Should you refrigerate wet cat food after opening?

When it comes to feeding your cat, you want to make sure you are storing their food properly to keep it fresh and safe to eat. Wet or canned cat food often comes in cans or pouches that contain multiple servings. Once open, it is important to refrigerate any unused portions. But why is refrigeration necessary for wet cat food once the can is open? Here is a look at whether or not you should refrigerate wet cat food after opening.

Why Refrigeration is Recommended for Opened Wet Cat Food

There are a few key reasons why it is important to refrigerate wet cat food after opening:

  • Prevents bacterial growth – Wet cat food provides an ideal environment for bacteria to grow once air is introduced. The moisture content and protein make it a breeding ground for harmful bacteria if left unrefrigerated. Proper refrigeration slows bacteria growth.
  • Inhibits spoilage – Opened wet cat food will spoil rapidly at room temperature. The refrigeration process drastically slows down the spoilage rate to keep it fresher longer.
  • Maintains nutritional value – Refrigeration preserves the nutritional integrity of the ingredients in wet food. Vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients break down quicker when left out.
  • Extends shelf life – An opened can or pouch of wet cat food will typically last around 3-5 days when properly refrigerated. This extends the shelf life versus leaving it out.
  • Prevents food borne illness – Harmful bacteria that can grow in wet pet food can cause gastrointestinal upset in cats when ingested. Refrigerating denies bacteria the optimal environment they need to proliferate.

Following the recommendations of wet cat food manufacturers, most indicate opened cans or pouches should be refrigerated and used within 3-7 days. Keeping wet food cold and contained slows spoilage and bacteria growth that could sicken your cat or shorten its nutritional value and flavor.

How to Refrigerate Wet Cat Food

Refrigerating opened wet cat food is easy. Here are some tips for proper storage:

  • Make sure cans or pouches are tightly sealed or covered before refrigerating. This prevents your refrigerator from taking on food odors.
  • Pour any unused portion into a sealed container, zip top bag, or covered dish. Never leave an opened can in the fridge.
  • Place the refrigerated wet cat food toward the front of the top shelf. This minimizes temperature fluctuations compared to the door.
  • Label the container with the date it was opened. Use a permanent marker directly on metal cans.
  • Use refrigerated wet food within 5 days for best quality. Freeze any extra you won’t use within this timeframe.
  • When reheating refrigerated wet food, do so slowly on the stove or microwave to prevent texture changes.

Avoid leaving refrigerated wet cat food out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours before putting it back in the fridge. The cool environment of the refrigerator along with proper sealing is ideal for storing open canned or pouched wet cat food.

What Happens if You Don’t Refrigerate Opened Wet Cat Food?

Failing to refrigerate opened wet cat food can have several consequences:

  • Rapid spoilage – Bacteria thrive on the moisture and protein. Within 4 hours at room temperature, opened wet food will start to spoil.
  • Reduced nutritional value – Vitamins like vitamin E and B are sensitive to heat and moisture. Leaving wet food out diminishes these over time.
  • Off flavors – Spoiled, stale wet food takes on unpalatable flavors cats often reject.
  • Foodborne illness – Harmful bacteria including salmonella and listeria can grow rapidly on unrefrigerated wet cat food.
  • Diarrhea or vomiting – Eating spoiled wet food often causes temporary gastrointestinal upset in cats.
  • Shorter shelf life – Opened cans or pouches left at room temperature will spoil within 12-24 hours.

Letting wet cat food remain unrefrigerated after opening allows bacteria and molds to proliferate. This increases the chances your cat will reject the food or get sick from eating contaminated products.

Signs Wet Cat Food Has Spoiled

Look for the following signs that your refrigerated wet cat food has spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Mold visible on surface
  • Slimy texture or appearance
  • Unusual darkening in color
  • Strong, sour, or unpleasant smell
  • Discoloration of meat or vegetable chunks
  • Liquid has become gelatinous
  • Presence of gas bubbles or foaming

Your nose is one of the best tools for determining spoiled wet cat food. Use caution and discard food with any rancid or unpleasant aromas. Also look at the consistency. If the food seems excessively thickened, slimy, or discolored it is best to play it safe and throw it away.

How Long Does Refrigerated Wet Cat Food Last?

The shelf life of refrigerated wet cat food depends on a few factors:

  • Container – Airtight containers help food stay fresh longer than open cans.
  • Food quality – More natural, less processed foods spoil quicker.
  • Refrigerator temperature – Food lasts longer at 35-40°F versus over 40°F.
  • Exposure to air – Repeated openings shorten shelf life.
  • Ingredient types – Meats and fish spoil quicker than veggies or grains.

In general, expect properly refrigerated wet cat food to stay fresh for:

  • 3-5 days: Canned food or refrigerated pouches after opening.
  • 1 week: Homemade cooked cat food stored in airtight container.
  • 6-8 weeks: Commercial or homemade raw cat food mixtures.

Write the date opened on containers and look for signs of spoilage throughout this suggested shelf life. When in doubt, play it safe and throw away food if the quality is at all questionable.

Can You Freeze Wet Cat Food?

Many cat owners freeze extra wet food for later use. There are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Freeze in airtight containers or bags removing as much air as possible.
  • Portion into amounts for one feeding to avoid repeated freeing and thawing cycles.
  • Defrost slowly in fridge or microwave on defrost setting to prevent texture changes.
  • Never refreeze thawed wet cat food. Only refreeze unopened cans.
  • Use frozen wet food within 2-3 months for optimal flavor and nutrition.
  • Label frozen food with contents and date frozen.

Most wet cat foods freeze well, but avoid freezing anything with crunchy toppings or mixtures with mayonnaise. Thaw all frozen wet cat food thoroughly before serving to your cat.

Is Refrigerating Wet Cat Food Necessary if Used Quickly?

Even if you plan to feed all of an opened can or pouch’s contents in one sitting, it is still advised to refrigerate the unused portion. Here’s why:

  • Bacteria grows rapidly – Within minutes to hours, bacteria multiplies to dangerous levels at room temperature.
  • Containers aren’t sterile – Even sealed cans/pouches can house harmful bacteria when opened.
  • Cats are vulnerable – Kittens, elderly cats, and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of getting sick if food is left unrefrigerated.
  • Better safe than sorry – The potential risks of bacteria outbreaks are too great to ignore refrigeration guidelines.
  • Maintains taste – Even short stints at room temperature can make wet food unpalatable for picky eaters.

The bottom line is refrigeration should always be done as soon as a can or pouch is opened, even if you plan to empty it immediately. The few extra minutes to transfer uneaten food to the fridge is worth it for your cat’s safety.

Keeping an Eye on Leftover Wet Cat Food

Even when stored in the refrigerator, leftover wet cat food requires vigilance against spoilage. Here are some tips:

  • Check food daily – Give it a quick visual check and smell test.
  • Use shallow containers – This allows you to see the food condition.
  • Never mix fresh with old – Keep date labels to avoid confusion.
  • Adhere to shelf life guidelines – Toss food at first signs of poor quality.
  • Clean fridge regularly – Eliminate drips and leaks that could contaminate.
  • Use oldest first – Rotate refrigerated food from back to front.

Stay alert to any changes in your refrigerated wet cat food that could indicate spoilage. When unsure, remember it is always better to waste a little unused food than risk your cat’s health.

Some Exceptions Where Refrigeration May Not Be Necessary

While refrigeration is universally recommended for opened canned or pouched wet food, there are a couple exceptions:

  • Freeze-dried or dehydrated raw food – The removal of moisture inhibits bacteria growth at room temperature.
  • Supplement powders or broths – Powdered mixes are less prone to spoilage without moisture.
  • Cat treats or unopened foods – Sealed treats, snacks, or unopened cans can safely be stored in the pantry.

Unless the ingredients and properties remove the need for refrigeration, it is best to always put opened wet cat food products in the refrigerator or freezer. This tiny bit of extra effort helps ensure your cat’s food stays healthy and nutritious.

Storing Unopened Canned Wet Cat Food

While opened wet cat food requires quick refrigeration, you have more flexibility when it comes to unopened cans and pouches. Here are some tips for safe storage:

  • Check manufacturer date – Do not purchase or feed products past expiration date.
  • Store in cool, dry place – Avoid temperature extremes and moisture.
  • Avoid direct sunlight – Ultraviolet light can degrade nutrients over time.
  • Keep cans and pouches intact – Never use damaged packaging.
  • Organize by date – Keep track of dates and use oldest first.
  • Limit storage time – Use unopened wet food within 6-12 months for peak quality.

As long as the packaging remains sealed, unopened wet cat food will stay safe at room temperature. Once opened, refrigerate any leftovers immediately in a covered container.

Signs Your Cat’s Food Has Gone Bad

Watch for these common indications that your cat’s wet food has potentially dangerous spoilage or contamination:

  • Change in texture – Unusual thickness, sliminess, or new crunchy bits.
  • Altered color – Darkening, greying, unnatural hues.
  • Strange odor – Rancid, sour, unpleasant new scents.
  • Taste changes – Your cat suddenly dislikes or avoids the food.
  • Gas or bubbling – Food appears to bubble or foam more than usual.
  • Mold – Any fuzzy spots or discoloration from mold growth.
  • Clumps – Hard chunks of dried food with moisture loss.

When refrigerated wet cat food shows any of these warning signs, play it safe and throw it away. Do not take chances with your cat’s health by feeding questionable spoiled foods.

How to Choose the Best Wet Cat Food for Refrigeration

Look for wet cat food varieties optimal for refrigerated storage:

  • Low moisture content – Drier foods resist bacteria growth.
  • Natural preservatives – Vitamin E and citric acid help prolong shelf life.
  • High-quality ingredients – Avoid chemical preservatives or artificial flavors.
  • Resealable packaging – Allows for effective storage of leftovers.
  • Smaller portions – Single-serve pouches limit waste from opened cans.
  • Raw food diets – Freeze small batches for refrigerated defrosting as needed.

Check labels and understand ingredient lists to pick optimal wet foods for freshness when refrigerated or frozen after opening.

Safe Cat Food Storage Summary

When it comes to cat food safety, proper refrigeration and freezing following these guidelines is key:

  • Refrigerate wet food cans/pouches within 1 hour of opening.
  • Use refrigerated wet cat food within 3-5 days.
  • Freeze extra wet food in airtight bags removing air.
  • Thaw frozen wet food gradually before feeding.
  • Store unopened cans or pouches at room temperature.
  • Keep all cat food in a clean, dry storage space.

Following both manufacturer recommendations and veterinarian guidance allows you to optimize nutrition and freshness of your cat’s wet food. Take the necessary refrigeration and freezing precautions whenever opening cans or pouches.


When it comes to wet cat food, refrigeration after opening the can or pouch is absolutely essential. The moist environment of canned or pouched food allows dangerous bacteria like salmonella to quickly multiply at room temperature. Refrigerating denies bacteria the optimal warm conditions they need to thrive.

Allowing wet food to sit out for even short periods of time after opening runs the risk of contamination and spoilage. Make it a rule to immediately refrigerate any leftovers from the can or pouch using sealed containers. Portion out extra wet food into single servings and freeze these to allow for easy thawing and feeding later on.

Following proper refrigeration guidelines after opening, most wet cat foods stay fresh for 3-5 days. Always monitor refrigerated or frozen food for any signs of spoilage like smell, texture, or appearance changes. When in doubt, play it safe and throw away wet cat food if there is any questionable quality.

While dry kibble can safely stay in the pantry, wet canned or pouched cat food products require rapid refrigeration after the initial opening. Keeping leftovers cold preserves nutrition, limits bacteria growth, and prevents spoilage or contamination. Refrigerating open wet cat food keeps your cat healthy and safe.

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