Dogs are not known for their discerning palettes. I mean, your dog probably thinks a month-old chicken drumstick on the sidewalk is a perfectly acceptable snack. That is why they depend on you to provide fresh, balanced meals each day to keep them healthy.
While you may have nutritious meals for your pup, you still should learn how to properly store pet food so it can maintain its nutritional value. Not only is properly stored dog food better for your pup, but improperly stored dog food may also degrade and turn rancid rapidly, which can make your dog sick. (And no one wants that!)
We consulted veterinarian Katy Nelson, DVM, Chewy's resident veterinarian, to find out how to keep dog food fresh for as long as possible through proper storage.
Dry Dog Food Storage
Kibble is easy to store and feed, but like all types of pet food, it is perishable.
Bags of dry dog food are imprinted with a “best by” date to let you know how long you can keep it. However, many dog owners do not realize that this date becomes inaccurate once the bag is opened. As a rule of thumb, Dr. Nelson recommends that pet parents use the dry kibble only one month after opening if it has been properly stored.
Once you open a bag of dog food, its freshness is exposed to the elements. The three factors that affect the nutritional value and quality of a dog’s dry food once it has been opened are air, moisture and high temperatures. To help combat these forces, here are some tips for dry dog food storage.
Seal Your Bag
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and dog food companies recommend that you seal your dog food, because it minimizes its exposure to air, which can contaminate your dog food with bacteria.
To seal your dog food bag, you can roll down the sides and use a bag clip to close up the bag. For extra protection, Dr. Nelson recommends airtight pet food containers.
Use Airtight Dog Food Storage Containers
“Dry dog food is extruded, and then sprayed with oils that start to break down and go rancid once the food is exposed to air,” Dr. Nelson says. “So, kibble needs to be kept in an airtight container.”
When it comes to the type of dog food containers you should use, Dr. Nelson says plastic or stainless steel containers are fine for storing kibble as long as they are airtight.
Dr. Nelson, however, prefers stainless steel “because it is easier to clean and lasts longer.”
One stainless steel dog food container option is the Harry Barker Classic Dog Food Storage Canister. It features an airtight food-seal vacuum locking lid designed to ensure freshness and is made of steel for easy cleaning.
Keep It in the Original Packaging
Store the whole bag of dog food inside of the airtight dog food storage containers. That way, the bag can provide an added barrier that helps seal in fats and oils to prevent them from becoming rancid later, Dr. Nelson says.
Keeping dog food in the original bag will also ensure that pet parents have access to the UPC code, lot number, “best by” date and brand and manufacturer information in case of a problem, like a defect or recall, according to the FDA. When you file a complaint about your dog’s food, all of this information likely will be required.
Keep Your Dog Food Container Clean
Many dog owners simply top off the dog food storage container with a new bag of dog food as it starts to run low, but Dr. Nelson says this is a bad idea.
“You wouldn’t store leftover pasta in a plastic container and then reuse it to take your salad to work without washing it,” says Dr. Nelson. “Always wash out the container between refills. The oils from the kibble tend to make the container greasy, and you can then end up having rancid oil from the old bag contaminating the fresh food.”
Thoroughly wash stainless steel or plastic dog food storage containers with hot, soapy water or white vinegar. Then, rinse and dry completely before refilling. Excess moisture can cause mold and mildew to grow on the food.
Your dog's bowl needs regular washing, too. Get tips on how to clean your dog's bowl.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place
In order to maintain the nutritional quality and shelf life of dry dog food, it is important that you store the food and its container in a cool, dry place.
Moisture can lead to mold, which can make your pet sick. High temperatures can also speed up the degradation process and cause the nutrients within the food to breakdown. Avoid storing your dry dog food in places where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, like a garage or shed.
Make sure the chosen location of your dry dog food storage is secure and can’t be accessed by your dog to prevent him from sneaking a snack on the down low.
Wet Dog Food Storage
Canned dog food can last months, even years, if it is not opened.
Discard cans that have a deep dent, air bubbles or swelling—all of which are signs that the can’s seal has been compromised and bacteria is growing inside.
Like dry pet food, unopened canned food should be stored in a cool and dry place, where the temperature is less than 80 degrees F, according to the FDA. Excess heat or moisture may cause the nutrients to break down.
Once opened, you have 24 hours to store the food if your dog does not finish it in one meal. Cover with a can cover, like these:
Seal and Refrigerate to Preserve Freshness
Unfinished canned food should be stored in a refrigerator for three to five days, Dr. Nelson says.
- Use a can cover to keep the food fresh.
- Squeeze out any air.
- Take a good look at it before feeding: If it’s watery or has changed in smell or texture, throw it out.
For fresh or frozen foods, Dr. Nelson recommends storing them according to package directions.
"Once opened, we like to wrap the open end of the tube in foil, held in place with a rubber band," she says. "That can last up to one week in the fridge."
Tips for Freezing Dog Food
When you have more food than your pet can eat before it goes bad, you can always utilize your freezer.
Kibble can be frozen to help keep it from going bad. You can also transfer leftover canned food into a freezer-safe baggie or container before freezing.
Frozen food is best thawed in the refrigerator and served within 6 to 9 months, though it can last even longer.
Buy the Right Amount of Food
Visit your veterinarian to find out how much food your pet really needs to eat.
"With 59 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs being overweight in the United States, we're noticing that pet owners do not actually know how much to feed their pets," Dr. Nelson says.
"You can’t always go by the chart on the bag, as your pet may need more or less food depending on their body condition, age and activity level. It’s so important to know how much food they really need. Then, buy bags of food that they can actually eat in three to four weeks, or portion and freeze if you prefer to buy in bulk."
More on pet food storage and organization: