Does cat food expire? Keeping your cat’s food fresh

does cat food expire
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Have you found yourself contemplating a bag of cat food in your pantry, wondering “does cat food expire?” If so, you have come to the right place to have your question answered.

As a responsible pet owner, you probably have taken time to select the best dry cat food or the best canned cat food for your pet. You have researched your cat’s nutritional needs, researched the science behind different cat food brands, and talked to your veterinarian to determine the best possible food for your cat. 

In order to ensure that your cat gains the maximum benefits from their carefully-selected food, however, you need to ensure that the food you feed them is fresh. Food that has passed its expiration date is not only associated with an increased risk of bacterial contamination, but the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients within the food could also begin to degrade. 

Even if your cat’s food has not yet reached its expiration date, storage can also play a key role in determining the shelf life of your cat’s food. How the food is stored before and after opening the container will influence the quality of the food over time. 

Read on to learn more about whether your cat’s food is safe and healthy for them to eat. 

Does cat food go bad and how can you tell?  

 Check your cat’s food bag or can for an expiration date. Both wet and dry that have passed their expiration dates will start to go bad, and they should be disposed of once the expiration date has passed.  

Other 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 could indicate that the food has gone bad. (Refusal to eat can also indicate illness, so it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit if your cat is not eating!) 

Food can go bad whether it is open or not. However, food is more likely to soil under certain conditions. Relevant factors include the packaging or container the food is stored 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. As as soon as a can of cat food 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;  if the food is left out for longer than this, it should be thrown away.

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. 

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  may be tempted to feed your cat food that has gone past its expiration date. However this is not advised. Your cat will not only be losing out on important nutritional value, 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 your cat's 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 containers 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.  
  • It’s best to keep your cat’s food in its original container. If you must transfer it, save the label or otherwise record the manufacture date and brand details, expiration 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 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. 
  • Again, label all food carefully. 

Whatever your furry friend prefers, our guides to the best dry cat food or best wet cat food will keep even the fussiest kitty happy and satisfied.

Zara Gaspar
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.