Unopened canned cat food typically does not go bad and can be safely fed to cats long after the “best by” date on the can, as long as the can itself is not damaged in any way. The canning process heats the cat food to kill any bacteria and creates an airtight seal that prevents new bacteria from getting in. As long as that seal stays intact, the food inside remains edible for a very long time.
There are, however, some signs that canned cat food may be spoiled and should be discarded:
How Long Does Unopened Canned Cat Food Last?
An unopened can of cat food that has been continuously stored at a temperature between 50°F and 80°F can generally be consumed up to 5 years past its “best by” date, according to pet food companies. Cans stored in very hot or cold conditions may last a shorter period of time.
Here are some general guidelines for how long unopened canned cat food will remain fresh past its “best by” date if properly stored:
- 1-2 years past “best by” date: Peak quality
- 2-3 years past “best by” date: Still retains nutritional value and taste
- 3-5 years past “best by” date: Safe to eat but may start losing flavor
The cans themselves are designed to have a shelf life of at least 2 years from the date of manufacture.
What Do Cat Food Expiration Dates Mean?
There are several different types of expiration dates that may be printed on canned cat food:
- “Best by” date: Recommended period for peak flavor/texture
- “Guaranteed fresh” date: Similar to “best by”
- “Born on” date: Date product was manufactured
- “Use by” date: Last date recommended for use by manufacturer
These dates are not regulated or standardized across all pet food companies. They simply provide general guidance for when the manufacturer believes the food will be freshest and of optimal quality.
Since canned cat food usually has a long shelf life after the package is opened, you do not have to discard unopened cans based solely on the expiration date unless they are more than 5 years past the date.
How to Tell If Unopened Canned Cat Food Is Bad
Any unopened can of cat food that shows these signs should be thrown away:
If the can looks swollen or bulging, that indicates the food inside has spoiled and bacteria have produced gas. Never feed your cat food from a bulging can.
Dents or Rust
Severely dented or rusted cans can compromise the seal, allowing bacteria to contaminate the cat food. Dents are dangerous if they are on a seam of the can.
If the label is detached or can be shifted around, the seal may also be broken. Do not use cans with loose labels.
Any can that is leaking liquid should not be fed to cats, as bacteria have entered the damaged container.
If you open the can and the liquid inside looks hazy or milky rather than clear, do not feed it to your cat.
Visible mold growth on the food itself shows the contents have spoiled.
Sniff the opened can. Rancid, sour, or unpleasant odors mean the food is no longer fresh.
How to Store Unopened Canned Cat Food
To maximize the shelf life of canned cat food after opening the can, follow these storage guidelines:
- Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place between 50-80°F.
- Avoid storage in hot garages, attics, or direct sunlight.
- Keep cans off damp floors which can corrode the metal.
- Rotate stock and use older cans first.
- Keep food in its original can until use.
- Wipe tops of cans clean periodically.
- Do not store near household chemicals that could absorb into the can.
Unopened Canned Cat Food Refrigerator Life
Unopened cans can be refrigerated for optimal freshness and shelf life. Keep the can covered in the back of the refrigerator where temperature is most stable.
Refrigeration can lead to a 1-2 year extension of the expiration date. Canned cat food can typically be refrigerated up to 2-4 years past the “best by” date if the can remains intact.
Unopened Canned Cat Food Freezer Life
For maximum shelf life, unopened canned cat food can be placed in a freezer set at 0°F. Frozen cans will usually stay fresh for at least 5 years past the printed date.
Let frozen cans thaw gradually in the refrigerator before opening to prevent condensation.
What Happens If a Cat Eats Spoiled Canned Food?
Eating spoiled canned cat food can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms of food poisoning in cats. Seek veterinary care immediately if your cat becomes ill after eating from a can.
Never taste the cat food yourself to determine if it has spoiled. The bacteria that grow in spoiled canned cat food can make humans sick as well.
Signs of Illness
Look for these signs your cat may have developed a food borne illness:
- Loss of appetite
- Bloated or tender abdomen
Kittens, older cats, and cats with compromised immune systems are most at risk for illness from spoiled food. Seek prompt veterinary care, as cats can deteriorate rapidly.
There is no specific treatment for food poisoning in cats other than supportive veterinary care. The veterinarian will:
- Stop all food and only allow small sips of water
- Give IV fluids to treat dehydration
- Provide anti-vomiting medication
- Treat any bacterial infection with antibiotics
- Hospitalize the cat until stable
Most cats recover fully in 2-3 days with veterinary treatment. Call the vet immediately if you suspect your cat has eaten spoiled canned food.
Preventing Illness From Spoiled Cat Food
You can keep your cat safe and avoid food poisoning by taking these precautions:
- Inspect cans carefully before feeding.
- Do not use cans past the 5 year expiration mark.
- Never feed from cans that are bulging, leaking, heavily dented, or rusted.
- Refrigerate or freeze unopened cans to prolong freshness.
- Open cans immediately before feeding.
- Discard any leftovers after 30 minutes.
- Keep food preparation areas clean.
- Wash food bowls thoroughly.
- Purchase cat food from reputable companies.
- Avoid bargain brands where quality may be lower.
By closely monitoring your canned cat food and practicing good food safety habits, you can keep your cat healthy and avoid serious illness due to spoiled contents.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does unopened wet cat food last at room temperature?
Unopened canned cat food will typically last 5 years or more past its “best by” date if stored at room temperature between 50-80°F. Keep the cans in a cool, dry pantry or cupboard.
Can cats eat canned food after expiration date?
Yes, as long as the can is not bulging, rusted, or leaking and is at most 5 years past its expiration date, cats can safely eat and digest the contents. The food retains nutritional value but may lose flavor.
Can old canned cat food make a cat sick?
Cat food more than 5 years past its expiration date may grow harmful bacteria and make your cat sick. Also inspect cans for damage. Signs of illness from spoiled food include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, fever, or abdominal pain.
How long does opened canned cat food last in the fridge?
After opening, canned cat food will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Keep refrigerated portions covered and do not mix new food with old. Discard any uneaten portion after 7 days.
Is it bad to freeze cat food after opening?
Opened canned cat food can be frozen to prolong its shelf life, but its texture will suffer after thawing. It is better to transfer open cat food into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 7 days.
What happens if a cat eats expired cat food?
Eating expired but not spoiled cat food may cause minor stomach upset in some cats but is unlikely to be dangerous. However, food more than 5 years expired risks growing bacteria that could make your cat very sick with vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration.
How do you dispose of expired cat food?
Expired or spoiled canned cat food should be placed with your regular household garbage – not compost. Make sure to safely discard the cans so other animals do not eat the contents and become ill.
Is expired dry cat food safe?
Dry kibble can typically be consumed up to 6 months after its expiration date, provided it was stored properly and the bag is not damaged. Look for mold, clumps, or rancid smells before feeding expired dry food.
How long can wet cat food sit out?
Opened canned cat food should not sit out a room temperature for more than 30 minutes. Bacteria multiply quickly on wet food left out, so promptly refrigerate or discard any uneaten portion after your cat eats.
|State of Can
|2-5 years past “best by” date
|At least 6-7 years past “best by” date
|Up to 7 days
|Bulging or dented can
|Leaks or rust
|Past 5 year expiration
The Bottom Line
Provided the can is in good condition and has been stored properly, unopened canned cat food retains its safety and nutritional value for years past the “best by” date. While it may lose some flavor and texture over time, cat food does not automatically become dangerous to eat after the expiration date. Use your judgment to check for signs of spoilage. Canned food that is up to 5 years past its date is generally still safe for your cat to consume.