Is It OK to Feed My Cat Expired Cat Food? 8 Facts To Know

Pet owners worry about the health and wellbeing of their furry family members when they hear about recalls of popular brands of cat and dog food.

There’s been some debate about whether or not giving pets food that’s past its expiration date is harmful.

Although it is not mandatory in the United States for pet food packaging to include a “Best By” date (also known as an “expiration date”), many manufacturers do so to let customers and retailers know for how long they can expect the product to maintain its advertised quality.

These wet and dry pet foods have recommended “use by” dates, but their actual shelf life may be shorter or longer depending on factors like degradation and packaging strength.

Unopened wet or dry cat food that has passed its expiration date is still perfectly safe to feed to your pet.

Instead, keep an eye out for issues like diminished nutritional value, contamination, spoilage, and deterioration of preservatives.

Here’s how to tell if your pet food has gone bad after the expiration date.

Is It OK to Feed My Cat Expired Cat Food?

Expired cat food is not something you should give your cat.

If you feed your cat food that is past its “best by” or “expiration” date, you may be endangering their health and nutritional intake. Just like you should only eat fresh, uncontaminated foods, so should your cat.

Nutritional Quality

Different brands and varieties of pet food (wet vs. dry) have widely varying shelf lives, defined as the length of time the manufacturer guarantees the nutritional values it advertises on the nutritional facts label.

You shouldn’t rely on products that are many months past the recommended “Best By” date, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone bad or lost significant nutritional quality if you find yourself with an older can or bag of food.

The natural breakdown of preservatives and fats can cause food to lose some of its nutritional value even if it has not been opened, does not smell bad, and shows no signs of spoilage or contamination.

If you continue to feed your pet this type of food, it could lead to nutritional deficiencies and serious health problems down the road.

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Shelf Life of Dry and Canned Cat Foods

a cat with dry and canned cat food

It might appear that canned food for cats can keep indefinitely. Although it has a long shelf life when unopened, it can still spoil. The shelf life of dry cat food is reliably between four months and three years.

Wet cat food, because it is canned and preserved, has a slightly longer shelf life if it is not opened. Wet cat food, once opened, can be refrigerated for up to three days in an airtight container.

However, keep in mind that not all cat food has the same shelf life. This is because of how the cat food is made.

While feeding your cat a diet free of artificial preservatives may seem like the healthiest option, it’s important to remember that these foods expire quickly. Additionally, high-fat foods oxidize at a much quicker rate than low-fat ones.

The Dangers of Expired Cat Food

There are more serious consequences to giving your cat stale or expired food.

You should think about the following things:

Lack of Nutrition

Your cat’s food will have a “best by” or expiration date on it to let you know when it will no longer be edible, but that date serves another purpose as well. It also specifies the date after which the food will no longer be able to provide the nutrients for which it was originally labeled.

Natural decomposition of the elements making up the food will prevent your cat from receiving a balanced diet even if the food is unaffected by air, moisture, mold, or insects.

Bacteria and Mold

Mold and bacteria can flourish in food that has expired or been improperly stored. Your cat’s delicate digestive system can be severely compromised by these foreign substances found in their food.

Bugs and Worms

Unlike fresh, properly stored pet food, expired food is much more likely to attract and house insects. There are a number of diseases that these insects may be carrying that could be transmitted to your loved one through their diet.


While most pet food is safely packaged to avoid contamination, there are some brands that are more likely to have issues.

The longer food is stored in permeable packaging, the greater the risk of contamination by moisture, insects, mold, and other pathogens; this is especially true of biodegradable packaging.

If you want to keep your cat healthy, you should never feed it anything that hasn’t been thoroughly inspected for pests, mold, and other contaminants first.

This is true even before the “Best By” date, but you should be especially vigilant about not feeding your pet food with an “off” smell or discoloration.

Fat and Spoilage

Fat is a necessary ingredient in cat food, but it has a short shelf life and can go rancid even if the food is dry. Many pet foods, especially wet cat foods, have a rather strong odor. This is not, of course, a reliable indicator of the food’s quality.

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However, if you’re looking for a specific brand or variety of food, and the item has gone past its expiration date, you might notice a slightly off aroma.

It is unlikely that canned goods will go bad after the “Best By” date, but by law they must be consumed within a year of production.

Degrading of Preservatives

Although preservatives are added to cat food to extend its shelf life, they are not indestructible. They will no longer be able to preserve food by preventing spoilage, mold, and microbial growth.

Some pet foods don’t contain any preservatives at all, but if your brand does, it’s best to use it up before the expiration date to make sure the preservatives are still effective.

In foods with preservatives, the “Best By” or ’Use By” dates are especially significant because that is how the manufacturer determines the product’s viability in the market.

True Meaning of Package Dates

Retailers in the food industry are not prohibited by federal law from selling perishable items that are past their “Best By” date.

However, it is generally accepted that once a product has passed its expiration date, it must be discarded from store shelves. If a batch is getting close to its “Best By” date, it may go on sale because of the surplus.

Exceptions to this general rule include fresh food, which is considered a luxury item because it may have a printed expiration date. However, canned and dry pet food typically do not have “expiration dates” unless otherwise specified.

There is only one federal law that requires this kind of labeling, and it requires that if a food item is dated, the date must be accompanied by a label explaining what the date means.

Most businesses put a “Best By” date on their products because that’s how long they can guarantee that the product will be of the promised quality, but this isn’t a particularly reliable method for determining when food has gone bad.

How to Tell If Your Cat’s Food is Expired

But how do you know if the cat food you bought has gone bad? It’s easier than you might think to accomplish this. Look for a “best by” or expiration date as a starting point.

This is the recommended use-by date printed on the manufacturer’s packaging for the food to maintain its maximum freshness and nutritional value.

The date, however, may prove to be elusive at first. It could be written on the bottom or side of the container.

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You should normally verify this date before making a purchase. If you didn’t do so at the store, check the expiration date and seal on the packaging before serving it to your family.

When feeding your cat, you should also exercise caution. Is there a discernible difference between this and the last time you fed them? Is it moldy or do bugs scurry around in it? You need to be asking yourself these things while you’re cooking for them.

Checking the expiration date on opened cans of cat food is a simple task. Toss the food if you notice that it has changed color, smells bad, or is otherwise flawed. There’s no point in possibly making your cat sick.

gray shorthair cat and food can

Storing Dry and Canned Cat Food

The freshness of your cat’s food depends on how you keep it stored. You’ll have to keep out the elements, of course, but also pests like ants and cockroaches.

It’s best to store your cat’s food in a cool, dry place, in a sealed container, until it’s time to feed them. Low temperature and humidity environments, like those found in a kitchen cabinet, pantry, or utility closet, are ideal.

However, once opened, special care may be required. When storing dry goods, it’s preferable to use a different container, such as a resealable plastic bag rather than a bulky paper sack.

You can’t go wrong with the Gamma2 Vittles Vault. It has a screw-on lid, is made of BPA-free food-grade plastic, is compact, and has a tight seal to keep in freshness.

. Together, these measures will prevent your cat’s food from being contaminated by air, moisture, and insects. A used plastic bucket with a lid will do in a pinch.

Wet cat food is just as easy to store. Simply transfer the leftover portion to a suitable food storage container and place it in the refrigerator.

You can use a cheap food container, like the Frisco Wet Food Container, if you don’t want to use one of your nice Tupperware containers for cat food. It serves its purpose at a low cost.

Feed Your Cat Only Fresh Food

You should feed your cat the highest-quality food you can find so it can enjoy a long, healthy life filled with play. Providing your cats with expired food is risky because it may not provide them with enough nutrition. The fact that a package of food is still sealed does not guarantee that it is safe to eat.

Throw away any pet food that has gone bad and replace it with fresh supplies if you find any in your home. And if you do, please alert a manager so they can remove it from the shelves immediately.

Fresh food is a necessity, not a suggestion, when it comes to your cat’s diet.

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