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Is it OK to Feed Expired Cat Food?

If you want to save food waste, you may be curious if you can still use expired food. Or maybe you regularly leave food out (click here to see why I rated these Iseebiz & WOpet Automatic Cat Feeders my best for leaving food out) and are paranoid it may go off, let me guide you on the done thing.

Is it ok to feed your cat expired food? No, to be safe it’s best not to do this. Technically speaking, it is possible but, it is far too easy for someone to get wrong and make their cat sick. In my opinion, it’s best to avoid it. Just stay on the safe side.

However, in this article, I will go on to explain how you can differentiate between the “best by date” and  “expired date”.  Also, things that you can look out for to confirm if the food is actually off.

What happens after cat food is expired?

Striped british shorthair-cat looking at its food bowl.

Striped british shorthair-cat looking at its food bowl.

When food hits the expiry date there is usually a little bit of extra time available before it really goes off, are you with me?

You will notice that dry food typically lasts longer than wet or moist food. With time the proteins and nutrients within the food will start to break down, hence the need for the expired date.

Depending on the type of food that you have, whether it’s a premium type of food or not, there could be a big difference in the expiration dates.

What makes canned food go off?

Firstly the biggest thing, that can make can food go off, is exposure to the air. This can cause food to grow bacteria. This can happen for a few reasons, for example, if you’ve opened a sealed can and half-used it.

Also, high humidity in the air can also cause mold to start to produce in the canned food. Hot weather can also cause the food to go off. It can make the food go rancid.

What is the best way to store the food to prevent this from happening?

The best place to keep it is in a cool dry place. Keep it away from extreme temperature fluctuations. Usually within a pantry or kitchen cupboard is ideal because it can shield it away from these types of fluctuations.

Why is the best by date important?

The best by date is important because it explains when the nutritional value of the food will start to diminish.

Be careful not to confuse this date with the “expiry date”, they are different. “Best by” an “expired by” dates are two different things.

The best by date simply suggest, after its expiry,  it will no longer guarantee the nutritional benefit that is printed and promised on the packaging.

In other words, they can’t guarantee the nutritional benefits promised once it passes the best by date. The expiration date on the hand is an indication of when the food is not safe to eat anymore.

The expiration date on different food types can fluctuate quite significantly. To give you an example, dry food can last anywhere from 4 months to as long as 3 years. However, with canned food, you can see rather long expiration dates such. Anywhere from 1 to 5 years.

Cat snacks and treats usually last about the same sort of duration as dry food. This is a general guide because each individual product will have the expired and best by date clearly printed on the product.

What other things do you need to look out for in cat food?

In this section, I am going to explain what other things that you need to look out for before you feed your cat its food. This can be before the expiration date. In fact, its good practice to check this anyway.

The nutritional quality

Even if you have some food that, on the surface, it smells good does not have any noticeable deficiencies. It could still have a lack of nutritional benefit due to its age. So, for that reason, you have to be cautious before giving this type of food to your cat.

On a one-off basis, you may get away with it. But, over a long duration of time, your cat could start to have nutritional deficiencies because they are not getting the expected nutritional benefits that is promised on the packaging.

Look out for contamination

As time passes by, the packaging that the food comes with can also get contaminated. This is more likely with biodegradable packaging as opposed to other types. But, is still something to look out for nevertheless.

It is important to check the packaging and make sure there are no signs of contamination. Because if the packaging breaks down it could expose the food too early degradation. So, it’s always worth checking.

Spoilage of fats

In most cat food you will notice a certain level of fat content. This is expected because it’s an important part of your cat’s diet.

However, this presents a problem with the food that has expired. Potentially, this fat can contribute to it getting spoiled. It is important to check that the food has not spoiled before serving up for your cat.

Things to look out for, if you’re familiar with the particular product and it just doesn’t smell right or if it’s past its expiration date then take caution and do not feed this to your cat.

Preservatives Going off

Preservatives are in cat food to help increase its shelf life. However, the preservatives themselves also have a shelf life. After the expiration date, they no longer do their job. Meaning, the food can get moldy and go off. This is another reason why it is important not to go past the expiration date.

How can I tell if the cat food is expired?

To tell if your cat food is expired there are a few things you can check. First you will need to check the dates, this is not definitive, but if you are way past the date its not worth the risk.

Then you can look at the condition of the food. Any signs of mould, or pests then you know it is definitely not worth using.

FInally, there is the smell. This is harder with cat food because it has a strong smell anyway.
However, if it is expired, you should notice a difference.

What can happen if the food is expired?

If the cat food is expired may start to degrade nutritionally. Therefore, some of te advertised nutrients will have eroded and not offer your cat the well balanced diet that you anticipated.

In the worst cases it will be totally inedible, growing mould or even signs of bacteria. Also, you may even see little pests that have set up home in the food.

Can expired food kill a cat?

In extreme circumstances expired food could make your cat very unwell. Its unlikely to cause instant death, but could lead to it if its not treated. But, in most cases expired food could cause an upset stomach or food poising.

However, its not advisable to wait that long for the food to be in such a bad state that it could stand a chance of harming your cat.

Is it OK to feed my cat food straight from the fridge?

Many cat owners feed their cats food straight from the fridge with no problems. However, many cats insist on it being heated or left out for a short while until it reaches room temperature.

It is safer to offer it cold rather than constantly reheating it. Technically once you reheat food you should not refrigerate it.

Is it better to buy smaller bags of cat food?

If you have one cat it is smarter to buy smaller bags of food. This is because it reduces the chance of it expiring. However, if you have many cats, it can be beneficial to buy bigger bags. Because it often works out cheaper.

It can be tempting to buy the biggest bag in the store, especially when there are great deals on offer. But, if you waste half the bag the savings are negated.

Related questions:

In this section, I will cover some helpful questions related to expired food. If you have any other questions feel free to let me know in the comments box below.

Does canned food need to be refrigerated after it is opened? Yes, it does. Once you open canned food it has limited time left before it goes off. Read the directions on the can itself, it will usually indicate how long you can keep it after it’s opened.

In general, canned food does last a long time. But, only if it’s sealed. Once you’ve broken that seal it doesn’t last long at all.

Should you leave cat food out all the time? No, cat food should not be left out all the time. Even if you are using a free feeding technique (click here to see if you should leave food out overnight), which allows your cat to graze on food all day, this does not mean that you should just leave it out all the time.

Instead, at the end of each day, you should refresh the food the next morning with new fresh dry food. If your cat is not consuming the food you leave out in one day. And this is happening consistently, say over a few days, then you need to consider reducing the amount that you leave out on a given day.

Can you refrigerate dry cat food? No, you shouldn’t really. Ideally, it should be kept in a cool dry place. Also, it is good to keep it in a sealable container to increase its shelf life. Canned food, on the other hand, is fine for the refrigerator. In fact, that is the ideal location for it.

However, as discussed earlier, it is important to not keep food long once it is opened. For example, canned wet food can not last that long once the seal is broken and it’s in the fridge. If it’s sealed it can last a very long time. Also, lastly it is not advised to put the metal can in the fridge (Click here to see how to keep your cat off your fridge), it should be transferred to a suitable container first.

Lindsey Browlingdon