Five Reasons to Watch Out for Cat and Dog Food Expiration Dates

Is Expired Dog and Cat Food Safe?

With so many companies issuing recalls on cat and dog food lately, pet owners are rightly concerned about the safety and quality of what they serve to their four-footed family members and how to choose the right food. recently shared some interesting information on another pet food concern: is it okay to buy or feed expired dog or cat food? Food is generally marked with an expiration or “best by” date. Normally it's months, or even years, in the future, but what if it's just...MORE around the corner? Is the food still safe to buy? And what if your bag of pet food gets pushed to the back of the pantry and you don't find it until the date has already passed?

Here are the things that warns you to watch out for:

  • 01 of 05

    Nutritional Quality

    Cat eating food
    Check your pet's food. Adam Drobiec / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Shelf life for dog and cat food varies by brand and also by the type of food, i.e. whether it's canned or dry. The food is only guaranteed to have the stated nutritional quality on the package if you use it by the expiration date. Otherwise, you could be depriving your pet of essential nutrients. This can happen even if the food looks and smells fine, with no signs of spoilage.

  • 02 of 05


    Pet food packing is designed to prevent contamination, but some types are more susceptible to problems than others. Permeable packing means the food can be exposed to moisture and even let insects and other pests get in. This is more likely as time passes and the “best by” date goes by.

    If you have expired food, it's best to just throw it out. If you use it, inspect the food thoroughly for any signs of bugs, mold, and other contaminants that could make your pet sick.

  • 03 of 05


    You'll find fat in pet food because it's essential for dogs and cats, but it can get rancid over time. Of course, I find that most pet food is very stinky and that, for my cats, the general rule of thumb is that the nastier it smells, the more they like it.

    Because pet food doesn't smell all that appetizing to humans to begin with, it's hard to detect spoilage with your nose alone. For that reason, use the expiration date as your guide to help prevent serving up spoiled food to...MORE your pets.

  • 04 of 05

    Degrading of Preservatives

    Preservatives are supposed to help keep dog and cat food fresh, yet the preservatives themselves can degrade over time. That means they lose their ability to prevent spoilage, mold growth, and microbial growth. Some pet foods are preservative-free, but if your brand uses preservatives, use it by the expiration date to ensure they're still doing their job.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    True Meaning of Package Dates

    You might think it's safe to buy cat or dog food without looking at the date because it's illegal to sell expired food. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Most pet food is marked with a “best by” date rather than an actual expiration. That means that stores can still legally sell it, even if it's far beyond that date. Worse yet, they don't have to warn you, so it's up to you to check the date before you toss a package in your cart.

    That doesn't mean you have to keep the...MORE food if you get it home and discover that the date is past. Bring it back to the place of purchase and ask for a refund. They're very likely to give you your money back since they won't want to alienate a customer.

    If you noticed expired food on a store shelf while you're shopping, I recommend letting the manager know. Hopefully, it's just an oversight, and they'll remove the food once they know about it.