The pet food industry has seen many new foods become available in recent years. Pet lovers have the option of buying frozen foods, raw foods, and fresh refrigerated food, among others. Wet/canned foods are more popular than ever. Yet dry dog food remains the top selling pet food by a wide margin. In fact, dry dog food sales in the U.S. in 2020 roughly equaled all other dog and cat food sales combined. Considering the popularity of kibble, you might wonder if dry dog food can go bad? If you find it on sale, for example, should you stock up on it? We have the answer for you.
Does Dry Dog Food Go Bad?
The short answer is yes, dry dog food can go bad – eventually. However, some dry dog food could safely be kept in a nuclear fallout shelter for a long time. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch but dry dog food, in general, does last several months as long as the bag is unopened.
All dry dog food will eventually go bad so lets look at how long you can reasonably expect a bag of food to last.
How Long Does (Most) Dry Dog Food Last?
Dry dog food is very popular for lots of reasons. It’s easy to store. Many brands are relatively inexpensive. And dogs like it. It can also last a long time – thought not as long as wet/canned food. A lot can depend on the company that makes your food and the ingredients used, especially the preservatives.
By nature, dry dog food tends to last a long time because most of the moisture has been removed. In most cases, around 88-90 percent of the moisture is removed from kibble leaving a moisture content of 10-12 percent. With less moisture in the food, kibble is less likely to spoil than wet dog food or semi-moist foods.
Artificial preservatives are shunned by many dog lovers but they do a good job of preserving foods. Some of these preservatives include ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). They keep dog food from spoiling because they prevent fats in the food from becoming rancid. This is one of the biggest reasons why dog food goes bad. As long as the fats don’t spoil, the dog food can easily stay edible for a year. Unfortunately, these artificial preservatives have been linked to health problems.
Dog foods that use natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and plant extracts (e.g., rosemary) can also keep fats from spoiling. However, natural preservatives are not effective for very long compared to artificial preservatives. Pet foods that rely on natural preservatives will have a shorter shelf life and go bad sooner. For these dog foods it’s important to pay attention to the “Best By” date on the label. The foods will not be guaranteed to be good after this date.
Many dry dog foods also contains antioxidants in the form of some vitamins and minerals which can stop fats from becoming rancid. These antioxidants are also beneficial for your dog. Antioxidants you may see in dog foods include vitamin C, vitamin E, citric acids, and rosemary. Cranberries, blueberries, and tomatoes are frequently sources of vitamin C in dog foods. Vitamin E is often listed as “mixed tocopherols.” Citric acids are derived from citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, and lemons.
In general, most dry dog food will last at least a year as long as the bag is unopened. However, depending on the preservatives and other ingredients used, along with how the food is shipped and stored, the food can last anywhere from about 12 to 18 months. Read the “Best By” date on the label when buying the food.
What Causes Dry Dog Food Spoilage?
Dry dog food can spoil (“go bad”) for several reasons.
Most bacteria is killed during the process of making kibble. However, after the dog food bag is opened, bacteria can once again go to work. Only the preservatives in the food can prevent it from going bad and they won’t be effective forever.
In some cases, bags of food can be damaged or have holes in them during shipping which allow air and/or moisture to get into the food. This can lead to bacterial growth in the food or let the fats in the food start to spoil.
In some cases, just a little excess moisture in a bag can allow fungal growth and microbial colonization to start.
During shipping and storage, dog food can also sometimes experience high environmental temperatures that encourages microbial growth and fat spoilage.
Preservatives, especially natural preservatives, have a limited ability to protect against these problems, especially after a food’s “Best By” date. There are situations where spoilage can occur in your home after you buy a dog food. The food is opened, moisture can get into the bag, or high temperatures can encourage bacterial growth. Any of these things can lead to food spoilage in a relatively short time. If this happens, the nutritional content of the food can be compromised. In some cases, the food could become hazardous.
Fat rancidity accounts for most of what consumers consider to be dry pet food spoilage. For this reason, dry dog foods with a higher fat content can be more likely to spoil. Dry dog foods that are lower in fat often have a longer shelf life.
Rancid dog food usually has a bad odor that you can smell. If you aren’t sure if a dog food is bad, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get rid of it rather than feed it to your dog.
Should Your Dog Eat Dry Dog Food That Has Expired?
No, you should not feed your dog food that has expired.
It might be tempting to buy dog food that is on sale because the expiration date has passed but it could be a problem for your dog for the same reason that eating expired food is not safe for you. Your dog could become sick.
Symptoms of eating bad dog food can include vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. In extreme situations, symptoms include paralysis, hemorrhagic enteritis, and other serious intestinal problems.
The bacteria and toxins that can accumulate in bad dog food include Botulism C1 toxin and mycotoxins that can harm your dog.
If the fats have become rancid, they can be carcinogenic. Rancid fats produce free radicals that can enter cells and damage DNA. Antioxidants normally deal with free radicals but if the dog food is past its expiration date, the antioxidants are gone.
When dog food is past its expiration date, some of the vitamins and minerals in the food have also lost their efficacy meaning that the food has lost some of its nutritional value.
How Can I Tell If a Dry Dog Food Is Bad?
It’s not hard to tell if a dry dog food has gone bad. Here are some tips.
- Check the Best By and expiration dates on the bag to make sure they are current.
- Check the bag to make sure it doesn’t have any holes.
- Check the food to make sure it doesn’t contain any insects or mold. Is there any moisture inside the bag?
- Smell the food. Does it smell like previous food you have bought of this brand? If it’s a new food, does it smell bad, “off,” or rancid? If so, it’s likely there is something wrong with the food.
- Does your dog dislike the food? Dogs can be picky and this isn’t always proof that there’s something wrong with the food, but a dog’s nose is a powerful detector. If your dog thinks there’s something wrong with the food, you should inspect it carefully.
- Is the food greasy or wet?
- Begin writing on the bag the date that you opened it. This will let you keep track of how long the bag has been opened.
If you suspect there is something wrong with the food, return it to the store immediately. There is no need to pay for food that could possibly harm your dog.
The Best Ways to Store Dry Dog Food
It’s best to keep dog food in its original bag. Most companies use good packaging to try to keep their kibble safe. You can push air out of the bag at the top to try to keep the food less exposed. Plus, if there is a recall for any reason, you will still have the original bag with the lot numbers and other company information handy.
Some companies use airtight bags with a ziplock seal. These bags are very convenient.
You can also use a small storage container for your kibble. These containers will keep bugs and other pests out of the food but you won’t be able to keep as much air out. If you do use a storage container, it’s a good idea to retain the original bag. This way you will still have access to the nutritional information, expiration date, and batch number if you need them.
If you use a storage container, be sure to wash it between uses. Oil from the previous dog food will go bad and can spoil the next food you pour into the container. If you wish to use a container, consider keeping the food in the bag and close it inside the storage container.
Always keep your dry dog food out of the sunlight. The higher temperature from the sunlight can encourage bacterial growth. It can also make fats become rancid.
If it will take your dog more than a couple of weeks to finish a bag of kibble, consider freezing some of the food. Freezing the food will make it stay fresh longer and prevent it from spoiling.
Following these tips should help keep your dry dog food safe from spoilage longer.
Tips for Keeping Kibble Fresh
Here are some more tips for keeping your dog’s dry dog food fresh and prevent it from spoiling.
- Only buy as much dry dog food as your dog(s) can eat in a few weeks.
- If you are using an airtight container to store your dog’s food, use steel because it is more hygienic. Glass allows light to hit the food which can encourage spoiling. Plastic is hard to keep clean.
- Don’t mix new food with old food. It will spread any rancid fats. Finish the old bag of food before you open a new bag unless you are making a change to your dog’s diet.
- Make sure you clean your storage container before adding new food. It should be completely dry.
- Keep your dog food in a place that is cool and dry. It should be away from bugs and rodents.
Using these tips will help keep your dog’s kibble safe.
What to Look for When Buying Dry Dog Food
There are just a few simple things to look for when buying dry dog food. Considering these basics can ensure you buy safe food.
Check the dog food label for the “Best By” and expiration dates.
The Best By date is the date when the food’s nutritional value (vitamins and minerals), color, smell, and other factors should be as advertised. If the food is past its Best By date, it may not be at its best but it should still be safe for your dog to eat.
However, a food expiration date is different. This date indicates the food has become degraded. After this date, the food is not safe from spoilage. This food should not be considered safe for your dog to eat.
These terms refer to bags of food that are unopened. If a bag is open or if it was damaged during shipping, all bets are off. An open or damaged bag cannot be guaranteed.
If you are buying a bag of dry dog food, consider the Best By and expiration date and how long it takes your dog to finish a bag of food.
You should also check the label to see what kind of preservatives are used. If your dog will be finishing the bag in a short time (such as about three weeks), natural preservatives would be a good choice. However, if it takes your dog a couple of months to finish a bag of food, you may need to consider a food that uses synthetic (“artificial” preservatives); or buy a smaller bag of food that doesn’t last as long.
While you might not approve of artificial preservatives, you don’t want to feed your dog a dry dog food that is spoiled or rancid either. If you need a food that has a long shelf life but you don’t like artificial preservatives, consider a wet food diet. Wet or canned dog foods often have expiration dates of two years.
As for buying dry dog food in bulk for convenience or to save money, it’s best not to do so unless you can freeze the food or use it before the food will go bad.