Most dog owners purchase large packages of dog food for convenience. Pet food is available in a wide variety of sizes, but is it always smart to purchase the biggest bag that lasts the longest?
Dog food, like human food, has an expiration date. The best-by date will vary from food to food depending on when it was manufactured and the preservatives.
Preservatives have a bad connotation, but they are a necessary part of processing to make sure the dog food stays fresh for as long as possible. As long as the preservatives are natural, you won’t have too much to worry about.
Let’s take a look at how long dog food really lasts, how to tell when it has spoiled, and what you can do to properly store and preserve the quality and taste.
Table of Contents
Why Does Dog Food Spoil?
The key to understanding how to preserve pet food is to understand why it spoils. One reason dog food goes bad is due to oxidation.
Once the bag is opened, the contents are exposed to the air and moisture in the environment. Dry food is particularly susceptible to oxidation, so proper storage is crucial but we will cover that in a bit.
Once the contents of the pet food are exposed to the air, it becomes vulnerable to bacteria contamination the longer it is left out. As with most food, too much moisture in the air can cause mold, which is sometimes toxic to your dog especially when it’s ingested in large amounts.
One more environmental reason why dog food can spoil is due to high temperatures. The heat, especially when it is combined with the above factors can lead to rancidity.
How Long Does Dog Food Usually Last?
The easiest and more surefire way to tell how long the dog food lasts is by checking the expiration date. The expiration date can be found on all packages stamped somewhere on the surface.
Some pet food manufacturers have a best by date rather than an expiration date, but the two indicate the same thing – a cautious date before the food spoils.
Most pet food manufacturers include a best by date of around a year to a year and a half for dry food and up to 2 years for canned dog food.
It’s important to note that the date is an estimate for unopened dog foods. Once the packaging is opened, the expiration date shortens by quite a bit.
Degradation of the dry food starts almost immediately, so we recommend consuming the package within the month if possible.
An excellent way to make sure the dry food can be consumed within the recommended time frame is to purchase the right size. For example, a single-puppy household should refrain from purchasing the largest available bag for the sake of convenience. If you notice your dog has a tough time finishing the dog kibble within the month, try a smaller bag the next time.
How to Tell if the Dog Food Is Bad
Okay, so now we know the approximate length dog food is good for but is it possible for your dog’s food to spoil before then? Yes, it is, due to a number of reasons such as the ones we pointed out above.
The next important factor is to have the know-how to understand how to tell when your dog’s food has gone bad. There are some very obvious tell-tale signs that are similar to how to identify spoiled human food.
- The Nose Test: For starters, the dog food needs to pass the nose test. Does it smell off to you or even have a rancid odor? It may not be easy to tell since we’re not accustomed to sniffing dog food all the time. If there is just a hint of spoilage, it may be undetectable to our noses. However, your dog is more than sufficiently endowed with a heightened sense of smell – strong enough to alert you when something smells different. Even if you can’t tell, your dog can so if he’s ignoring the food, then that is a good indicator.
- The next step is the eye test. If the food is noticeably different in appearance, then it warrants a closer inspection. Check to see if there are visible signs of mold, which could present itself as black, grey or white spots.
- There could even be bugs crawling within the food if it has been left out for long enough. If the spoilage gets to this point, then you need to throw out the dog food immediately.
- If the local climate hit an all-time high for a day or two or there was a heatwave, we would suggest checking on the food immediately after these sudden temperature changes just to be on the safe side. Sometimes everything can seem fine but your dog is showing signs of illness. It could be due to the food, but it’s important to eliminate all other possibilities before tossing out the entire dog food bag.
Some dog owners may wonder what to do if the food seems fine but it’s past the expiration date. If everything looks fine after a thorough check of your dog’s food, we would still say to switch out the food just to be on the safe side, especially if there isn’t a lot left.
Do not take the risk if you have any concerns, because we promise you your dog’s health is much more important than saving a few bucks, especially since a sick pup could equal staggering medical bills.
Don’t take your dog’s reaction with a grain of salt. A dog’s nose is much more sensitive than ours, so if he sniffs and refuses to eat the food, then it’s time to reassess the condition of the dry dog food.
The same goes for canned dog food. The contents would first need to pass the nose and eye tests, but remember to trust your dog. The best by date should be longer than kibble, but it’s even more crucial to heed the expiration.
For dogs on fresh and raw diets, you would treat the food like you would human food. For raw food, it’s more important than ever to guarantee freshness because your dog could be ingesting harmful bacteria and parasites.
Want to learn more, read our more in depth article on how to tell if dry dog food is bad.
How to Properly Store Dog Food
Now that you know what to do to maximize the shelf life and freshness of the pet food, it’s time to address storage methods.
Pet food companies have gotten ahead of the curve and designed dog food bags that are resealable. It’s very easy to open these dog food bags, scoop out the necessary amount and close it back up again. However, is resealable bags the best way to store your dog’s food? We would suggest keeping it in a bag or using dog food containers that maintain the freshness of the dog food.
Dog food bags are designed to protect the integrity of the contents, so keeping them in the bag would prevent premature spoilage. If you go through the extra step of pouring the food into separate food storage containers, it can actually spoil a little faster. Not to mention, the greasiness of dry dog food will get all over the inside and require cleaning from time to time.
For extra protection, you can combine the two methods of food storage and place the sealed bag in a plastic container. This way, you will ensure the kibble is protected by a double layer of security, which makes degradation even less possible. Whether the kibble has been opened or not, you have to make sure to store it in a cool and dry place and not in high temperatures.
If you are looking at raw, fresh or canned dog food, then you have to refrigerate the contents. The best-by date of these types of dog foods is comparatively shorter than dry kibble. Assess fresh, raw, and canned dog food the way you would human food.
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What about Treats?
We talked about different types of dog food, but what about treats? Dog treats make up a big part of your dog’s daily diet and are an excellent source of additional vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Just like regular dog food, dog treats can spoil as well.
As with other consumables, dog treats will also have a clearly labeled date. Dog treats usually feature more preservatives but it depends on the type of treat. Any sort of homemade baked treats, such as cookies, will have a shorter shelf life because it’s less likely to contain preservatives.
Treats that are packed in resealable bags will have a longer lifespan, but make sure they use natural preservatives if possible.
For treats, we would recommend an air-tight storage container. Food bags are designed to protect the food, but the plastic packaging most treats come in does not have the same effect.
To tell if the treat has gone bad, we would also suggest conducting the nose and eye test and finally let your dog have a say.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dry dog food go bad?
Yes, dry dog food can go bad. In fact, dry food can spoil much faster than canned food. Pet foods are susceptible to temperature and other environmental changes, so we recommend pet owners store both opened and unopened food bags in a cool and dry place.
Your dog’s food is made to last much longer than our food, with the average timeline being around 1 to 1.5 years for dry food and up to 2 years for canned wet food.
A good method to ensure your dog is always able to consume all the food within the time frame is to purchase smaller bags. If it takes your dog up to 2 months to finish a bag of food, we would suggest going for the next size down. For pups that finish everything within 2-3 weeks, then go for the next size up.
How long is an open bag of dog food good for?
Once the bag of pet food is open, it gives moisture and air a chance to get in and start the degradation process. You should aim to finish the bag of food within the month. The shelf life will go from 1 year down to just a few weeks.
It’s okay to leave the kibble out in the open air if you are a free-feeder or if your dog didn’t finish his meal in one sitting. However, we recommend tossing the contents away after a 24-hour period to make sure your dog doesn’t consume contaminated food.
Not only will air and moisture affect the food in a 24-hour period, but dust and debris can easily fly into the bowl as well. If you plan to leave out the food, make sure to cover it with plastic wrap.
How can you tell if dog food has gone bad?
There are a few ways you can tell if dog food has gone bad. We advise each dog owner to conduct a smell test followed by a visual test. Take a sniff of the food, if you notice a rancid or sour smell, then it’s time to throw the product out. If the food passes your nose inspection, then take a closer look at the appearance.
Do you see any signs of bugs, mold or other forms of contamination? If all seems fine, serve it to your dog.
If you notice your dog seems hesitant to eat it, then there could be something wrong with the food that our senses aren’t heightened enough to detect. Of course, it could just be because your dog isn’t hungry, but if that isn’t the case and he has refused the food more than once, then we recommend trying a new bag.
How long does dog food last in the fridge?
For canned, fresh, and raw dog food, you have to place it in the fridge or even the freezer for storage.
For canned food, an opened can should last for 5-7 days maximum in the cold. Unopened cans do not need to be refrigerated but they do need to be stored in a cool and dry place. Fresh and raw dog food follows the same principles as our food, so it’s much easier for pet owners to detect spoilage.
Dry kibble food does not need to be stored in the fridge or freezer. In fact, the sudden temperature change may have adverse effects. Storing the bag, opened or unopened in a shaded area away from the heat is more than enough to preserve the freshness.
How often should you change dog food?
Some pet owners may think the answer to this question is obvious – change it when you run out. Since some dogs could take a longer time to finish the contents, we would suggest purchasing the right size bag to get a better idea of when to change your dog’s food. How often you change your dog’s food should be dictated by the freshness and date rather than when it’s fully consumed.
How often should you switch up the recipe? Switching out the recipe or even pet food company brand could be a new concept for some owners. Some breeders and vets recommend switching out the formula to make sure your dog always gets a balanced diet with a full nutritional profile. If didn’t invest in the best food there is (which doesn’t really exist), then changing is a great way to make sure your dog is never nutrient-deficient.
The new food can be just a different flavor from the same brand or a different brand altogether, but pet owners still need to follow the feeding requirements when switching the food. We are talking about the gradual addition of the new food and the decrease of the old recipe.
Knowing how long dog food lasts will help ensure your dog is always getting the best and the freshest food. Once the bag or can is opened, the countdown timer begins. Most bags of food can last for 1 year to 1.5 years and canned options last for up to 2. Look for natural preservatives for the least harmful effect on your dog and remember to always conduct a nose and eye test before feeding.
If you need to leave the food out, make sure to properly cover it with plastic wrap, and remember to store the contents of the remaining can or bag in a cool and dry place.
If the bag of food isn’t resealable, there are other ways to use the original bag for storage. Invest in a snack clip, ones used for family-sized potato chip bags to seal it shut. Simply folding the bag will not be enough, because environmental elements can still creep into the bag through the crevices.
Did You Know?
Storing fresh and raw dog food in the freezer will increase the shelf life. You can do so as you would with hamburger patties and put the portions into ziplock bags to store it safely.