Does Cat Food Expire?

Does Cat Food Expire
Image: / Nils Jacobi

You have bought several bags of cat food that were on sale. Or maybe you found a can of wet cat food in the corner of your cupboard after doing some spring cleaning.

Does Cat Food Expire?

Yes, cat food does expire and you should not feed your cat with expired food. Although it may be safe to feed your cat with recently expired food, it may have decreased nutritional value and may have a less palatable flavor.

Why does cat food expire?

Most cat foods available in the market use preservatives to prolong the shelf life of the product. Preservatives help keep cat food fresh by preventing spoilage and mold and microbial growth. Among the most common artificial preservatives used in these products are ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT. Some studies suggest that these artificial preservatives might be detrimental to the long-term health of cats.

Some cat foods use natural preservatives which include vitamin E. Although natural preservatives are considered safer for pets, pet foods that use these preservatives have shorter shelf lives. 

But whatever type of preservative is used in cat food, degradation is inevitable. When a preservative degrades, the quality of the food takes a nosedive until it becomes unfit for consumption.

Understanding the dates on the label of cat foods

Understanding the dates on the label of cat foods
Image: / VLG

When you look at the label of some types of food, including human and pet food, you will see two different dates: expiry date and best before date. What is the difference between the two?

Think of the best-before date as a guarantee of a product’s condition until that date. Once the best-before date elapses, the product may lose some of its qualities, including its freshness and flavor. However, this does not automatically mean that the food is no longer fit for consumption. 

The best-before date only applies to unopened food packages. Once the package has been opened, its content is prone to contamination.

But even if the food’s packaging remains intact and its content does not emit an unusual smell, it is highly likely that the food has degraded to some extent and has lost some of its nutritional value.

Although it is okay to feed the food to your cat for a few feedings, long-term consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies. In turn, these deficiencies can undermine your pet’s health and well-being.

On the other hand, a product’s expiry date indicates the final date when food is still fit for consumption. After that date, you have no other option but to throw away the food. Do not risk your cat’s health and well-being by feeding him expired food.

If you live in the United States, you should be aware that companies are not required to put best-by and expiration dates on the packaging of their products. However, many companies do help guide their customers as well as retailers. 

Spoiled canned cat food

Compared to dry cat food, canned food spoils faster. And between the two, the absence of moisture content in dry kibble makes it easier to store compared to canned cat food.

There are a few factors that can contribute to the spoilage of canned pet food. These include exposure to air, high humidity, and warm weather.

When canned cat food is spoiled, your cat will barely eat it or downright ignore it. Upon opening the can, the content will emit an unusual scent. The scent can range from sour to rotten. The foul smell can indicate that food may have been contaminated by molds or bugs, especially if it has been exposed to humidity or air.

After opening a can of wet food, it has a limited window of freshness. You can store a portion of the food in the refrigerator but you will need to feed that portion to your cat within (typically) 24 hours or so. Check the can’s label for instructions.

Proper storage of cat food

Proper storage of cat food
Image: / Petra Richli

Whether your cat prefers dry kibble, wet canned food, or a combination, you cannot rely solely on the dates printed on the packaging. To ensure the freshness and safety of your cat’s food, you need to learn how to store it properly.

Apart from the degradation of the preservatives, the greatest enemies of the freshness of cat food are heat and oxygen. Exposure to either one can lead to the oxidation of the fat contained in the cat food. In turn, oxidation facilitates the spoilage of food.

Whether you buy dry or wet food, you should store your cat’s supplies in a location that is dry and cool. As much as possible avoid storing food in the basement, garage, or bathroom which tends to become humid and moist.

After opening a can of wet food, you should store the remainder of its content in a tightly-sealed container before putting it in the refrigerator. Saran wraps and ziplock bags can work but are not as effective as a container made especially for the storage of wet cat food.

On the other hand, dry food should be kept inside its original packaging. The packaging for dry food has been designed to keep contamination and bugs at bay.  The original packaging should be put inside another container made out of metal or plastic. This container should have a lid that seals tightly to keep insects away and to help prevent damage from both oxygen and heat.

Consider buying smaller bags of cat food

It may be tempting to buy several large bags or cans of cat food, especially when your local store offers great deals on these. But unless you have several cats to feed, it is always better to buy food in smaller packages. Cat food in smaller packages means that your pet will consume the food well before the product expires if you buy too much.

Free feeding and freshness of cat food

Some cat owners choose free-feeding over-scheduled meals. While both have their own sets of pros and cons, free-feeding is often considered the most convenient for pet owners. If you want to free-feed your feline, you can really only give your cat dry kibble. This is because you cannot leave wet food out in the open for an extended time.

But even dry food cannot be left lying around for several days. You should always throw away the remnants left in the food bowl at the end of the day and give your cat a fresh batch the following day.