a grey tabby eating kibble from a pair of bowls

Does Dry Cat Food Go Bad?

So you have decided to feed your cat dry cat food for convenience but you want to know does dry cat food go bad? Or does it last forever like dried military rations? The answer is that it does go bad. It can go rancid pretty quickly and it can lose nutritional value surprisingly quickly.

Read on to learn more.

Does Dry Cat Food Go Bad?

Dry cat food is actually bound together with fats and oils. If fats and oils are left in the open air to oxidize they go rancid. Additionally, essential fatty acids contained in the food for your cat’s nutritional health can quickly lose their nutritional value when exposed to air. Basically, dry cat food exposed to air goes rancid and loses its nutritional value surprisingly quickly.

How quickly? Well, check out the sell-by date on the next bag of food you get. These dates are usually six months after the kibble has been milled by the manufacturer. They are on the packet to tell the retailer when they should sell the food by. It is generally understood that the food is then good for a further six months after the sell-by date if stored correctly and unopened. 

Once opened, most dry cat food packets will have instructions to use the food within 14-21 days. Because once opened it only takes a short time for the fats and oils in the food to turn rancid and for the food to go bad!

a young white pawed tabby cat reclining and reaching out for a bowl of kibble placed infront of it

How Long Can Dry Cat Food Be Left Out?

So how long can dry cat food be left out on the plate in open-air conditions? Basically, you have got 48hrs on the plate or in the dispenser and then essential fatty acids have oxidized and the food has lost nutritional value.

If you add water to dry cat food and soften it up or turn it into a porridge it should be left out for an even smaller period as it will simply dry and adhere to the food bowl like concrete.

Whilst it is tempting to leave a volume of dry cat food out for your own convenience and to ensure your cat doesn’t go short, it is smart to only put out enough for your cat’s immediate meal. 

Free feeding your cat dry food is widely understood to increase the risk of obesity for your cat which can lead to diabetes. 

It is currently understood that there is an obesity and diabetes epidemic in pet cats right now that has been found to have occurred due to cats’ free feeding on excessive amounts of dry cat food laced with flavor enhancers!

Does Dry Cat Food Go Bad Faster In Heat?

Can dry cat food go bad in heat? Yes, oils oxidize in warm air or hotter climates quicker. 

Some of the nutritional elements of the food degrade in higher temperatures as well. 

Manufacturers recommend that dry cat food should be stored at temperatures below 80°f (26°C) to avoid this degradation, so if you live in a hotter climate you can expect the food to spoil much quicker!

an over the shoulder view of a grey cat eating kibble from a metal bowl

How Can I Tell My Dry Food Has Gone Off?

So if you come across an opened bag of dry food that is past its sell-by date but still within six months of that date, how do you know if it is ok to give your cat or whether it has gone bad?

There are some clues you can look for that might give the game away. First off, does it smell different from usual (is the smell stronger, musty, or unusual?). Next, has the food changed in the bag? Is it dusty or prone to crumbling? Has the kibble actually gone soft? All these are big clues that the food has degraded – and they don’t all need to be present for the food to be past best.

The last major clue is whether or not your cat will eat the food. Cats have a sense of smell that is vastly superior to ours and if the food smells different, or off, they generally won’t eat it. 

Can I Feed My Cat Out Of Date Dry Cat Food?

The sealed pack will have a sell-before date which is usually a date 6 months after manufacture. So long as the packet is not open the food is good for this date. But the date is really to aid retailers – giving them a date to sell the food by. Generally speaking, it is believed that so long as the food is unopened it will be good for a further 6 months beyond the sell-by date – in which case you are good to give your cat the “out of date” food.

If your dry cat food has a “use by ” date or a “best before” date then stick to that date and assume that after those dates the food will have nutritionally degraded even if unopened.

If a bag is open, perforated, or torn and out of date then, assuming you don’t know when it was opened, it is likely to be stale and should be disposed of. 

It is recommended that once opened, dry cat food is consumed within 14-21 days! And that is if it is kept in an airtight container in the correct storage state!

You can try feeding your cat out-of-date food but it is likely to have degraded oils and fats that your cat will notice in the flavor or taste and reject, or at best the nutritional value of the food will have been lost.

two tough looking street cats eating cat food from a bowl

Will Stale Dry Cat Food Make My Cat Sick?

Assuming your cat will even eat it, which it won’t if the fats and oils are rancid – they will be put off by the odor – stale food is likely to be nutritionally degraded. It is unlikely to make them sick in the short term but their health may decline as their nutritional requirements are not met.

What Is The Ideal Way To Use & Store Dry Cat Food?

Here are some tips to get the most out of your dry cat food and ensure your cat is not getting stale or nutritionally bereft food :

Make sure the food is stored at the correct storage temperature – below 80°F.

Make sure you store the food out of sunlight to avoid temperature fluctuations in the packet.

Open and use the food before the sell-by date if you can – but be mindful that you can leave it sealed for a further 6 months.

Once opened, store dry cat food in a sealed airtight container.

Use within 14-21 days of opening even when stored in airtight containers.

Do not leave dry cat food in the dish or dispenser for more than 48hrs – else it loses nutritional value.

Wash the dish or dispenser every time you replenish to remove fats and oils deposited previously by the food that may turn rancid and bad and taint new food.

Do not return uneaten food to the container – it has been exposed to air and will have begun to degrade more quickly than the food kept in the air-tight storage.

Final Thoughts

Does dry cat food go bad? Yes, it is not as straightforward to use as you might think. Be sure to avoid huge bags of dry cat food unless you have a multi-cat home. Using opened dry cat food within 14-21 days means you need to consider the correct size pack for your cat, check dates on bags of food that you buy, and make a note of the opening date when you break open a pack!