Is Canned Cat Food Ok After Its Expiration Date?

You forgot that you have that one cat food in your kitchen cupboard for months. So you ask, would it be ok to feed expired cat food to your pet feline? We looked into this concern and consulted pet industry experts to help you know the answer to this question.

It’s okay for cats to eat expired canned cat food if the product passed its due date recently. But it’s not advisable to feed cats any expired food. The nutritional quality reduces and your cat will be at risk of contracting illnesses, such as diarrhea, nausea, and gastrointestinal upset. Avoid feeding your cat if signs of rotting exist, such as mold, bugs, worms, and foul smells.

But what happens to your pets if they eat expired cat food? Also, how long will it take before canned cat food expires? Dive into the specifics of this topic by reading the rest of this article. Continue reading, and you’ll know relevant information about canned cat food expiry dates.

An up close photo of opened cat food placed on the floor, Is Canned Cat Food Ok After Its Expiration Date?

How to Know if Canned Cat Food is Expired?

Feeding well-packaged canned cat food is optimal for your feline's health. On the other hand, cats consuming expired food are at risk of acquiring health problems. Checking certain things from the product's expiration date to signs of pests can help prevent these issues.

Expiration Date

One of the simplest ways to know if cat food became expired is by checking the expiration or ‘Best By’ date. Also called the ‘Best By’ date, you can find this tag food’s packaging or label. Sometimes it’s a stamp underneath the can or a date near the food’s nutritional information.

Foul Odor

Canned cat food doesn’t have the most appealing smell. But the stench can worsen when the product is no longer appropriate to give to your pet. The reason for this unwelcoming odor is because most canned cat foods are wet.

The high moisture content mixes with other ingredients, causing questionable smells to come from the product. Many pet parents can handle the smell of freshly-opened canned cat food. But you shouldn’t feed your cat canned food if the smell becomes unbearable.


Most cat parents adhere to one brand or type of canned food for their pets. Therefore, you should know the food's appearance to heart. If you see any discoloration on the product, such as darker than average meat or a questionable white substance growing, the product no longer fits your pet's healthy diet.

Mold Growth

According to a 2016 study, mold grows where appropriate levels of humidity and moisture are available. Thankfully, many canned cat foods are in tightly sealed containers. However, mold can develop and spread if the can has small holes for air to enter.


The smell of cat food can attract your pet feline, as well as some nearby pests. Cockroaches, moths, beetles, and worms can enter improperly stored canned cat food. These small creatures can spread harmful bacteria into the food, which can lead to disorders if ingested by your pet.

Does Cat Food Have a Best By Date?

Freshly opened canned cat food

Most pet foods, especially canned cat foods, have a Best By date. As it stands, US federal law only requires infant formulas to have product dating.

Meat, poultry, egg, and other food products are under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Services. The association explains that companies can voluntarily apply Best By or expiration dates to their products as long as the labeled information is both truthful and not misleading.

The Difference Between Expired By and Best By Dates

Don’t confuse Expired By and Best By dates on canned cat food. Most cat food manufacturers don’t place these two terms in their products. Understanding the difference between these two phrases will ensure cats get their nutritional needs from their canned foods.

Expired By refers to the date when the food becomes old and unsafe to consume. On the other hand, the Best By date is the period when the food is still fresh and safe to eat. The canned food becomes expired after it goes beyond the ‘Best By’ date. Also, the longer you wait after the food goes beyond its Best By date, the higher the risks of your pet getting sick from eating it.

How Long Does It Take for Canned Cat Food to Expire?

Photo of an expired cat food on a white background

Unopened and tightly sealed canned cat food have a reasonably long shelf life of four months to three years with the help of artificial preservatives. Take note that these additives can extend the product’s shelf life, but they’re not ideal to optimize your pet’s well-being, particularly when consumed frequently. Some synthetic preservers common in many canned cat foods are BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.

On the other hand, opened canned or wet cat food will only last five to seven days. The shelf life can even be shorter than that period if the opened container is in a reasonably wet and humid environment, promoting mold growth and attracting pests.

Does Dry Cat Food Last Longer Than Wet Cat Food?

The high moisture content in most canned food increases the product’s rate of spoiling. Although preservatives can increase the shelf life of canned wet cat food, the lifespan is still shorter than most dry cat food.

What Happens If a Cat Eats Expired Cat Food?

Cats enter high risks of contracting health issues after consuming expired cat food. These health concerns range from minor to serious, starting with digestion issues. After eating expired food, the cats’ bodies will try to expel the harmful substances through vomit or diarrhea. Cats can also feel nauseous, weak, or lethargic after expelling the expired food forcibly.

How do You Store Unopened Wet Cat Food?

Store unopened wet cat food in a place with a temperature range of 50 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 37.78 degrees Celsius). Don’t put canned cat food in the freezer because the cold temperatures can change the food’s texture and taste. Also, don’t store the can outdoors as the hot temperatures can lead to moisture loss, which creates a nutritional imbalance in cats.

How do You Store Opened Wet Cat Food?

Opened and untouched wet cat food can last up to four hours at room temperature. Storing the unsealed container in the freezer at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 to 7.22 degrees Celsius) can extend the food’s shelf life up to seven days.

You can also remove the cat food from the can and place it in a sealed bag. Another option is to put the food in a pan or plate and sealing it with plastic wrap. Take note that these acts can alter the food’s texture and taste, which some cats don’t like.

What to Do With Expired Cat Food?

You can still feed your pet feline expired cat food. However, you should ensure that the food only went slightly beyond its Best By date. Also, make sure that the food doesn’t have signs of significant spoilage like foul smells or mold growth. If the cat food has signs of ruin or decay, put it in a tightly sealed bag before throwing it in the trash.

Final Words

Cats can consume expired canned cat food only if the product doesn't have significant signs of spoilage. However, doing so won't complete your pet's daily nutritional requirements. Furthermore, don't feed your feline expired cat food if the product has signs of bacteria and pest activity. If you see these signs, put the can in a sealed container before disposing of it in the trash.

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