Experts say Merrick makes extremely high-quality canned cat food, with several grain-free flavors (including Cowboy Cookout) that closely mimic what cats would eat in the wild. It does contain carrageenan -- a controversial thickener you won't find in the well-regarded Halo brand of canned cat food -- but overall, top professionals say Merrick is an excellent choice.
Carrageenan the only significant negative. Like Halo and other top-rated canned cat foods, Merrick offers many grain-free varieties -- important for cats, experts say, because they are obligate carnivores that aren't designed to digest much grain.
Merrick has recently changed its formulas, but the new versions still get the highest ratings from one top source. Merrick proteinates necessary minerals like iron and zinc, making them easier for cats to absorb. However, a couple of top sources don't like that it contains thickening gums -- including carrageenan, a seaweed-based thickener that has been linked to intestinal problems in some animal studies.
No ingredients from China. Merrick makes its cat food in its own Texas plant, and it sources all meats and fish from government-inspected plants in the U.S. and New Zealand. Merrick uses no ingredients from China whatsoever, its website states -- a concern for many pet owners, after contaminated pet food ingredients from China sickened and killed pets in 2007. A search of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's online database (which lists pet food recalls back to 2007) shows no recalls for Merrick cat food. Merrick packs its cat food in bisphenol A (BPA)-free cans. BPA is a chemical that studies have linked to reproductive problems, cancers and other diseases.
A lower-calorie food, so you might need to feed more. Merrick Cowboy Cookout cat food has about 155 calories per 5.5-ounce can -- less than other grain-free foods with 200 to 220 calories per can, such as Evo Cat and Kitten Food (Est. $1.35 for a 5.5-oz. can) , so you might have to feed more Merrick food to maintain your cat's weight.
Merrick canned cat food comes only in small cans. Some other premium cat foods -- including Evo -- offer big economy-size cans (10 to 14 ounces). Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula (Est. $1.20 for a 6-oz. can) is also well regarded by some experts, and it costs less than Merrick, Halo and other super-premium brands. However, Natural Balance includes grains, and it isn't low-carb like some Merrick varieties, including Cowboy Cookout.
Susan Thixton, author of the blog TruthAboutPetFood.com, thoroughly evaluates many cat food brands, as well as their individual flavors of food (including the newly reformulated Merrick Cowboy Cookout). She rates each canned cat food on a scale of 1 to 4, based on the quality of its ingredients, added minerals and more.
Review: Merrick Cat Food, Susan Thixton, As of January 2014
Veterinarian Lisa Pierson approves of only a few canned cat foods -- and Merrick is one of them. She does extensive nutritional analysis, but she hasn't yet analyzed the new Merrick formulas.
Review: Commercial Foods, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, Updated February 2013
Tracie Hotchner, author of "The Cat Bible" and host of the syndicated radio show "Cat Chat," is another expert who recommends Merrick canned cat food. It makes her list of the show's approved foods.
Review: The List of Cat Crazy Approved Canned Foods, Tracie Hotchner, Not Dated
Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats, lists the canned cat foods she feeds her own cats -- including Merrick. She doesn't discuss the food much, although she does note that Merrick contains "wholesome ingredients" and comes in several gourmet flavors.
Review: Top Canned Cat Food, Franny Syufy, Not Dated