Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★★★

Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free Dog Food receives the Advisor’s top rating of 5 stars.

The Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free product line includes three dry recipes, each claimed to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages (excluding large breed puppies).

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

  • Lil’ Plates Grain Free Real Salmon and Sweet Potato
  • Lil’ Plates Grain Free Real Chicken and Sweet Potato
  • Lil’ Plates Grain Free Real Texas Beef and Sweet Potato

Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free Real Salmon and Sweet Potato was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Merrick Lil' Plates Grain Free Real Salmon and Sweet Potato

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 38% | Fat = 16% | Carbs = 38%

Ingredients: Deboned salmon, salmon meal, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, whitefish meal, potato protein, natural flavor, coconut oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), deboned whitefish, apples, flaxseed oil, blueberries, inulin (from chicory root), organic alfalfa, gelatin, salmon oil (source of omega-3 fatty acids), salt, minerals (zinc sulfate, iron amino acid complex, zinc amino acid complex, manganese amino acid complex, copper amino acid complex, potassium iodide, cobalt amino acid complex, sodium selenite), vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A acetate, vitamin B12 supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin D3 supplement, niacin, riboflavin supplement, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, thiamine mononitrate), choline chloride, Yucca schidigera extract, dried Bacillus coagulans fermentation product, 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) = 5.1%

Red items indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis34%14%NA
Dry Matter Basis38%16%38%
Calorie Weighted Basis33%33%33%
Protein = 33% | Fat = 33% | Carbs = 33%

The first ingredient in this dog food is salmon. Although it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, raw salmon 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 salmon meal. Because it is considered a meat concentrate, fish meal contains almost 300% more protein than fresh fish itself.

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

The third 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 fourth ingredient includes peas. Peas are a quality source of carbohydrates. And like all legumes, they’re rich in natural fiber.

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

The fifth 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 sixth ingredient is whitefish meal, another protein-rich meat concentrate.

The seventh ingredient is potato protein, the dry residue remaining after removing the starchy part of a potato.

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.

After the natural flavor, we find coconut oil, a natural oil rich in medium-chain fatty acids.

Medium-chain triglycerides have been shown to improve cognitive function in older dogs.2

Because of its proven safety3 as well as its potential to help in the treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) and chronic skin disorders, MCT can be considered a positive addition to this recipe.

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 five notable exceptions

First, flaxseed oil is one of the best non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids — essential to a dog’s health.

Next, we note the inclusion of inulin, a starch-like compound made up of repeating units of carbohydrates and typically sourced from chicory root.

Not only is inulin a natural source of soluble dietary fiber, it’s also a prebiotic used to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in a dog’s digestive tract.

In addition, we find alfalfa, a flowering member of the pea family. Although alfalfa is high in protein (18%) and fiber, it’s uncommon to see it used in a dog food. This hay-family ingredient is more commonly associated with horse feeds.

Next, 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.

And lastly, this food 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 Lil’ Plates Grain Free Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free looks like an above-average dry product.

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 38%, a fat level of 16% and estimated carbohydrates of about 38%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 41% and a mean fat level of 17%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 34% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 42%.

Above-average protein. Near-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, potato protein and alfalfa, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a significant amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free is a meat-based dry dog food using a significant amount of salmon, chicken or lamb meals as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 5 stars.

Enthusiastically recommended.

Please note certain recipes are sometimes given a higher or lower rating based upon our estimate of their total meat content and (when appropriate) their fat-to-protein ratios.

Merrick Dog Food
Recall History

The following list (if present) includes all dog food recalls since 2009 directly related to this product line. If there are no recalls listed in this section, we have not yet reported any events.

You can view a complete list of all dog food recalls sorted by date. Or view the same list sorted alphabetically by brand.

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A Final Word

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The Dog Food Advisor does not test dog food products.

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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.

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Notes and Updates

05/16/2016 Last Update

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  2. Pan Y et al, Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs, British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 12, June 2010, pp 1746-1754
  3. Matulka RA et al, Lack of toxicity by medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in canines during a 90-day feeding study,Food Chem Toxicol, Jan 2009, 47(1) 35-9.
  • Packmomof4

    My two love this food! No tummy issues either.

  • sharron

    hi – my lexee, a yorkie/chihuahua, eats acana, finally after nearly 7 yrs, she’s 8 now, i have her eating dry food. i have all the trial size bags of the acana formulas and change every day, or every other day, and she is doing just fine on it

  • Lisa Pizana

    I have a 2 year old yorkie I’m trying to find the best dog food for my Lexi

  • Katherine Shade

    He has had a uti that didn’t respond to the antibiotics(clavamox) and struvite crystals for almost 5 months. He has been clear for the last 3 weeks after his last round of clavamox.

  • Hopie

    What kind of urinary issues does she have? Do you know if this food will keep any bladder stones away?

  • Katherine Shade

    Great food! My puppy has urinary issues and has been doing well on this food for the past 2 weeks. Such a relief ♡