Last updated on November 25th, 2023 at 09:06 pm
You may think that since kibble is dry food, it can last indefinitely. After all, the dry cereal we eat for breakfast seems to last quite a while in our pantry or even after we open the box. But dry kibble for dogs has many more ingredients than human cereal including oils, chicken, fish, and some moisture to name just a few.
Pet owners often compare dog’s kibble to human foods like dry cereal, assuming its shelf life is equally long. However, kibble, whether it’s a whole bag or just a portion, has a complex composition, including natural preservatives, meats like chicken and fish, and even some moisture, which affects its longevity.
Dry kibble in a sealed bag will usually last 12–18 months max. Each bag of dog food is required by law to have an expiration date stamped on it. So, be sure to check this date. Once you have opened the bag, however, kibble will deteriorate much faster lasting only about 2-6 weeks depending upon how it is stored.
Shelf Life of Kibble
The expiry date on each bag of kibble is crucial information for pet parents, indicating the longer shelf life of dry dog food in its original packaging. Once opened, the air-tight container of the original bag is compromised, reducing freshness.
After opening, storing kibble in a dry place at room temperature is key to maintaining its quality. Proper storage, like using a bag clip or sealed container, can extend its lifespan to 2-6 weeks, depending on the environment.
What Causes Dry Kibble to Go Bad?
First of all, a high-quality kibble product will contain meat as the primary ingredient. Examples are chicken and chicken meal; fish and fish meal, beef, turkey, lamb. Manufacturers often add fish or salmon oil. And finally, kibble contains some moisture. All of these ingredients impact freshness.
High-quality ingredients in dog’s food, such as fish meal or chicken, are prone to spoilage. Additives like rosemary extract and other natural ingredients help, but they can’t prevent all decay.
Storage conditions, away from direct sunlight and at low temperatures, play a significant role. Punctured or improperly sealed bags expose the kibble to harmful elements. High temperatures, moisture, too much direct light can create mold to develop.
Oxidation is a primary concern once the bag is opened, leading to rancid fats and potential health issues for your furry friend. Once you open the bag, the food is exposed to air which triggers the oxidation process. This will eventually cause the fats to become rancid and could cause the growth of toxic mold or bacteria after several weeks.
How to Keep it Fresh
Store Dry Dog Food in its Original Bag
Rule number one is to always keep the food in the bag! The first thing that many dog owners do, is to open the bag and pour it into a plastic container. Contrary to common practice, transferring kibble from its original bag to plastic storage containers isn’t a great idea. The bag’s design, including a layer of food-grade preservatives, is tailored for keeping the food fresh
This is bad for two reasons. First, the bag itself has been designed to keep the food fresh. The bag is lined with special food-grade preservatives which give it a long shelf life of 12-18 months. Second, plastic containers may leech harmful chemicals into the food. Also, the oils from the kibble may seep into the plastic and eventually become rancid (think how spaghetti sauce stains plastic storage containers).
Place the Dry Dog Food Bag Side an Air Tight Container
Pet food manufacturers recommend keeping the kibble in its original packaging inside airtight containers made of safe materials like stainless steel or glass. Cut the bag open evenly, then fold the top and use a large clip to reseal it. You should avoid storing food outside or in the garage due to extreme temperatures, moisture, and exposure to bugs and pests. It is best to store dog food in a cool dry area that will be protected from the elements.
I previously stored my dog’s kibble in a small, clean garbage can lined with a bag in my garage, monitoring the temperature with a nearby thermometer to ensure it didn’t overheat. This method seemed effective initially, as my well-insulated garage receives some cool air from the house’s central air conditioning system. However, with the increasing frequency of heat waves, I often found myself moving the kibble indoors to avoid extreme heat.
The final straw was discovering a trail of ants around the can, prompting me to clean the area with vinegar and ultimately decide to keep the dog food inside the house permanently for better preservation and convenience. I also bought a better container that was air tight and would not attract ants.
Proper nutrition for your canine companion involves not just balanced meals but also careful storage. My method of keeping the entire bag inside a container ensures freshness without the risks associated with direct contact with plastics.
How Long Does Kibble Stay Fresh when Left in Your Dog’s Bowl?
My dogs eat like there is no tomorrow. So, I never worry that my dogs will leave food in their bowls. They are definitely members of the canine clean plate society!
But my sister has two smaller dogs who will only eat until they are full and leave the rest for later. I assumed that all dogs were food hounds who would eat until they were stuffed. But not these two. My sister fills their bowls with enough food for the day, and they eat what they need.
Leaving kibble in a bowl all day should be fine if it is dry. For regular dry pet food, a few hours are generally safe. If water is added, it can go bad after a few hours. Just be sure to throw it out at the end of the day.
It is also a good idea to wash dog bowls in warm soapy water at least once a week. I sometimes run them through the dishwasher to sterilize them. Disposing of old food daily and washing bowls regularly will help prevent any health issues related to spoiled food.
For pet owners whose dogs, like smaller dogs or those on raw diets, don’t finish their food immediately, it’s essential to monitor how long kibble stays in the bowl, especially if mixed with wet dog food. Different types of dog food, like dehydrated dog food or freeze-dried dog food, have varying tolerances for being left out.
How to Know if the Food Has Gone Bad– Detecting Spoilage
First of all, rancid dog food will smell funny. It may smell a little fishy or stale. Rancid fats in dog’s food emit a distinctive odor, a clear sign of spoilage.
If you notice your dog picking at his food, or acting like he does not feel well, it could be the food has gone bad. If your dog is hesitant or shows signs of discomfort after eating, inspect the food for mold or unusual moisture build-up.
Always heed the best buy date on the dog food label. Expired dog food, even if it looks fine, could be detrimental to your dog’s health. Of course, never use dog food past the expiration date stamped on the bag.
How and Where to Buy Dry Dog Food
Buy kibble in small batches that you know will be eaten within 2 to 3 weeks. Resist the temptation to save money by buying huge bags of food. I purchased a 30 lb. bag once which lasted 6 weeks. But toward the end of the bag, it started to smell a little stale so I threw it out. Now I only buy 15 lb. bags, which last around 3 weeks for two dogs. Sometimes I will just pick up a couple of 5 lb. bags and open one at a time.
Buying smaller bags of kibble is a more practical approach for fresh food. Large bags, though economical, may lose their nutritional value of the food before being fully consumed.
I prefer supporting local pet food companies, ensuring I get the best dog food with a long life, as they often have better storage and rotation practices than larger chains or online stores. Therefore, I prefer to buy food from the local pet store in my neighborhood. The owner keeps the inventory moving in a climate-controlled building, and the food is always fresh. During the pandemic, I ordered from a larger more distant pet store and the quality seemed okay, but I did not feel as comfortable with the freshness.
I avoid purchasing dog food from large chain stores or online. Even though the bags may be within their expiration date period, I still wonder about their standards and storage conditions.
I buy Fromm Adult Gold dry kibble for my two dogs. Fromm does not sell directly to consumers, and they only sell to small stores that meet their strict storage guidelines. See more about their policy here. I have been giving my dogs Fromm Adult Gold Kibble for 3 years and I have never had a problem with freshness. And my dogs have never had a problem eating it! See more about this in my post Is It OK to Feed Your New Rescue Dog Dry Kibble?
Just because it is dry, does not mean that kibble will not spoil. It needs to be used within 3-6 weeks after opening the bag. I suggest erring on the side of caution and try to use it within 3 weeks max.
Keep watch for signs of rancidity, mold, or too much moisture build-up. Store the food in the bag in a cool dry environment and reseal it with a food clip.
The longevity and safety of your pet’s food depend on factors like the bag size, date of manufacture, and proper storage methods. Being vigilant about these can ensure your dog enjoys fresh, healthy meals every day.
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.