Is Your Canned Dog Food Past Its Prime? How to Check Expiration Dates and Keep Fido Safe


Canned dog food often comes with a best by or best before date stamped on the can. This date indicates the timeframe where the food is expected to be at peak quality in terms of taste, texture, and nutritional value. While canned dog food can typically last for years past its printed expiration date, it’s still important to pay attention to these dates for the health and wellbeing of your dog.

After the expiration date, canned dog food will slowly start to degrade in quality and lose some nutrients. At some point it may develop an unappetizing smell, taste, or appearance that causes your dog to reject it. Consuming spoiled foods could also potentially cause stomach upset. That’s why it’s useful to understand how to read expiration dates on canned dog food, how long it lasts after opening, signs it has gone bad, and when you should toss it out.

This article provides an overview of canned dog food expiration dates to help dog owners make informed decisions about their pet’s food safety and nutrition.

What Do Expiration Dates on Canned Dog Food Mean?

Expiration dates on canned dog food refer to the date by which the manufacturer recommends the food should be consumed for optimal quality and freshness. However, it’s important to understand the difference between “expiration date” and “best by date” on canned dog food:

Expiration date – This is the last date the food should be considered at peak quality. After this date, the food may start to lose nutritional value, taste, texture, or overall quality. Expired canned dog food should generally not be fed to dogs.[1]

Best by date – This date indicates when the canned dog food will be at its highest quality, in terms of taste, smell, texture, and nutrition. Food is still considered edible and safe past the best by date, but quality slowly declines over time.[2]

So in summary, while the labels may vary between “expiration date” and “best by date”, both refer to the timeframe in which the canned dog food is freshest and highest quality. The food is still usable for a period past those dates before it should be discarded.

How to Read Expiration Dates on Canned Dog Food

Canned dog food typically has one of three types of expiration dates:

  • A “Best By” date indicates when the food will be at peak quality. Food is still safe to eat after this date, but its flavor and texture quality may start to degrade.
  • A “Sell By” date tells retailers when to pull the product from shelves. Consumers can still safely use canned dog food for a period after this date.
  • canned dog food with a visible best by date

  • A “Use By” date is the last date that guarantees peak quality and safety. Canned dog food should be consumed by this date.

The date is often printed on the top or side of the can. Look for a code that begins with letters like BB (Best Before) or SB (Sell By), followed by a date. Some brands also include an expiration month and year.

For example, a code of BB 07/01/2023 would indicate a Best Before date of July 1, 2023. Meanwhile, SB Jan 2024 would signify a Sell By date of January 2024.

Reading expiration dates correctly ensures you serve your dog high-quality, safe canned food. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer for guidance on how to decipher their date coding system.


How Long Does Canned Dog Food Last Past the Expiration Date?

In general, unopened canned dog food that has passed its expiration date should still be safe to feed to your dog for some time after that date. However, canned food is only guaranteed to retain its optimal quality and nutrients until the expiration date

According to experts, canned dog food can typically last around 6-12 months past its printed expiration date if it has been stored properly.

The shelf life depends on factors like the ingredients, packaging, and storage conditions. Wet dog foods with meat and fish ingredients tend to have a shorter shelf life of around 6 months after expiration. Canned foods with only plant-based ingredients may last up to a year past their date.

Keep in mind that the food’s texture and palatability can degrade over time, even if it is not a safety issue. Additionally, vitamin levels start declining after the expiration date, so you may need to supplement with fresh foods if feeding significantly expired wet food.

It’s always best to check the food for changes in smell, appearance, or consistency to determine if it is still usable.


Signs That Canned Dog Food Has Gone Bad

There are several clear signs that indicate when canned dog food has spoiled and is no longer safe to feed your dog. These changes involve the food’s smell, appearance, and texture.

The most telling sign is a foul, rancid odor coming from the can. Good quality canned dog food should have a pleasant meaty smell. If it smells sour or sulfur-like, it has most likely gone bad.1 You may notice mold growing in the food, which is another indicator it has spoiled.

spoiled canned dog food with mold

Canned dog food that has gone bad often has a changed texture – it may look gelatinous or separated. Watch out for lumps in the food or a grainy consistency. The color of the food may also darken or look unnatural.

Finally, look at the inner lining of the can. It should look intact with no signs of damage, rust, or bulging. A damaged can allows air and bacteria inside, causing the dog food to spoil more quickly.

Can Expired Canned Dog Food Make a Dog Sick?

Feeding your dog expired canned food can pose some risks. Once canned dog food passes its expiration date, bacteria can start to grow and spoil the food. Consuming spoiled canned food can potentially make your dog sick.

According to the AKC, eating expired canned dog food increases your dog’s risk of gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, diarrhea, and other forms of indigestion.

As bacteria multiplies, it releases toxins that can irritate your dog’s stomach and digestive tract. This irritation is what causes symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting (source:

Dogs with sensitive stomachs are most susceptible to getting sick from eating expired wet food. However, even dogs with strong stomachs can experience adverse effects if the canned food is well past its expiration date and high in bacteria.

If your dog shows signs of illness like diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, or loss of appetite after eating expired canned food, contact your vet. Stop feeding the expired food immediately and switch to a new, unexpired formula.

How to Store Canned Dog Food to Maximize Freshness

Properly storing canned dog food is important for maintaining its freshness and nutritional value. Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of canned dog food:

Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Avoid storage areas that experience large temperature fluctuations like garages or attics. Consistent room temperature storage between 60-75°F is ideal. Canned food can develop condensation and spoil faster if stored in hot, humid conditions.

properly stored canned dog food

Once a can is opened, use an airtight container to store any leftovers. Transfer the remnants to a plastic or glass storage container rather than leaving it in the can. Make sure the container has a tight sealing lid. This prevents moisture loss and keeps the food fresher for longer.

Refrigerate opened canned dog food. While some sources say it can last up to 5-7 days1, most recommend using opened canned food within 2-3 days. Keeping it refrigerated at 40°F or below helps slow bacterial growth.

Avoid freezing canned dog food unless absolutely necessary. The freezing and thawing process can negatively affect the food’s texture and nutrient composition. If freezing, limit time to 1-2 months maximum.

Check for spoilage signs like mold, an unpleasant odor, or a dramatically different texture before feeding. When in doubt, throw it out!

When to Throw Out Expired Canned Dog Food

Even though canned dog food can often last past its expiration date if unopened, it’s generally recommended to discard canned dog food within 2-4 weeks after the date on the can.

Once a can of wet dog food is opened, it should be used within 3-5 days. The high moisture content means bacteria can grow quickly after exposure to air. Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated and discarded if not used within this timeframe (1).

Look for signs of spoilage like changes in color, smell, or texture, and throw out any canned dog food where these changes have occurred, even if it has not reached the expiration date yet. When in doubt, it’s better to be safe and discard expired or questionable canned dog food.

Discard any cans that are dented, leaking, or swollen, as these may indicate contamination. Canned food past its expiration date should not be fed to dogs and should be properly disposed of.


Donating vs. Trashing Expired Canned Dog Food

If the canned dog food is still sealed and has passed its expiration date by no more than a few months, consider donating it to a local animal shelter or pet food bank.

Many shelters and pet food banks will accept recently expired, unopened canned dog food to help feed pets in need. According to, they accept dry and canned pet food of any brand and variety, including recently-expired products. The key is that the canned food must still be sealed and not show any signs of damage or swelling.

Some shelters even use expired canned food for several months past its date if the cans are still in good condition, based on guidance from veterinarians. However, food banks and shelters cannot accept cans that are damaged, rusted, or leaking.

Donating unopened, recently expired canned dog food allows the food to be put to good use feeding hungry pets rather than being wasted. Check for local pet food banks, humane societies, SPCAs, or rescue groups that may accept donated pet food.

Key Takeaways

Canned dog food expiration dates indicate the date at which the food’s nutritional value and taste may begin to diminish. However, the food remains safe to eat after the expiration date as long as the can is not damaged. An unopened can of wet dog food will typically last 2-5 years past its “best by” date. Once opened, cans should be consumed within 3-5 days.

a happy dog after a good meal

The key signs that canned dog food has spoiled are an unappealing smell, change in texture, discoloration, mold growth, or bulging of the can. Consuming spoiled canned food may cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs but is unlikely to cause serious illness. To maximize freshness, store unopened cans in a cool, dry place and keep refrigerated after opening.

While expired canned dog food may still be safe, it’s ideal to use it within the labeled shelf life. If it is past its prime, the best option is to donate unopened cans to an animal shelter rather than throwing them out.

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