Let’s be honest, dog food never smells great. But if it’s past its expiry date, can we still feed it to Fido? In short, yes, you can feed expired dog food to Fido, but it doesn’t mean that you should. And there is one crucial caveat – if smells rancid, it probably is, so feed it to the trash can not the dog.
Dry food doesn’t really have an odor, gone off or otherwise, so how do you know if it’s gone bad? If it doesn’t smell bad, do we really have to throw it out when it goes past that date, or can we still feed it to Fido?
We all know he’s eaten worse on trips to the garbage can and when he finds discarded food in the park. So will a week-old tin of food or a month-old cup of kibble really do him any harm?
In this article, we will talk you through the factors to consider when deciding whether food is still safe for Fido to eat.
Understanding the Shelf Life and Expiration Date of Dog Foods
First and foremost, you need to understand how the expiration dates work on dog food. Here in the US, there is no statutory requirement for pet foods to display expiration or best before dates on the packaging.
However, many pet food companies provide them to aid both the stores and owners in knowing when a product contains the nutritional content as per the claims on the packaging. Over time, the food degrades, as does the nutritional content.
There are two common types of dates on pet food – ‘best by’ dates and ‘use by’ dates. The first lets you know when a product is still in optimum condition to deliver all the nutrients and daily recommended intake levels of proteins, fats, and fiber.
Once the best by date has passed, the nutritional value can start to degrade, acting as advice rather than a warning.
Use by dates, conversely, are a little more finite and warn that the food may well be bad if eaten after it has passed. As such, they need to be given a little more consideration when choosing whether to feed it to your buddy.
Not only is there a chance the nutritional levels may be dropping off, but there is a real chance of the food being spoiled. With things such as bacteria or mold developing.
Is it Still Safe for Dogs to Eat Expired Dog Foods?
Most dry dog food is a pretty safe bet if it has passed the best by date by just a few weeks or months. But only if it has been in an unopened packet, carton, or airtight container. Wet food, on the other hand, is slightly different.
Wet food is canned with preservatives inside that prevent deterioration and stop the growth of bacteria and mold by starving it of oxygen and the bacteria within it. But, these additives will become less effective over time and eventually fail.
The best way to check tinned food is to open it and check the top layer for mold and a rancid, rotten odor. Because if the color is off, or it smells like rotten meat, it most probably is.
If you have recently opened a bag of kibble and noticed that it is only just out of date, it will likely still be suitable for a few more days. If the kibble is still dry, not turning white and powdery, and doesn’t smell musty, it will generally be ok.
Spoiled dry food rarely smells rotten, so don’t let this be your leading indicator. It will start to taste stale at some point, and your pup may well turn his nose up at it. Once a few months past the best by date, dry food is best disposed of as it can grow fungal bacteria.
If bad food goes unnoticed and you feed it to your pup by accident, it may well cause a stomach upset. Unlike food that just doesn’t agree with him, bacteria such as E. coli and Botulism can cause a severe upset that lasts days and can be life-threatening.
When it comes to sickness and diarrhea, the rule of thumb is that if it lasts longer than 24 hours, seek advice from your vet.
What are the Issues With Expired Dog Foods?
As you can see, an expired best by or use by date means that your dog’s food could be deteriorating to less than premium conditions. These sub-par foods can impact your dog’s health in harder to spot ways, so you need to know what it is and how it affects your pooch.
Low Nutrition Value
As touched on before, these dates are designed to give you the time frame in which the food offers the most premium levels of nutrition. Expired dates mean less nutrition that will continue to reduce the further it is past that date.
The speed at which it degrades varies based on the food type (dry or wet), the brand (cheap or premium ingredients), and whether it is open or still sealed. But even taking these factors into consideration, the food could still be bad.
Just because there are no signs of spoilage, or a terrible smell, the food still runs the risk of the essential components such as fat and proteins having broken down naturally. Which, in turn, leads to the possibility of illness.
Most foods are packaged in airtight containers with preservatives pumped in to remove the air and bacteria that can spoil food. But even these professionally sealed packets can degrade over time, allowing air, bacteria, and even insects into them.
Some cartons and packets can also become permeable. Meaning moisture makes its way in, which allows mold to form and bacterial toxins to produce. This, in turn, attracts pests where they can then lay eggs in the food, which can lead to serious internal problems for dogs when ingested.
This is the main reason that packaged food needs to be thoroughly checked before it is fed to dogs. It is even possible for in-date food to have mold present if it hasn’t been stored correctly.
Fat is often vilified as an unnecessary additive to foods because it can cause weight gain, but it is an essential part of your dog’s diet. It provides them with energy, essential oils for a healthy coat and brain function, and adds extra flavor to their food.
Unfortunately, it is one of the first ingredients to turn rancid and spoil. When it does sour, it produces an unmistakable, intense, rotting smell. Well, for us, at least. Fido, on the other hand, won’t notice and will happily chow down on soured food.
If the food is bad and the fat has turned, it can lead to digestion issues.
Mold is usually pretty easy to spot. The little white fluffy spores seem to stand out even on soft white bread, and if you get up close and personal with your pup’s kibble, it is the same.
Because it tends to grow on the top layer of food, both wet and dry, it is easy to spot. Unlike soured fat, mold gives off a smell that dogs won’t like. So if it smells odd and Fido doesn’t eat it, check for mold.
If you see mold, throw it out and give him some fresh food. Then keep an eye on him for any stomach upset that may follow.
What are the Health Risks?
Expired food can present both minor and severe risks to your pup, and, for this reason, we would say not to take the risk with it. Although food marginally out of date is safe, taking the chance of your pup getting a tummy upset will mean no one wins if you have to clean up after him.
Diarrhea and sickness is the main problem you will encounter if Fido’s food is bad. The spoiled foods will have bacteria present that can upset the balance within the gut and intestine, which causes the body to expel extra fluids in a bid to flush them out.
Symptoms can last for a few days. The sickness should stop within 24 hours, but the loose stools may carry on for a few days afterward. If it does happen, you must bin all expired food and feed him a plain diet of chicken and rice to not upset their stomach any further.
A more serious aspect of spoiled food is the possibility of serious bacteria breeding and being present when your pup eats it. Bacteria such as Salmonella, E. Coli, Botulism, and many more can spread through the bloodstream. This will cause many health issues, that if untreated, could mean a life-threatening battle for your pupper.
A less severe but still serious consequence of feeding food that is past its best is malnutrition. Degraded foodstuffs often lose their vitamin and mineral goodness before they go moldy or rotten. This means that they are not delivering what your pup needs, even if it doesn’t upset his stomach.
Not receiving his daily needs can lead to a slow health decline that isn’t immediately obvious. It could present over time as lethargy, mistaken for laziness, or weight loss. If not identified early as malnourishment, it could eventually lead to bone problems and organ failure.
We all know good quality food is better for us and our pups, so even though expired food that isn’t at its best can be safe for Fido, it doesn’t mean you should give it to him.
If you decide to finish that bag of food that has just gone over the best by date, be sure to check for the issues above to ensure you aren’t going to cause any tummy upsets. Or worse, severe bacterial infections.
As a rule of thumb, when you purchase food for your dog, buy enough to last a month or so. That way, even if it does expire shortly after purchase, it is unlikely to spoil before you finish it. But, keeping your pup fit and healthy should be your first concern, so why take the risk.
Featured Image: Piyawat Nandeenopparit, Shutterstock