Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Don’t leave out your dogs and cats when you’re stockpiling food and creating your prepper pantry. Cats, dogs, and other pets are essential not just for the work they do, like protection or rodent patrol, they are good for our health, well-being, and emotional regulation.
In this complete guide to pet food storage, we’ll talk about how you can stockpile food for your pets, especially cats and dogs. We’ll talk about the different types of food you might want to store and their shelf life as well. We’ll also talk about how and where to keep your pet’s food so that it will last.
Types of Pet Food
Most of our pets eat a balance of dry kibble, wet food, treats, and water. Different types of food have a different shelf life based on the ingredients. However, you can treat your pet’s food in a similar manner that you would treat people food that you are stockpiling. But, first, you’ll want to consider its shelf life.
Shelf Life of Pet Food
Dry Cat and Dog Food
According to Eukanuba, an unopened bag of dry dog food should last about 18 months, while an open bag should be used within six weeks. Most dry dog or cat food will last roughly 18 months to two years if it remains unopened. This is just a rough estimate, and you’ll want to check the expiration date of the bag of food you are buying.
The more you open and close a pet food bag, allowing in air, the quicker it will deteriorate, losing nutrition and getting stale. Expired dry cat or dog food might not make your pet sick, but the flavor and nutritional content will decline.
However, if you plan to store one year’s worth of food, you don’t have to worry too much about the food going bad as long as it remains unopened, it should be fine for this amount of time when stored correctly.
Wet Cat and Dog Food
A can of wet food, according to most manufacturers, should be good for two years. An open can of wet food can be stored in the fridge for 5 to 7 days. Once fed to your pet, wet food should be left out for no longer than 4 hours.
Canned dog and cat food are pasteurized when packaged, killing all of the microorganisms inside. However, according to the USDA, canned goods with no visible dents or swelling should be good indefinitely.
So although your canned pet food may have a best by date of 2 years, it could last indefinitely as long as the can itself appears to be in good shape.
Examples of Typical Best By Dates for Common Pet Food
|Type of Food||Typical Shelf Life|
|Canned Cat Food||2 years unopened|
|Dry Cat||18 months unopened|
|Canned Dog Food||2 years unopened|
|Dry Dog Food||18 months unopened|
|Rabbit Pellets||6 months|
|Fish Food Flakes||18 months to 3 years|
|Bird Seed||Up to 2 years|
Pelleted food or seeds lose their nutrition over time, so if you feed these types of feed to your pet past their use-by date, they probably won’t cause any harm to your pet. However, they’ll probably lose flavor and nutrition.
Is Dry Food Better or Is Canned Food Better?
Naturally, you need to store the type of food that your pet will eat. There is no sense in spending time or storage space on canned food if your pet won’t eat it. However, since the shelf life of canned food is technically indefinite, canned food is probably the best choice if your pet will eat it.
On the other hand, you don’t want to make any sudden changes to your pet’s diet if you can avoid it. So make sure the food you are storing is as close as possible to your pet’s regular diet.
How Much Pet Food Should You Store
FEMA recommends storing at least two weeks’ worth of food and water for every person in your home. You should naturally do this for your pets, as well. However, you may prefer to create a one-month, three months, six months, or even a year’s food supply for your family and pets.
If you don’t have any food stored for your pets, the best thing to do is start with a plan to stock up on three days’ worth. Once you have three days, then you can expand it to a two-week supply.
After that, you can expand it to a month, and so forth. This way, you are building up slowly to a manageable level without a financial burden.
The best way to do this is to track how much your pet typically eats in a day and then multiply that by the number of days you want to store food. This will give you a good ballpark figure when stockpiling pet food.
On the other hand, stress, cold, illness, and activity level could affect how much your pet eats in a day if an emergency happens, so you may want to store extra.
How to Store Pet Food, So It Lasts Longer
The rules for storing pet food are very similar to storing people food. Things that make both pet and people food deteriorate are:
- Temperature. Heat is especially damaging to pet food, but extreme cold can be, as well.
- Light. Direct sunlight will deteriorate pet food more rapidly.
- Humidity. Exposure to moisture can cause microorganisms to grow in the food.
- Air. Oxygen will cause food to go stale or deteriorate.
- Pests. Rodents and bugs can ruin pet food quickly.
Always rotate your pet food stock so you have the freshest, most recent food available at all times.
To get the most from your pet food, you’ll want to transfer larger amounts to smaller-sized mylar bags. Seal them with oxygen absorbers to extend their shelf life as much as possible. Keep these mylar bags in a sealed bucket away from heat, light, and moisture.
Keep canned goods in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight. Use dented cans immediately and rotate your stock regularly, so you always have the freshest cans available.
The shelf life of pet treats varies much more than kibble or canned food. Check your expiration dates to make sure the treats are still good and rotate your treat stock often.
Remember to store enough water for your pets, just like you would for people. Water does not ‘go bad,’ but it can easily become contaminated.
For the longest storage possible, purchase bottled water and store it in a cool, dry place away from heat and light. You can store your water. However, it will need to be rotated. Read these tips for the safe storage of water.
How to Tell If Pet Food Has Gone Bad
There are some pretty telltale signs that your pet food has gone bad. For example, it might:
- Smell off, smell bad, sour, or rancid.
- You see signs of mold.
- You see bugs in the food or chew marks on the packaging.
- Your pet doesn’t want to eat the food.
- Your pet seems unwell after eating the food.
If you see any of these signs, discard the food immediately. If you don’t have other pet food on hand, you may need to look for alternatives.
Pet Food Alternatives
You should avoid abrupt changes to your pet’s diet, but you can make your own in a pinch if you run out of pet food. For example, white rice can be stored indefinitely when stored correctly.
You can make your own dog food by mixing equal parts cooked white rice with boiled chicken. Cats need more protein than dogs, so try to make sure their food is 80% meat. Rabbits can have timothy hay since that is the main ingredient in most rabbit pellets.
With a little creativity, you can feed your pet from leftover people feeds if you need to.
What About Other Animals?
Pets that require live foods will take special consideration. For example, you may need to raise your own crickets, worms, or mice to feed your snakes, turtles, and tarantulas. On the other hand, these pets don’t need to be fed as often as your typical cat or dog, so smaller amounts of food will get them by for longer periods.
Some pets can eat frozen pinkies, rather than fresh, but in a real SHTF, you may not have enough electricity to run the freezer. You might consider home canning specialized pet foods just like you would pressure can your own food.
In many cases, pet food that has gotten old isn’t all that dangerous to your pet. Instead, it is more likely to lose some of its flavor and nutritional content.
In a true emergency, where you can’t find fresh food for your pets, it might be better to feed them old food rather than allow them to starve. Better yet, take the time to plan ahead and create a pet food prepper pantry just like yours.