How To Know If Dog Food Has Gone Bad—and How To Store It So It Doesn’t

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of dog nutrition. With that has come a welcome range of convenient and healthy dog foods on the market, from cooked to raw and shelf-stable to frozen. But the variety can be challenging too: they all have different shelf lives and storage needs. Learning how best to store dog food is key to ensuring it doesn’t spoil and go to waste (or worse, make your pet sick).

We review proper dog food storage, ways to keep dog food fresher longer, and how to know when it’s gone bad.

How To Store Dog Food Properly

The two broadest categories of dog food are cooked and raw. Cooked foods include dry kibble, wet canned, fresh frozen, dehydrated, and air-dried. Raw foods include freeze-dried, frozen, and high-pressure pasteurized. As a rule, always check sell-by dates and follow manufacturer storage guidelines.

Type of foodCooked/RawShelf Life
Kibble, dry foodCooked18 to 36 months unopened
Wet food, cannedCooked2 to 3 years unopened; 48 to 72 hours opened
Fresh (often this is frozen)Gently cooked6 months in freezer (unopened); around 5 days in the fridge, thawed
DehydratedCooked12 to 24 months
Air-driedCookedMore than 12 months (no refrigeration required)
Freeze-dried rawRaw2–3 years unopened
Frozen rawRaw3–4 months unopened
High-pressure pasteurizedRawThese are usually stored in the freezer and then thawed—see manufacturer instructions for shelf life

Dry food has the longest shelf life. Unopened and stored in a cool dry place, it can keep between 18 and 36 months.

Wet or canned food can last for a long time on a pantry shelf. Once opened, it’s best to use it within two to three days.

Fresh dog food that’s gently cooked often comes in frozen packages that each contain two to three meals. You can store these unopened in your freezer for up to six months. Once a package is thawed in the refrigerator and opened, it will keep in the fridge for another few days.

Raw dog foods vary in shelf life and storage needs as well. Freeze-dried raw food can be stored on a shelf in its unopened package for two to three years and unused portions kept in the original packaging. Frozen raw can keep in your freezer for up to three or four months unopened.

How To Keep Dog Food Fresh for Longer

A few things commonly cause food spoilage or reduce its freshness:

  • Exposure to air feeds harmful bacteria
  • Excess moisture in the environment can cause mold
  • High temperatures can cause nutrients to break down and/or lead to foods becoming rancid

Many dog foods, especially shelf-stable ones, store best in their original packaging. The FDA recommends this, partly so you can keep important information (UPC code, lot number, brand and manufacturer, and “best by” date) in case of a product defect or recall. It works well for dry dog food, treats, and canned food.

That doesn’t mean you can’t store kibble in another container. Reusable bins are a good idea because they can help keep air—and pets—out of the bag. Just clip the top of the bag closed and put it into the bin instead of pouring the food directly in.

Plastic, metal, or glass containers with sealable lids are useful for all kinds of dog food, but especially fresh gently cooked varieties, which often come in frozen packages that each contain two to three meals for your dog. You defrost these in the fridge overnight and feed the next day; store the excess in a container in the fridge.

Canned wet food, which is cooked, can last for a long time on a pantry shelf. Once opened, keep leftovers in the can and consider a reusable plastic cap to close the top.

Additional dog food storage tips:

  • Keep dog food that doesn’t require refrigeration in a cool dry place, in temps under 80º F
  • For fresh and raw foods, follow manufacturer instructions
  • Always thaw frozen fresh and frozen raw food in the refrigerator, not on the counter
  • Clean bins and containers regularly—each time you finish a bag or package

How To Tell if Dog Food Has Gone Bad

One of the best ways to make sure your pup’s meals stay fresh is to look at sell-by dates and to store and handle dog food according to manufacturer instructions.

Though fresh cooked and raw formulations in particular tend to have shorter shelf lives, all foods start to lose some nutrients slowly once they’ve been opened and exposed to air. Even vacuum-sealed packages sitting in the freezer will begin to degrade if you hold on to them longer than the recommended amount of time (generally six months or so).

To check for signs of spoilage, watch for the following:

  • Odor—Most dog food, especially kibble, smells like something only your dog would love, but if it starts to smell different than what you’re used to, that’s a sign that it’s time to throw it out.
  • Moisture, mold, or bugs—Always look at your dog’s food to see if there’s any discoloration or texture changes. Dry dog food might look wet, and wet food might take on a crumbly texture.
  • Heat or humidity—Particularly with shelf-stable items, if the place where you usually store your dog’s food has gotten warmer than usual (temperatures under 80º F are generally OK, but check your brand’s guidelines), or moisture has somehow gotten into the space, storage bin, or bag, you’ll want to inspect the food before you feed it to your pup.

Because spoiled or contaminated dog food is dangerous and sometimes even life-threatening, it’s important to err on the side of caution. If you’re on the fence, throw it out and start a fresh package.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *