Merrick Grain Free Dog Food (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★★★

Merrick Grain Free dog food receives the Advisor’s top rating of 5 stars.

The Merrick Grain Free product line includes four dry dog foods, each claimed to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages.

The following is a list of recipes available at the time of this review.

  • Merrick Grain Free Pork and Sweet Potato
  • Merrick Grain Free Duck and Sweet Potato
  • Merrick Grain Free Buffalo and Sweet Potato
  • Merrick Grain Free Chicken and Sweet Potato

Merrick Grain Free Duck and Sweet Potato was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Merrick Grain Free Real Duck and Sweet Potato

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 43% | Fat = 19% | Carbs = 30%

Ingredients: Deboned duck, turkey meal, salmon meal (source of omega 3 fatty acids), sweet potato, peas, lamb meal, potato, duck fat (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols), pea protein, natural flavor, apples, blueberries, organic alfalfa, salmon oil, minerals (salt, zinc amino acid complex, zinc sulfate, iron amino acid complex, manganese amino acid complex, copper amino acid complex, potassium iodide, cobalt amino acid complex, sodium selenite), vitamins (choline chloride, vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin D3, niacin, riboflavin supplement, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, thiamine mononitrate), Yucca schidigera extract, dried Lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, rosemary extract

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 3.9%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis38%17%NA
Dry Matter Basis43%19%30%
Calorie Weighted Basis36%39%25%

The first ingredient in this dog food is duck. Although it is a quality item, raw duck contains about 80% water. After cooking, most of that moisture is lost, reducing the meat content to just a fraction of its original weight.

After processing, this item would probably account for a smaller part of the total content of the finished product.

The second ingredient is turkey meal. Turkey meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh turkey.

The third ingredient is salmon meal, another protein-rich meat concentrate.

Fish meal is typically obtained from the “clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish and fish cuttings” of commercial fish operations.1

We are pleased to note that, unlike many fish meals, this particular item appears2 to be ethoxyquin-free.

The fourth ingredient is sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are a gluten-free source of complex carbohydrates in a dog food. They are naturally rich in dietary fiber and beta carotene.

The fifth ingredient is peas. Peas are a quality source of carbohydrates. Plus (like all legumes) they’re rich in natural fiber.

However, peas contain about 25% protein, a factor that must be considered when judging the actual meat content of this dog food.

The sixth ingredient is lamb meal. Lamb meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh lamb.

The seventh ingredient is potato. Potatoes can be considered a gluten-free source of digestible carbohydrates. Yet with the exception of perhaps their caloric content, potatoes are of only modest nutritional value to a dog.

The eighth ingredient is duck fat. Duck fat is obtained from rendering duck, a process similar to making soup in which the fat itself is skimmed from the surface of the liquid.

Duck fat is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life. Although it doesn’t sound very appetizing, duck fat is actually a quality ingredient.

The ninth ingredient is pea protein, what remains of a pea after removing the starchy part of the vegetable.

Even though it contains over 80% protein, this ingredient would be expected to have a lower biological value than meat.

And less costly plant-based products like this can notably boost the total protein reported on the label — a factor that must be considered when judging the actual meat content of this dog food.

From here, the list goes on to include a number of other items.

But to be realistic, ingredients located this far down the list (other than nutritional supplements) are not likely to affect the overall rating of this product.

With three notable exceptions

First, salmon oil is naturally rich in the prized EPA and DHA type of omega-3 fatty acids. These two high quality fats boast the highest bio-availability to dogs and humans.

Depending on its level of freshness and purity, salmon oil should be considered a commendable addition.

Next, we note the use of dried fermentation products in this recipe. Fermentation products are typically added to provide enzymes to aid the animal with digestion.

And lastly, this food also contains chelated minerals, minerals that have been chemically attached to protein. This makes them easier to absorb. Chelated minerals are usually found in better dog foods.

Merrick Grain Free Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Merrick Grain Free appears to be an above average dry dog food.

But ingredient quality by itself cannot tell the whole story. We still need to estimate the product’s meat content before determining a final rating.

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 43%, a fat level of 19% and estimated carbohydrates of about 30%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 43% and a mean fat level of 19%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 30% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 45%.

Above-average protein. Above-average fat. And below-average carbs when compared to a typical dry dog food.

Even when you consider the protein-boosting effect of the peas and pea protein, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a significant amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Merrick Grain Free is a meat-based dry dog food using a significant amount of named meats and meat meals as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 5 stars.

Enthusiastically recommended.

A Final Word

This review is designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food. However, our rating system is not intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in specific health benefits for your pet.

For a better understanding of how we analyzed this product, please be sure to read our article, “The Problem with Dog Food Reviews

Remember, no dog food can possibly be appropriate for every life stage, lifestyle or health condition. So, choose wisely. And when in doubt consult a veterinarian for help.

Have an opinion about this dog food? Or maybe the review itself? Please know we welcome your comments.

A Final Word

The descriptions and analyses expressed in this and every article on this website represent the views and opinions of the author.

The Dog Food Advisor does not test dog food products.

We rely almost entirely on the integrity of the information posted by each company on its website. As such, the accuracy of every review is directly dependent upon the quality of the test results from any specific batch of food a company chooses to publish.

Although it's our goal to ensure all the information on this website is correct, we cannot guarantee its completeness or its accuracy; nor can we commit to ensuring all the material is kept up-to-date on a daily basis.

Each review is offered in good faith and has been designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

However, due to the biological uniqueness of every animal, none of our ratings are intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in a specific dietary response or health benefit for your pet.

For a better understanding of how we analyze each product, please read our article, "The Problem with Dog Food Reviews".

Remember, no dog food can possibly be appropriate for every life stage, lifestyle or health condition. So, choose wisely. And when in doubt, consult a qualified veterinary professional for help.

In closing, we do not accept money, gifts or samples from pet food companies in exchange for special consideration in the preparation of our reviews or ratings.

To learn how we support the cost of operating this website, please visit our public Disclosure and Disclaimer page.

Have an opinion about this dog food? Or maybe the review itself? Please know we welcome your comments.

Notes and Updates

06/22/2014 Last Update

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  2. Merrick Customer Service via email dated 8/17/2010
  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com/ Mike Sagman

    NSF and SQF provide risk management and HACCP food safety compliance assessment and certification.

    The certification process itself is voluntary and costly and are far from being something a company can simply purchase.

    In fact, these kinds of certifications at various levels in the human and pet food industry are not ubiquitous and are typically associated with higher quality manufacturers.

    There are European standards, too.

    I use these designations myself as one of a number of factors in our own evaluation of pet food companies.

  • Bob K

    Bridgett – What exactly is Merrick doing with NSF International and SQF? Paying some fees? HACCP is not an organization? Lots of companies say they are partnering with someone – pretty meaningless statement unless you have the exact details including specific dates. Looks great on paper and some people think the names mean their foods, processes and facilities are perfect – NOT

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com/ Mike Sagman

    The letter you reference here is over 5 years old and is of much less importance to the public than on the day it was originally issued.

    Pet food recalls are (of course) important but tend to be overrated and sensationalized by pet owners. And they’re treated much more harshly than human food recalls.

    Dole has experienced 9 human food recalls in just the past 31 months. And Planter’s and Kraft have had recalls, too. Yet we continue to buy their products.

    I was issued a speeding ticket 14 years ago. Thank goodness my insurance company has forgiven me and allowed me another chance.

    Will Merrick have another recall? Probably.

    Or will they get another Warning letter? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?

    However, those who avoid buying a brand of dog food simply because the company has
    previously experienced a recall event — or was issued an FDA Warning letter years ago — may be missing out on some of the very best products available.

  • DogFoodie

    And, Garth Merrick, to whom the letter was addressed is still the President and CEO of Merrick Pet Care.

    Looks like Merrick could also be liable for the recent death of one of their employees: http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/2013-12-06/family-elevator-shaft-fall-victim-sues-local-food-company-founder

  • theBCnut

    This is from that FDA letter to Merrick

    • Your firm delayed your public communication to alert consumers who may have the recalled product in their possession until after FDA issued an FDA Health Alert on January 14, 2010.

    • Your recall communications to distributors, retailers, and consumers only included case lot coding 9323, which was different from the lot coding on some of the individual
    bags. Due to a labeling error, some of the affected bags were coded with the lot code 9333.

    • Your recall letter did not identify the hazard involved. Your letter to wholesale and retail consignees indicated the product was recalled because it “may not have been
    processed properly.” Recalls can be less effective if the recall communication does not concisely explain the reason for recall and the hazard involved.

    I don’t care what their excuse is when companies delay a recall, put out wrong info, or otherwise respond in ways that prevent dog owners from protecting their pets.

  • DogFoodie

    Merrick is also aware that there is currently a problem with their Whole Earth Farms kibbled diets and are refusing to resolve the issue.

  • aquariangt

    there are plenty of other products on the market to not play a guessing game with a company with that sort of history, doing something like those points (which are quite big, imo) even once makes me question them as a whole. Merrick certainly has a lot of good points, but it makes me a bit nervous to bother with

  • Bridgett

    OMG that’s 5 years ago, but having said that, in fairness to Merrick I think you would find it very interesting to hear their side of the story, which I think you should research before condemning all their products

  • DogFoodie

    Merrick isn’t exactly on the up and up when it comes to FDA compliance.

    http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm217086.htm

  • Bridgett

    Well the only thing I say is that I love Merrick, I love that it’s a 100% USA product, their ingredients are top quality, they uphold the strict guidelines defined by the FDA. And, continue to enhance quality and safety performance by partnering with organizations like NSF International, Safe Quality Food (SQF) and HACCP. My dogs have done wonderfully on it after the transition of course, great customer service, as a side note, some of the posters are equating certain symptoms with the food (of which I’ve not had those) but just a little FYI, don’t rule out the water , water more than anything else has been know to give dogs diarrhea.

  • Susan

    Rotate, when older, Holistic Select has Lamb, Duck, Chicken, Turkey, here’s their link to have a look http://www.holisticselect.com/recipes.aspx?pet=dog

  • Lynn

    I’ve tried Wellness. The dogs didn’t do well on it. I will check on the Holistic Select. Thank you. Although, following Fukushima, I hesitate to feed fish.

  • Susan

    Have you looked at “Holistic Select’ puppy grainfree Anchovy, Sardines & Salmon….or the Wellness brands the fat% is lower…

  • theBCnut

    Many of the symptoms you are reporting are seen in cases of food intolerance/hypersensitivity. But you are right, not every food is right for every dog, for many reasons.

  • Lynn

    I am a show breeder of Lakeland Terriers. I’m currently feeding three brands of dry dog kibble and fresh chicken at home.

    I have a new puppy (now 12 wks old) on Merricks puppy formula. I’ve never used Merricks before, but when I picked up the pup (2 states over), the brand he was fed was not available at the local store. Neither was my normal brand (Taste of the Wild). I tried Merrick as the ingredient list looked good and the protein/fat ratio looked good. After about 1 week on the Merrick dry with some Merrick canned puppy (chicken stew?) added, I stopped the canned – he wouldn’t eat it any more. I added a raw chicken wing (all my dogs eat raw human-grade chicken without any issues). He loves the chicken and eats the kibble only when he is really hungry. I’m getting some loose stools, which I’ve never had with pups that eat raw chicken. I usually get very firm and well formed stools with the raw. I’m not sure of the cause. He is being treated with Albon as a precaution, since Giardia is endemic where I live (we have chickens as neighbors). If it continues after treatment, I may try a different kibble and see if that makes a difference.

    My young adults are eating Taste of the Wild High Prairie. They’ve been raised on that – along with raw chicken (they get the drumsticks now that they are mature). They do beautifully on it. Stools are firm, not smelly. Coats are crispy wire with rich color and nice sheen. Muscle tone is great. Eyes are bright, ears are clean/dry and teeth are strong and clean.

    I have two older adults that I recently switched to Blue Buffalo’s weight management formula. Both were getting chunky and one was starting to get a greasy coat and itchy skin. Since making the switch, I’ve been able to take some weight off. I’ve used a tea tree and neem oil shampoo for the skin issues. The coat seems to be recovering with less oiliness than previously. It hasn’t been long enough to make a huge difference, but I’m seeing positive changes. They seem to like the food, but these two are the ultimate chow hounds and would find tree bark tasty.

    I’ve been reading reviews to get a feel for actual experiences on the various foods. It doesn’t seem to matter which food I look at, there are positive and negative results. I heard of issues with TOTW/Diamond and was looking for an alternative. However, there seem to be at least as many issues with Merrick, Blue Buffalo and the others. The food, “Precise Holistic” that was recommended on this site also has tons of negative feedback. Some of the others are priced way too high to feed to multiple dogs.

    I guess the bottom line is this – even if you have multiple dogs of the same breed, not all of them will react the same to a particular type of food. If you are seeing a dull coat, oiliness, flaky skin (which could be due to neglectful grooming habits), digestive issues (worms, giardia, coccidea, bacterial infection are frequent causes), itchy ears, chewing of the feet, etc. it is time to investigate possible causes and maybe change foods.

  • AnneW

    I recently switched my 1 1/2 yr old dogs, an Aussie/Lab mix and a Jack Russell mix from Acana Lamb and Apple to Merrick Duck & Sweet Potato and they are doing great on it! I was not happy with the new formula of the Acana singles so I gave Nature’s Logic a try, it gave my JR really bad gas and their poop was nasty greasy looking. My Aussie also had a couple accidents during the night because it upset her stomach apparenty. I switched them very slowly too, and we’ve changed brands a few times trying to find something that kept their coats and skin healthy but wasn’t as costly as Acana/Orijen and never had these issues. I prefer duck and lamb for proteins so we gave the Merrick a try and their coats are still as shiney and soft as when they were on Acana. Their poop is fine, they don’t have accidents, and no flaky skin! Every dog is different, and I’m sure everyone has their own idea of a brand and I’m not going to try and change anyone’s mind, but for me in all the research I’ve done and questions I’ve asked, I think Merrick is a good quality food and I’ll keep my pups on it.

  • aquariangt

    I’m confused as to why you see any of this as bad reasoning. With plenty of good dog food out there, why would I put mine on one with known problems? The experiences of others is great information to have when it comes to figuring out the best plan for your dog

  • Aaron Siering

    Irrespective of this conversation I really wish I could convince you of the inestimable benefits in improving your ability to reason. I can see I’ve acted very stupidly in not seeing the futility of my original post. This was a complete waste of my time…. It is not my intention to insult any of you. For what it is worth I do accept that all of you have acted with the best of intentions, and I can anticipate how unfair and incomprehensible the above comments might appear to you. In the end it really is just as if we are speaking in different languages.

    I can accept that others have had problems with Merrick lately, and they very well might be having a problem with their quality control; but the fallacies in reasoning that are being used in justification of this belief are so consistent and numerous that they just wear me out.

  • aquariangt

    Most to all of the regular posters have no ties to a company, so there is no reason for them to be “slandering” just keeping people informed. Not only do they have QC trouble, they’re shady. Do a bit of nosing about and you can find out why from some official articles if you don’t want to believe people here. Blue is even worse, since I saw you say they are high quality as well

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    A lot of the regular posters here have had problems with it and i can assure you they have no motives other than to post their experiences with Merrick. Time and time again they seem to be having quality control issues.
    You have your opinion and i have mine. Bottom line is I don’t trust Merrick. Have a wonderful day!

  • Aaron Siering

    Now hold on, I never said that everybody here was out to slander Merricks, but it is also naive to believe that no one is. The fact is I can’t really know what people’s motives truly are. What I said is that the post seemed unduly biased, and it lead me, personally, to question its trustworthiness. Everyone of these dog foods and the small companies which make them seem to have had problems in particular batches if one judges by the stories people tell about them. So lets be fair because for some people, and more importantly some dogs, Merrick will be the right brand.

    If you have a story to tell about some negative experience you had with Merrick then by all means tell it, but when one starts making much more general allegations based on the type of faulty use of reasoning we really all are subject to in forming opinions from our experiences then somebody else also has the right, and perhaps even the obligation, to question it.

  • Hater & Molly’s Mom

    I understand that different dogs tolerate different foods. Not every food is for every dog. I would never buy Merrick again! I opened the bag and the kibble was full of hairs. Not just a little but a lot!
    Read all the comments here and you will see that no one is out to slander Merrick.

  • theBCnut

    You are not the only one having these issues with Merrick’s lately. Their quality control seems to be lacking. Several people have complained about them recently.

  • theBCnut

    If you read around the Merrick threads, you will see that there have been a number of complaints about Merrick’s quality control not being what it should be.

  • Ray Korbyl

    I never said it was a bad dog food but I think there quality care has really changed it the past years, I use to drive a hour to get it years ago and then when it finally came to my city we all flocked to the local pet store to buy it and maybe it was a bad batch, but there was a lot of sick dogs that were all eating Merrick so you do the math and come to a conclusion..Have never had that happen in my 20yrs of having dogs, and that’s why I will never take another chance with my dogs life by feeding that brand again, they had one shot and they blew it,our pet store pulled it off her shelves and refunded everyone there money..