Does your cat like to slowly graze on food throughout the day, then meow and moan at you as soon as their bowl is empty?
Me too. It’s kind of annoying, isn’t it?
If so, you’re probably wondering – does dry cat food go bad if it’s left sitting out for too long? Can it cause your cat to get sick through food poisoning?
I know one thing, I don’t like leaving out wet food for my cats. It attracts flies, smells if left too long, becomes hard to clean off their bowls, and very obviously goes bad.
I do try and leave some dry kibble food out at all times though as they are grazers.
If you want peace of mind that your cat’s dry food is safe and fresh – as I did – here’s everything I’ve been able to find out:
How Long Does Dry Cat Food Last?
First of all, if you didn’t see a “best by” date on your cat food, don’t be alarmed. According to the Spruce Pets, pet food manufacturers are not required by law to put a best by date on food.
Most companies do put a date on pet food though. Food will degrade over time, it’s not going to last forever. This is especially true once the food has been opened too.
Now, I’ve read a whole range of opinions regarding how long dry food lasts past it’s best by date.
Shops will get rid of food once it’s hit the used by, best by, or expiration date. They can’t be seen selling out of date food.
They don’t always throw it out though. I worked at a cattery many years ago, and a couple of local stores would donate food to us once it had hit its use-by date.
This goes to show that cat food is generally ok past it’s recommended use-by date.
I’ve heard some people say it’s good for 3 months, some say 6 months, and some people just take a look at it and decide regardless of age.
Personally, I’d err on the side of caution. If dry food has been packaged well and hasn’t been opened, I’d use it if it was a few months past and looked and smelled ok.
Related – Looking for grain-free cat foods? Check this post.
Does Dry Cat Food Go Bad Sitting Out?
Dry food will go bad if left sitting out. There are a few things to take into account; such as how hot it is, the humidity, and where it’s left for the most part.
As a general rule of thumb, dry food should not be left out more than 8 hours in cool temperatures.
If it’s a warm day, however, say about 50 degrees F, you shouldn’t leave dry food out more than four hours.
If it’s a humid day or the food has become damp, then the time it can be left out is greatly reduced.
Damp food will be contaminated with bacteria quicker than dry as bacteria breeds within moisture. It’s not worth risking leaving out damp food, toss it away.
How to Tell If Dry Cat Food Is Bad?
There are a few ways you can tell if dry food has gone bad. Look for signs that:
- The food smells “off”
- It’s not loose and hard when you shake the food
- There are signs of discoloration or mold when you look closely
- You cat has either had diarrhea, vomiting, or visible signs of an upset stomach after eating it
To be honest, in most cases it’s fairly obvious when you take a look at fresh cat food next to some that’s “off” or a bit stale.
As I mentioned above, it’s always best to be cautious and not give your kitty food you’re not sure about.
How Bad Is It When Their Food Goes Stale?
The biggest issue with old dry food is that it will go stale over time, especially if it’s been opened or not stored in an airtight container.
The reason why dry food lasts longer than wet is that it’s not as susceptible to growing bacteria.
This is obviously a good thing, and it’s a lot less likely to grow mold without being exposed to moisture.
But it will dry out and lose a lot of its taste and nutritional content. Especially when it’s passed its use-by date.
It shouldn’t make your cat sick if it’s a little stale. Just as if you were to eat some food that’s a little past its best.
If you can see that it’s going stale it’s definitely a sign that you should throw it away and get some new.
This is also why you shouldn’t leave dry kibble out too long during the day as I covered above. When it’s exposed to air it “oxidizes” and goes stale a lot quicker.
How to Store Kibble So It Lasts Longer
The best way to ensure kibble lasts longer – and retains more of its flavor and nutritional content – is to store it in an airtight container.
A lot of dry cat food comes in cardboard boxes with a little flap that opens at the top. This is obviously not airtight.
But the reason food comes like this is because it’s a less expensive way to package it, and the manufacturers are assuming it’ll be eaten within a reasonable time after being opened.
Most cat owners, which includes me, transfer the dry food into an airtight container anyway. I just buy another box when I need to top up my food container.
Related – 5 Awesome decorative food containers
Feeding cats dry food is inexpensive, convenient, and just fine when done right.
I use a combination of wet and dry food. Luckily by two gobbles up the wet food as soon as it hits the bowl.
They tend to graze on their dry food though. Which, as I explained in this article is fine. I store it in an airtight container (ziplock food bags are fine too), and I never leave it out for more than 8-10 hours.
This way I know they are always eating food that’s fresh, free from bacteria or any form of contamination, and will not give them an upset tummy.
Image credits – Header Photo by Rasmus Gerdin, cats eating photos by Reno Laithienne & Konstantinos Feggoulis on Unsplash