For those who’ve worked with me or have heard any of my lectures or webinars, you are aware of my concerns with using dry food exclusively. But a recent feline case reminded me that if you choose to use kibble, please know it does have an expiration date. Plus, without a few basic food safety precautions that expiration date may not be viable, potentially leading to a range of health issues.

Dry food or kibble is made by combining ingredients into a slurry, processed through an extruder under pressure, and then heated to dry. To make the formed pellets palatable, even irresistible, once dried, the food is sprayed with animal fats and digest. What’s not often discussed is the susceptibility of this highly processed food to handling and storage conditions.

A few thoughts, from my experience:

  1. Earlier dry foods used chemical preservatives, but when these preservatives were found to be health risks, many pet food manufacturers moved to natural preservatives. Although considered safer for our pets, these pet foods can be more fragile and at greater risk of spoilage.
  2. When purchasing, make sure there are no holes or tears in the bag and there is a generous expiration date. Because once opened, the expiration countdown accelerates. Buy only what you need for a month. A way to prolong freshness is to set aside what you may need for a week or so, then freeze the remaining. Use freezer-safe containers and make sure to wash the containers with hot water and detergent before reusing.
  3. Freezing also helps prevent storage mite contamination, which is a common allergen in cats and dogs. Storage mites are frequently found in cat and dog foods especially once the bag is opened.
  4. If using a pet food container/bin, leave the food in the original bag and place inside the container. Or be sure to wash between uses. This prevents the fats from lingering in the container and deteriorating, as well as reducing the risk of mold.
  5. Be sure to store foods in a cool, dry location, away from heating vents, sun exposure, and strong-smelling cleaners or scents.
  6. Don’t trust your nose for freshness. The noses of cats and dogs are far superior to yours. If your pet has been eating its food and then turns away, (s)he may be telling you something. Years before I was involved in the pet food industry and animal nutrition, our dog turned away from a new bag of food. Even with tempting toppers, she flat out refused. That food ended up being in one of the biggest pet food recalls in history for mycotoxins, naturally occurring toxins produced by molds that cause serious health effects to humans and animals.
  7. And finally, do not soak your pet’s dry food unless your pet eats it immediately. Naturally occurring molds can be found in pet food ingredients including grains and pulses. When kibble is soaked in water or broth, then left out for an extended period of time, that moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish, turning their food into a petri dish.

As for the cat that inspired this post? The owners reported the cat had begun to have diarrhea a few hours after his meals. I asked the owners to check all the foods, especially the urinary prescriptive dry food, for formula changes, expiration dates, and how long the dry food had been open. During the summer we’d restructured his diet with more canned and the dry as a snack, greatly reducing dry food consumption. Months had passed with them using the same bag of food. A new bag and the owners reported even they smelled the difference! Better yet, 72 hours after replacing the old dry food, the diarrhea cleared up.

To learn more about the dry food alternatives or tips for reducing or eliminating dry food from your cat’s diet, email me for my handout at

© Terri Grow, 2024

Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.