There are few things more overwhelming than trying to pick a good dog food out of the hundreds of options out there.
They all seem to offer something different — this one’s high in protein, that one’s grain-free, this other one only has three ingredients for some reason — and it can be next to impossible to understand what’s truly important.
To help take some of the mystery out of the process, we’ve taken an in-depth look at many of the top brands on the market. Today, we are comparing Merrick and Blue Buffalo, two high-end brands that promise to provide your mutt with top-notch nutrition.
Which one came out on top? Read on to find out.
A Sneak Peek at the Winner: Merrick
While both foods seem to have a lot in common, we have more faith in Merrick’s commitment to elite nutrition. It seems to be a healthier food overall — and that’s before factoring in their superior safety history.
The winner of our comparison:
After examining the brand in-depth, we found three recipes that stood out to us:
- Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Great Plains Red Recipe
- Merrick Grain-Free Texas Beef & Sweet Potato Recipe
- Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet
Blue Buffalo is not without its advantages, but there were a few things that stood out to us about the brand and kept us from recommending them over Merrick (more on that later).
Merrick started off as a small, independent operation in 1988, but has since grown into a major player in the dog food industry.
The Brand Was Started by One Man Who Believed in Cooking for His Dog
The brand was founded by Garth Merrick, who started making home-cooked meals for his beloved dog, Gracie, because he wanted her to have the most nutritious food possible.
Garth’s neighbors soon learned about this and wanted him to cook for their dogs, too. Sensing a business opportunity, he started mass-producing dog food that kept the flavor and nutrition that only a home-cooked meal can provide.
Merrick was bought out by the Nestle Purina PetCare corporation in 2015, but the brand insists it’s still in charge of its day-to-day business operations.
The Food Emphasizes Fresh, Real Ingredients Wherever Possible
When Garth Merrick was cooking for his dog, he used locally grown foods. The brand tries to keep that spirit alive today, using fresh ingredients as much as possible.
You also won’t find any cheap fillers or artificial ingredients inside Merrick kibbles. After all, Gracie wouldn’t approve.
Their Foods Are Typically Very High in Protein
Because they place such an emphasis on quality ingredients, real meat is almost always the first ingredient — and there’s a lot of it.
Many of their foods are among the highest-protein offerings you’ll find on the market today, making them excellent choices for active dogs (or even those that need to drop a pound or two).
Merrick Tends to Be Expensive
Quality ingredients don’t come cheap, and Merrick dog food doesn’t either.
It’s not the most expensive food out there, but it’s towards the higher end. As a result, it’s largely reserved for owners who are willing to spend a little more to give their dogs the absolute best.
About Blue Buffalo
Blue Buffalo is a company that has enjoyed explosive growth in a short time, as they’ve gone from being founded in 2003 to becoming one of the top natural dog food brands in the world less than two decades later.
Blue Buffalo Was Also Started for the Love of a Dog
The brand gets its name from the founder’s Airedale, Blue, who was diagnosed with cancer. Blue’s owner, Bill Bishop, wanted to give him the best nutrition possible to help him fight off the disease.
This led to him consulting a variety of vets and nutritionists in order to come up with what he believed was the perfect formula. Blue Buffalo was the result of that research.
There are No Cheap Fillers or Animal By-Products in This Food
As you might expect from a food that was created to help a sick dog, Blue Buffalo skips many of the most problematic ingredients commonly found in kibbles today.
These include foods like corn, wheat, and soy, which offer little more than empty calories and often serve to irritate sensitive digestive tracts. It also means not using animal by-products, which is cheap, low-grade meat that’s often used in less expensive foods.
Instead, real meat is always their first ingredient.
That Doesn’t Mean They Always Have the Most Nutritious Food, However
Many of Blue Buffalo’s foods are middle-of-the-road in terms of the levels of nutrition they offer. Most have moderate-to-low amounts of protein, and many lack other important nutrients.
You can still find some very good foods from Blue Buffalo (specifically in their Wilderness line), but always check the label before buying.
This is a Fairly Expensive Food
Since Blue Buffalo eschews cheap ingredients, that means their kibble will be a little pricier than many others. Clearly, many dog owners are willing to pay a little bit more to take care of their pups.
However, as we said above, some of their foods are high-priced without being high in nutrition, so do your research before putting your money down.
3 Most Popular Merrick Dog Food Recipes
1. Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Great Plains Red Recipe
The protein levels in Merrick are among the highest you’ll find anywhere, at a whopping 38%. That’s in part since this recipe includes freeze-dried chunks of raw meat mixed in with the kibble, which ensures your pup gets all the amino acids and other nutrients she’d enjoy from a raw diet.
There are several different animal sources in here, too. You’ll find beef, lamb meal, salmon meal, pork fat, rabbit, and beef liver on the ingredients list. Sure, they also use quite a bit of potato and pea protein, but that can be forgiven.
The inclusion of potatoes is a little regrettable. They can give many dogs gas, so your pup may experience a bit of discomfort if she’s sensitive to them. Also, the fiber content is low, which could exacerbate the problem.
Luckily, they added an array of probiotics to offset those issues, but we’d have preferred if they didn’t cause the problems in the first place.
It’s not enough to discourage us from recommending this recipe, however. Far from it — we think this is a top-notch food.
2. Merrick Grain-Free Texas Beef & Sweet Potato Recipe
Despite not being marketed as a high-protein food, this formula has just as much protein as the food above it. It’s also completely grain-free, so you won’t find any gluten inside.
It has the same issues as the other Merrick food we reviewed (namely, lots of potatoes and not much fiber). You’ll find lots of fantastic ingredients in this one, though, like sunflower oil, blueberries, and apples.
It’s remarkably high in omega fatty acids, thanks to ingredients like pork fat, flaxseed, and salmon meal. That should keep your pooch’s coat healthy and shiny, while also ensuring her immune system performs at its best.
The only other thing we’d change about this food is the salt content, which is high. That’s not exactly a deal breaker, though.
3. Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet
If you want to limit the number of ingredients your dog ingests with each bowl of food, this recipe can help.
The primary foods used to make it are lamb, lamb meal, peas, and potatoes. That makes it a good choice for dogs with sensitive tummies (although as we’ve noted, potatoes can cause gas).
This food has much less protein than the other two, though — a mediocre 24%. It does have a bit more fiber, but it’s still packed with salt.
We do like the extra vitamins and minerals they put in, especially taurine, which is essential for heart health.
Ultimately, this food is a good choice for dogs who suffer from food allergies, but most other pups would do better on one of the other formulas we reviewed here.
3 Most Popular Blue Buffalo Dog Food Recipes
1. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Natural
This food contains the company’s LifeSource Bits, which are chunks of extra vitamins and antioxidants mixed in with the food. It’s a nice, easy way to boost the amount of nutrients your dog will get from every bowl.
The protein level is decent (26%), which is about right for small breeds. There’s chicken, chicken meal, fish meal, and chicken fat in here, all of which are excellent sources of lean meat. There’s more plant protein than we’d like to see.
We also like all the omega fatty acids inside, thanks to foods like the fish meal, as well as flaxseed. The glucosamine from the chicken meal will also help keep little joints in fine working condition as your dog ages.
There are a few ingredients in here that have been known to cause digestive issues. The potatoes, dried egg product, and dried tomato pomace could all be removed without complaint from us. At least it has superfoods like blueberries and cranberries in it.
All in all, this is a great food for little dogs — just monitor yours to make sure none of the questionable ingredients disagree with her.
2. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Denali Dinner High-Protein Grain-Free Natural
Wilderness is Blue Buffalo’s high protein line, and this food does not disappoint in that regard: it has 30% protein. That’s still quite a bit less than Merrick’s top foods, but it’s a good amount overall.
There’s 16% fat and 6% fiber in here, which should help your dog stay full between meals and keep her regular.
This stuff is absolutely jam-packed with healthy fish (and the accompanying omega fatty acids). There’s salmon, fish meal, halibut, crab meal, and fish oil, as well as a bit of chicken meal, venison, and chicken fat. Your dog won’t lack for variety, anyway.
Despite all that meat, it still has a large quantity of plant protein, which robs your dog of essential amino acids. We’d prefer it if they took out the dried egg product and potatoes, too.
However, that’s not much to quibble over, and this food goes a long way towards demonstrating why Wilderness is our favorite Blue Buffalo brand.
3. Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free Healthy Weight Natural
This food omits all types of gluten, not just wheat and corn, making it a smart choice for sensitive dogs. Unfortunately, they cut out a lot of other good stuff, too.
The protein levels are low, at just 20%. There’s very little fat (9%), but it is packed with 10% fiber. That’s due to the pea fiber and dried chicory root inside.
This food is full of carbs, mainly due to all the starches they use to make it. We prefer high amounts of protein instead of carbs for weight loss, but at least this is a low-calorie food.
The fruits and veggies inside are mostly excellent, with great foods like kelp, cranberries, blueberries, and sweet potatoes thrown in.
Your dog will get quite a few important nutrients from this food, but we just wish she’d get a little more protein, too.
Recall History of Merrick and Blue Buffalo
Both companies have had their fair share of recalls, but Blue Buffalo’s are worse than Merrick’s, both in terms of quantity and severity.
Merrick had three separate recalls in 2010 and 2011 for Salmonella contamination. They were all limited to their treats, with no other food products affected. As far as we can tell, no animals were harmed as a result.
Blue Buffalo was part of the Great Melamine Recall of 2007. This recall affected over 100 brands of dog and cat food that were processed at a specific plant in China. The food made there became tainted by melamine, a chemical found in plastics that’s lethal to pets. Many pets died from eating affected foods, but we don’t know how many (if any) were as a result of eating Blue Buffalo.
They recalled foods in 2010 due to elevated vitamin D levels, and they had a Salmonella recall of their own in 2015.
Their canned foods had a bad run in 2016 and 2017. During that two-year stretch, they were recalled due to mold, metal, and elevated beef thyroid levels.
Most worrisome, is the fact that the FDA lists Blue Buffalo as one of over a dozen foods that could be linked to canine heart disease. The evidence is far from conclusive, but it’s something to be aware of all the same.
Merrick vs Blue Buffalo Comparison
To give you a better understanding of how the two foods stack up head-to-head, we compared them in a few key categories below:
These foods should be fairly equal as far as flavor goes, as they both rely heavily on real meat as the foundation of their kibbles. They also offer a similar range of animal sources in their recipes.
This one could be considered too close to call, but we’ll give the edge to Merrick, as they use more meat than Blue Buffalo does.
Merrick’s foods are consistently higher in protein and fat, while Blue Buffalo typically does better with fiber. Both use lots of omega-rich foods as well.
Blue Buffalo often uses more fruits and veggies than Merrick does, but those ingredients are usually buried at the bottom of the list, so it’s hard to say that they’re making a huge impact.
Again, we’ll give Merrick the slight nod here.
The two brands are close in this department (stop us if you’ve heard that before), but Blue Buffalo is typically less expensive, so they’ll get the win in this category.
You’re not going to believe this, but the two foods are very close in this category. They both have a similar array of product lines (including high-protein and limited-ingredient options), and they offer a similar number of flavors.
We’ll have to call this one a draw.
Merrick has the slight edge here, largely since they use way more meat than Blue Buffalo does.
However, Merrick’s superior safety history gives them an extra boost, so we can confidently proclaim them the winners here.
Merrick vs Blue Buffalo – Conclusion
If you’re primarily motivated by price, when comparing Merrick vs Blue Buffalo you can likely save a few bucks with Blue Buffalo. However, the extra money you spend on Merrick will largely go to buying your dog more meat, as their foods are extremely high in protein.
If you want our opinion, when it comes to Merrick vs Blue Buffalo, we’d recommend Merrick — but we certainly wouldn’t fault you for pocketing the extra cash and feeding your dog one of Blue Buffalo’s recipes instead.