Today, we’re going to review Merrick’s Backcountry Raw cat food, both wet and dry varieties. I’ll be diving deep into all categories but if you just want a broad overview, this is how Merrick Backcountry cat food stacks up:
- Product Variety – 7.5/10
- Species Appropriateness – 8/10
- Ingredient Quality – 7.5/10
- Price – 6.5/10
- Marketing and Message Match – 6/10
- Recall History 6/10
- Overall rating 7.5/10
Merrick started way back in 1988 which makes it one of the older pet food companies around. Merrick started with dog treats, then expanded to dog food, and finally, after more than a decade of being in the pet food business began producing cat food. Purina acquired Merrick in 2015 and announced that “Merrick will continue to operate as an independent business, with no planned changes to its management or operations.”
Product Variety – 7.5/10
Merrick Backcountry has a surprising number of flavors to choose from. The wet version has seven varieties and the dry food has two. Many of the wet foods feature what would be called alternative or novel proteins which some cats may enjoy. The flavors are:
- Chicken & Trout
While the dry food only has two formulas: Pacific Catch or Game Bird.
Overall, the product variety is excellent for the wet food options but somewhat limited when it comes to dry. If needed, you’ve got a chance to avoid particular proteins, too. That’s why I’m giving Merrick Backcountry a 7.5 in this category.
Species Appropriateness – 8/10
Merrick Backcountry cat food has a well-deserved high score when it comes to species appropriateness.
What does it mean to be species-appropriate?
It means that the food matches what your cat would have eaten in nature. It should be no surprise to you that your cat’s wild ancestors weren’t grazing in the field or raiding the cornfields. Instead, they were hunting small game like mice and rats.
But you wouldn’t know that just by looking at some of the most popular cat foods on the market today! I like to use Meow Mix as an example of a food that’s extremely species inappropriate.
Here are the first 5 ingredients in the standard recipe: Whole Ground Corn, Soybean Meal, Chicken By-Product, Corn Gluten Meal, Beef Tallow.
There are more corn and soy than there is animal protein. Not only is your cat an obligate carnivore that needs animal proteins but your cat’s digestive system isn’t prepared to handle that much corn!
Merrick Backcountry cat food keeps its ingredients species-appropriate with a focus on animal proteins and by keeping their food grain-free. But remember that grain-free doesn’t mean carbohydrate-free and while the wet versions of Merrick Backcountry do a great job avoiding carbohydrates, the dry version does contain a few.
Overall, Merrick Backcountry blows away most other cat foods on the market in terms of species appropriateness.
Ingredient Quality – 7.5/10
That leads right into ingredient quality. Merrick prides itself on quality ingredients source and doesn’t source any products from China.
Dry Food Ingredients
Merrick’s Backcountry dry cat food is advertised as being raw infused because it features chunks of freeze-dried salmon in the cat food. This is a trend that we’re seeing more and more in the pet food industry and some food (like this one from Stella & Chewy) are completely freeze-dried.
I really like this feature and the inclusion of freeze-dried fish shows in the protein content which comes up to 41%. It’s also pretty apparent in the smell as the dry food definitely has a strong fishy smell!
Let’s take a closer look at the first 15 ingredients to really get a few for what’s inside the Pacific Catch formula.
1. Deboned Salmon
We’d always expect to see a high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient in any quality cat food. Deboned Salmon is a great ingredient and solid source of protein and essential fatty acids for your cat.
2. Salmon Meal
Salmon meal is a type of concentrated salmon protein. Salmon is treated with high-heat which removes most of the fat and moisture. It’s then ground up and this is what’s left behind.
3. Whitefish Meal
Also a concentrated protein just like the above but with whitefish instead of salmon. It’s good to see another protein source on the list but I’d prefer to see the actual fish named here.
This is the first carbohydrate on the list and it’s not until ingredient number four- which is good. It’s important to note that grain-free doesn’t mean carbohydrate-free and potatoes in cat food is more and more common as the grain-free trend continues to grow.
Another popular ingredient in grain-free foods, peas do have relatively good fiber content which is good.
6. Natural Flavor
Natural flavor has a very specific definition from the FDA but it’s essential some sort of additive “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” So there’s not much to worry about and just about every cat food on the market will feature some kind of natural flavor.
7. Potato Protein
While potato proteins aren’t likely to harm your cat, it’s my least favorite ingredient on this list. The main problem is that potato protein can quickly convert to glucose in some cats which ends up defeating the purpose of using protein altogether! Overall, I’m still scoring Merrick Backcountry high on ingredients because this doesn’t show up until ingredient 7.
8. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are another common carbohydrate source in grain-free cat foods. While carbohydrates aren’t great for cats overall, sweet potatoes are a slower digesting and more nutrient dense option than many other options.
9. Pork Fat
I really like seeing this somewhat uncommon ingredient and would love to see it higher up on the list. Your carnivous cat has a better chance of digesting animal products and Royal Canin even argues that “Pork is very digestible for dogs and cats and in some cases, its digestibility exceeds that of chicken or fish.” While that’s quite a claim, it’s good to see more animal products in our top 10.
More fish is exactly what I want to see. And based on the AFFCO pet food definitions, seeing this named meat means we’re avoiding any kind of by-product here.
More named fish! That means more quality protein and fats and higher overall quality.
12. Dried Yeast Culture
Yeast is a source of protein with relatively high digestibility in cats. It’s not an ingredient I would seek out but it’s also not one I would worry about.
Salt is a required nutrient.
14. Organic Dried Alfalfa Meal
There is some controversy around alfalfa in cat food but while it’s not an ingredient I’d want to see a prominent feature it’s an acceptable addition in the 15th position.
15. Choline Chloride
This naturally occurring compound is added to your cat’s food as a nutritional supplement.
Here’s the full list of ingredients in Merrick Backcountry Pacific Catch formula:
Deboned Salmon, Salmon Meal (Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids), Whitefish Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Natural Flavor, Potato Protein, Sweet Potatoes, Pork Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Whitefish, Trout, Dried Yeast Culture, Salt, Organic Dried Alfalfa Meal, Choline Chloride, Minerals (Iron Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Proteinate, Cobalt Carbonate), Phosphoric Acid, Taurine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), 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.
Dry Food Ingredient Summary
While there are some less desirable ingredients included in our look at the top 15 we also see that 6 out of the first 11 ingredients are all sourced from animals. The main point of improvement would be fewer carbohydrates within the top 10 ingredients. Overall, Merrick Backcountry cat food gets a solid 7.5 out of 10 for the list of ingredients.
Wet Food Ingredients
Because of the difference in the way dry and wet food is manufactured, it’s not uncommon to see slightly higher quality ingredients used in wet food. Merrick Backcountry is no exception. The turkey recipe, for example, features animal sources for all 6 of the first ingredients. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Deboned Turkey
We’d expect nothing less here and as always any premium cat food will feature an animal protein as the first ingredient.
2. Turkey Broth
It’s typical to see broth in any wet food formula and I like seeing that this broth matches our first ingredient.
3. Chicken Broth
More broth but it’s good to see it coming from an animal source. Many formulas feature the much cheaper vegetable broth.
4. Turkey Liver
While turkey liver is technically labeled a by-product by the AAFCO, I’d confidently say there’s a world of difference between turkey feet, heads, and liver. So while it’s technically in by-product territory I like seeing this named liver ingredient.
5. Deboned Chicken
Seeing another high-quality ingredient as we see here is unusual. I really like seeing another excellent protein source show up in the first five ingredients.
6. Dried Egg Whites
Ingredient number six and we’re still seeing animal-based protein sources.
7. Potato Starch
Potato starch is used as a binder to keep food together. While it is a carbohydrate source, I’m glad we don’t see it until ingredient number 7.
8. Natural Flavor
We saw this ingredient in the dry food (and you’ll see it in just about every cat food on the market). Simply put, it’s a non-nutritious additive that’s not chemical-based.
9. Guar Gum
Guar gum is the most problematic ingredient on this list. Guar gum is used to thicken cat food and make sure it doesn’t fall apart during the manufacturing process. It’s a more controversial ingredient with some arguing that it’s upsetting to your cat’s digestive system. That’s because guar gum comes from a bean source and as we’ve discussed your cat’s carnivorous digestive system hasn’t evolved to handle beans. Others argue that guar gum actually helps with your cat’s digestive system!
Overall, I’d consider it an ingredient to watch. While guar gum is a popular ingredient, some cats might find it upsetting to their stomach. While I did put Merrick Backcountry at the top of my list for the best cat foods for smelly poop, if you’re having that problem there are plenty of other options on that list without guar gum to try.
10. Sodium Phosphate
Sodium phosphate is used to balance the pH of the cat food and as a source of phosphorous.
Salt is a required nutrient for your cat.
11. Potassium Chloride
This is another ingredient that helps balance the pH of your cat’s food.
Taurine is an essential amino acid and critical to your cat’s health.
13. Salmon Oil
Salmon oil is a source of omega 3 fatty acids. It also adds flavor and consistency to your cat’s food.
14. Choline Chloride
Deboned Turkey, Turkey Broth, Chicken Broth, Turkey Liver, Deboned Chicken, Dried Egg Whites, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Salmon Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Choline Chloride, Minerals (Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Carbonate, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Inulin, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary Extract.
Wet Food Ingredient Summary
The two most concerning ingredients on this list are the controversial guar gum and potato starch but overall, this is an impressive list of ingredients with multiple quality protein sources. In fact, we see that the first 6 ingredients are all animal-based which earns Merrick Backcountry a 7.5 out of 10 in the quality ingredients category.
Price – 6.5/10
Merrick Backcountry isn’t the most expensive cat food but I certainly would put in the budget quality. Overall, you get what you pay for and you should expect to pay a premium price for a premium cat food. You can get today’s price from Amazon by clicking here.
If you’re interested in another premium that’s scored higher in the price category, check out my American Journey cat food review.
Marketing and Message Match – 6/10
Merrick’s marketing really focuses on its simple start in Texas even though they’ve now grown into a huge multimillion pet food company. They even mention it as part of their “Five Star Promise” where they say that they continue “crafting and testing every recipe in Garth’s [the founder] original kitchen.”
While that one’s pretty straightforward and I’m sure Garth’s kitchen looks a little different than it did in 1988, the rest of the promises are a little hard to pin down. When you promise to not use “preservatives, or fillers or anything artificial” you begin to have a problem with definitions. After all, there are many different definitions of what a filler actually is when it comes to pet food.
So let’s break down the most important promises one by one. I’m going to skip the kitchen claim since it’s mostly irrelevant.
Real Whole Foods
They claim to use “high-quality meats, fresh-caught fish and real fruits and vegetables.” They go on to say they use “No fillers, additives, sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Nothing artificial, nothing but goodness.” They go on to explain that the first ingredient always uses USDA certified meats or fresh-caught fish.
Overall, I’d say that’s accurate. When we reviewed the ingredient lists we saw a high number of quality proteins on the list. The problem is when we get to fillers. While most carbohydrates also help keep the product consistent, they’re also fillers from the most strict point of view. Remember, your cat doesn’t need carbohydrates to survive- only meat. So while we don’t see any typical low-quality fillers like meat by-products or corn the filler-free claim may be debatable to some.
Higher Quality Ingredients
Obviously the definition of high quality is very open to debate. Here’s what Merrick has to say about it:
- Trustworthy Farmers and Partners: We choose only the best ingredients and always buy directly from farmers and ranchers we know and trust.
- Strict Quality Standards: We have the highest commitment to both freshness and safety, ensuring our ingredients make the fewest stops possible between farm and bowl.
Digging into this one is well beyond the scope of this review but it’s worth pointing out that buying from farmers and ranchers you know doesn’t actually mean much in terms of measurable quality.
Health You Can See
Merrick claims that you’ll see the health benefits of their food in your cat’s overall condition. With additions like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, this is likely true. As with many other things on this list, it also depends on what we’re comparing it to. While comparing one premium food to another may not make a noticeable change I do agree you’ll see some visible health benefits if you move your cat from something like Meow Mix to Merrick Backcountry.
Marketing Message Summary
While some might find issues with the filler-free claim, I’d say it’s valid when you’re comparing Merrick to the rest of the pet food industry. However, I do prefer the marketing claims of companies like Blue Buffalo (check out my review of their Limited Ingredient Diet) where they simply state what they don’t include instead of using vague terms like filler or healthy. So while there’s nothing directly misleading here, it does take some digging to get the full picture which is why I’ve given them a 6 out of 10 for marketing message match.
Recall History 6/10
Merrick has had several recalls with the most recent occurring in 2018 when several dog treats were recalled due to suspected increase in beef thyroid hormones.
In 2010 Merrick had several treats recalled due to suspected salmonella but luckily no illnesses were reported during that time.
There was also a 2003 recall when another pet food company contracted Merrick to produce their food.
Overall, Merrick has a reasonable recall history considering its 30+ year history in the pet food industry. I would score them higher but with the most recent recall occurring in 2018, I believe they deserve a 6 out of 10 at this time.
Reviews of Merrick Backcountry Cat Food
After tracking down any and every review I could find across various feline forums, blog posts and websites like Amazon and Chewy I’ve boiled it down into what I think are the most important praise and criticism of Merrick Backcountry cat food.
Let’s start with the critical reviews first.
What Customers Don’t Like
With any cat food, there’s always a huge number of people who rate the food poorly because their cat didn’t like the food. This is going to happen with every food as cats, like any other creature, have likes and dislikes. They also might not take too kindly to you suddenly switching their food so always make sure to slowly transition to a new diet.
In short, we should always expect to see a good amount of one-star reviews simply because cats didn’t want to eat it. These reviews also make up the huge majority of negative reviews: which is a good thing.
The main complaint is that cats wouldn’t eat it and cat owners were unhappy with the money spent. As long as you’re aware that your cat might not like any food you bring home and manage your expectations you have nothing worry about.
What Customers Love
There are WAY more happy cat owners who are excited to see their picky cats chow down on Merrick Backcountry. Here’s one of my favorite reviews from Amazon:
I did a TON of research on kitten food and am extremely happy with Merrick Backcountry. The kittens are healthy with soft fur and unlike with some other high quality brands, my kittens don’t throw up or have terrible gas. They love it and go right for the chicken chunks, but eagerly eat it all. Also, because the kibble is tiny, even the smallest kittens can eat it as long as they have teeth. Can’t say enough good things about this food and Subscribe and Save makes it a little less expensive.
Overall, cat owners are giving Merrick Backcountry a big thumbs up across the internet. If you’re ready to pick to it up, you can click here to check the latest price on Amazon.
My Overall Rating 7/5/10
I’m giving Merrick Backcountry cat food an excellent overall of 7.5 out of 10. While I don’t love the marketing message, the actual product scores well in the categories of species appropriateness (especially the wet food), product variety, and ingredient quality.
I’d recommend Merrick Backcountry to most cat owners out there.
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