When it comes to food, cats are finicky creatures and often leave food in their bowl untouched. If you’re feeding your cat wet food, an important question pops up, how long can you leave wet cat food out before it goes bad? Between one and four hours.
As soon as you open canned cat food, air and bacteria start mixing with the food. The longer you leave the wet cat food out, the higher the risk of it getting contaminated with harmful bacteria and going bad.
In this article, we’ll cover how long you can leave wet and dry cat food out, as well as the factors that influence wet cat food spoilage and what you can do to prevent it.
How long can wet cat food stay out?
Wet cat food is considered sterile until opened. This type of food is thoroughly cooked and may contain preservatives (natural or artificial) that keep it fresh for a longer period of time.
But, once you open it, canned food becomes exposed to air and bacteria from the surrounding environment. When bacteria come into contact with the food, it causes nutrients to break down.
Although your cat’s food is unlikely to get contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, or E coli in a home environment, it still attracts germs found in homes, which will eventually cause food spoilage.
Some pet food manufacturers recommend only leaving wet cat food out for a maximum of 20 minutes. Others say that canned food can safely stay out for up to four hours. Leaving wet cat food anywhere between one and four hours is relatively safe, provided that the food is situated in a cool and dry place.
Can you leave wet cat food overnight?
No, leaving wet food out overnight is not recommended. Since wet cat food is likely to become spoilt in one and four hours, depending on the room’s temperature and humidity, leaving it out for an entire night would result in the food going off.
Although there have been instances of pet owners leaving wet cat food out for longer periods of time without any consequences to their pets’ health, leaving canned food overnight is still not recommended, especially if you have a senior cat or a sick cat.
Cats that are infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) have a compromised immune system, which lets otherwise harmless bacteria and viruses cause severe illness. If your cat is FIV+ you’ll need to be extra careful not to leave food out for too long.
Wet cat food that’s been open all night will dry out and may become less appetizing to cats. Serving your pet fresh wet food is always the safest and most appetizing option.
How long can you leave dry cat food out?
Dry cat food has a longer shelf-life than wet cat food. It can be left out for prolonged periods of time. Some vets suggest that you can leave dry cat food overnight without any safety concerns. This is useful if you opt for free feeding, which involves allowing your cat to eat on their own schedule.
Dry cat food also minimizes the risk for bacteria contamination, since the majority of bacteria need moist conditions to thrive.
Although dry cat food is low in moisture, storing it for a longer period of time affects the potency of the vitamins it contains and it may speed up the process of fats becoming rancid.
It’s always a good idea to store dry food in sealed bags or air-tight containers to retain the nutrients and flavor. Dry food can go stale after being left out for a couple of days and become less appealing to your cat
Unused portions of dry cat food should always be kept in cool and dry places, and you should never give it to your cat after its expiration date. For a list of high-quality dry foods, check out of “Best Dry Cat Food” article.
Factors that affect wet cat food spoilage
When you open a can of wet cat food, it becomes exposed to air, and prolonged exposure to air leads to oxidation. This chemical process causes food to change color and flavor and lose nutrients. It also causes fats in food to become rancid.
Both dry and wet pet food should be stored indoors in cool temperatures, ideally below 80˚F. High temperatures can cause fats in wet food to become rancid, and they create an ideal environment for mold and bacteria to thrive.
Wet cat food shouldn’t be left out in spaces that are too warm or too cold. Freezing wet cat food can affect the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the food.
High humidity levels are a perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria and they cause nutrients in the food to break down. The higher the humidity levels in a room are, the quicker the food goes off. Having food stored in air-tight containers is particularly important if humidity levels are over 60 percent as they help food stay fresh longer.
Additional ways to prevent food spoilage
When it comes to wet food, there are several ways to prevent it from going bad. Here’s what you can do.
Serve food in small portions
Cats are unlikely to finish an entire can of food in one sitting. Serving them small portions of wet cat food can spare you the trouble of food spoiling or drying out. Monitor your cat’s eating habits and evaluate how much food they’re able to eat in a single meal, that way you can avoid food getting wasted or going bad.
Kittens only need two teaspoons of wet cat food per meal. Although kittens have high energy and nutritional needs, their small stomachs aren’t able to process large amounts of food yet, so it’s best to feed them smaller portions more frequently. For a list of nutrient-rich kitten food options check out our “Best Kitten Food” article.
Refrigerate wet food
Refrigerating wet cat food once it’s opened is necessary to preserve it. Canned cat food should be stored in temperatures between 40˚F and 80˚F. Avoid letting it freeze because it affects the food’s taste, texture, and nutritional value.
Throw unused refrigerated cat food away after three days to avoid any spoilage issues.
Cats tend to prefer warm food, so giving them food straight from the fridge can be an issue. You can microwave the remaining food in a microwave-safe bowl covered with plastic wrap (don’t put the can straight in the microwave!). Pick a low setting and warm it in short bursts without letting the food become too hot.
Reusable plastic lids
Wet cat food can dry out in cans if not properly covered. Use a reusable plastic can lid to cover the open can of wet cat food so you maintain its moisture and freshness.
Remember to take a photo of the UPC code, lot number, brand, and manufacturer, and “best by” date from the original can, in case of potential food complaints.
Check expiration dates
All wet cat food has an expiration date. Never serve it to your cat if it’s past that date. It’s important to check expiration dates on any type of food to be sure you’re giving your pet the freshest and most nutritious food possible.
Key takeaways on leaving wet cat food out
It’s common for cats not to eat their entire meal at once, which can be an issue if you feed them wet cat food. You can leave wet cat food out between one and four hours, anything beyond that is likely to result in food spoilage.
There are several ways to prevent wet cat food spoilage, which include refrigerating canned food once opened, serving food in small portions, using disposable sealed bags, and checking expiration dates.
Bacteria tampers with food as soon as it gets exposed to air. If you notice that the food looks or smells different, it’s best to throw it away. Always try to serve your pet fresh wet cat food to avoid any stomach upsets.