balance hasn’t had any scandals like Blue Buffalo has.
The foods are likely a bit too close to call, but we trust the Natural Balance company a bit more.
It’s hard to think of two foods from different brands that are more similar than Natural Balance and Blue Buffalo. That’s understandable, given that the companies share a comparable ethos, but it makes it difficult to declare one a clear winner over the other.
We’ve named Natural Balance the champion here, but the margins are close enough that we wouldn’t argue with you for buying Blue Buffalo (especially their Wilderness line).
Ultimately, the most important individual in this conversation should have the deciding vote, so we recommend seeing which one your dog prefers.