Does cat food expire? How to keep your cat food fresh

does cat food expire
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering “does cat food expire?” If you've stocked up on pet food and are considering how to keep cat food fresh, then this guide is here to help. 

Good pet owners will want their cats to have the best quality cat food for their feline friend, ensuring that it is providing their pet with everything they need. Whether you’re buying wet or dry cat food it all has an expiration date. This is not only to ensure your cat’s food is served fresh, but that your pet is kept happy and healthy. 

If you feed them cat food past its expiration date it will have started to degrade, which could mean it loses not only its taste and color, but its nutritional value. 

Be sure to check the expiration date and the information below so that your kitty doesn’t get ill or suffer health problems because of food that has gone bad or is deficient in nutrients.  

Does cat food go bad and how can you tell?  

Both wet and dry that has passed its expiration date will start to go bad. Signs to look out for include a change in smell, texture or appearance as the oils in the food begin to break down and it goes soft. Take a look at the packaging to see if there is mold or even bugs inside if the packaging is biodegradable. 

Finally, watch your pet. If your cat isn’t eating their food this is a clear indicator it could have gone bad. 

Food can go bad whether it is open or not. The only difference is how quickly it expires. This will depend on the packaging or container it’s in, how it is sealed, where it is stored and its exposure to air, moisture and high temperatures. If your cat food is kept in unsealed packaging and stored in a hot, humid room it will go bad faster.  

A woman stroking a tortoise shell cat while it eats from a bowl on the kitchen floor

(Image credit: Getty)

How long does cat food last for?  

How long cat food lasts for very much depends on the brand of food and how it is stored. For example, often high-quality food doesn’t have as many preservatives in it so it won’t last as long as food with chemicals preserving it.

But it also depends on the type of packaging and where the food is stored (food stored in high-quality packaging in a tightly sealed container in a dry, cool room will last longer).

Wet cat food

Unopened wet cat food can last from four months to three years, but as soon as it is opened it should be sealed and kept in the fridge and used within five to seven days. It should only be kept out at room temperature (or in your pet’s bowl) for four hours.

 Then it should be thrown out if uneaten. The unsealed container can also be kept in the freezer at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 to 7.22 degrees Celsius) – it will last seven days longer when stored this way. But don’t store unopened cans of wet food in the freezer as this will alter its taste and texture.

Dry cat food

Dry cat food generally lasts for around six months or up to a year from its manufacture date if unopened, but once the seal is broken it should be used within 14 to 21 days. 

Cats can be fed opened dry cat food for up to three months as it may not go bad, but it will lose its nutrients and it is not worth the risk.

best dry cat food guide

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is it OK to feed expired cat food? 

If there are no signs that the cat food has gone bad you can still feed your cat from packets that have gone past their expiry date; however it is not advised as they will not only be losing out on important nutritional value, but it’s not worth the risk to their health. 

Eating food that has gone bad can lead to health problems because of nutrient deficiencies, as well as causing diarrhea, nausea and an upset stomach. It is safer to keep their food in date and throw any expired food away.  

How to store wet and dry cat food  

Storing wet and dry cat food properly can extend its shelf life. Read the tips below to learn how to keep your cat’s food as fresh as possible:

Storing dry cat food 

  • Make sure the food bag is sealed properly and not torn or in poor condition.
  • Store the original food package in an airtight container such as a glass jar or metal container. You can use plastic containers, but there is a risk that the chemicals in the plastic may affect the food so make sure you watch out for wear and tear, wash it properly and replace regularly.
  • Store the food container somewhere cool and dry (at less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 26.6 degrees Celsius – not on the floor and not somewhere humid like the garage or basement). If temperatures exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius), after two days, the degradation process will speed up significantly as heat can break down nutrients and cause bacteria to grow.  
  • Label your cat’s food with the manufacture date and brand details, expiry date and the date it was opened or stored.
  • Wash the container between use so that there is no contamination with oils from the previous pack of food.
  • Dry cat food can be stored in the freezer for up to six months in an airtight container such as a Ziploc bag, freezer safe plastic container or lidded glassware. 

Storing wet cat food 

  • Unopened cans of wet cat food should be stored at a temperature of 50 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 37.7 degrees Celsius). 
  • Once opened cover and refrigerate wet cat food immediately.  
  • Cans of open wet cat food should be sealed with a plastic pet food lid. Food can also be stored in sealed zippered disposable bags or by covering a bowl or plate in the fridge. 
  • Opened cans should be kept in the fridge at a temperature of 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 to 7.22 degrees Celsius) for five to seven days.  
  • Bowls of wet cat food should only be kept out for up to four hours at room temperature. 
  • Do not freeze unopened cans. 
  • Opened wet food can be frozen, but only from the fridge not once it has been in your cat’s bowl. Freeze it in a sealed bag or a plate covered with plastic wrap.  
  • If storing in the freezer, defrost wet cat food completely and only warm it up for up to eight seconds in the microwave so that it maintains its moisture and nutritional value. 
  • Again, label all food. 
Zara is Editor on bookazines and covers a range of topics from cookery to travel and animals. Her latest first edition, What Your Dog Wants You To Know, is the ultimate guide to understanding your dog’s body language.  Former editor of World of Animals magazine, she has over 8 years of experience in publishing inspiring children and adults about the wonders of the animal kingdom as well as teaching them about their pets. She also has over 5 years experience working with vets, wildlife experts and animal behaviourists in her comms roles for various animal charities.  A keen animal lover, Zara can often be found researching her next wildlife destination to travel to. Having just moved into a bigger house she is currently looking at which dog and cats breed would suit her new family so she can fill her house with pets.