As a cat owner, you want to provide your feline companion with the most nutritious food possible. Canned cat food can be a convenient way to feed your cat, but it’s important to store and handle it properly. One common question is whether canned cat food can go bad if left in heat.
The short answer is yes, canned cat food can go bad if exposed to heat. The high temperatures can cause the food to spoil, making it unsafe for your cat to eat. We’ll go over everything you need to know about how heat affects canned cat food and how to store it properly.
How Canned Cat Food is Made
To understand why heat can damage canned cat food, it helps to first look at how it’s made. Canned cat food begins as raw meat, fish, or poultry. These ingredients are cooked thoroughly to kill any bacteria or pathogens.
Once cooked, the food is sealed in cans or pouches. The canning process removes oxygen from inside the can, creating a vacuum seal. This seal prevents additional microbes from getting into the food and spoiling it. The canned food can then be safely stored at room temperature.
However, once opened, canned food is vulnerable to spoilage. Let’s look at why.
How Heat Can Spoil Canned Cat Food
Once canned cat food is opened, oxygen is introduced into the can. This creates an environment where microbes can flourish if the temperature is high enough.
At room temperature, bacteria and molds can quickly multiply in the leftover cat food. As these microbes grow, they produce waste products that cause the food to smell and taste unpleasant. They can also release toxins that could make your cat sick if ingested.
Exposing opened canned cat food to temperatures above 90°F invites rapid bacterial growth. The hotter the food, the faster these harmful microbes can multiply.
Even unopened canned food can be affected by high heat. While the cans are sealed, extreme temperatures can cause the food inside to deteriorate and lose nutrients. Discoloration, texture changes, and fouling of the food can occur.
So to keep your cat’s canned food safe and nutritious, it’s important to avoid leaving it in hot places.
Signs Canned Cat Food Has Spoiled
If you’re unsure whether your cat’s canned food is still safe to feed, check for the following signs of spoilage:
- Unpleasant odor – Spoiled canned food will smell rancid, sour, or unusual. Always give it a quick sniff test.
- Change in texture – The food may appear mushy, extra-soft, dry, or gritty. Healthy canned food should retain its natural texture.
- Discoloration – If the color seems off or has faded, that’s a red flag. However, natural color variations can occur between brands.
- Mold – You may see fuzzy mold growing in or around the cat food. This is a clear sign it has gone bad.
- Damaged can – Bulges, dents, rust, or leaks can allow bacteria to contaminate the food. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Refusal to eat – If your cat refuses to eat the canned food, trust their instincts and discard it.
When canned cat food shows any of these signs, promptly discard it. Don’t take risks with your pet’s health.
How Long Can Canned Cat Food Sit in Heat?
To keep canned cat food safe, it should not sit in temperatures over 90°F for more than 1 hour. After an hour in hot temperatures, bacterial growth becomes a real risk.
A general rule of thumb is to discard any opened canned cat food left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature or warmer. The warmer the environment, the less time it can safely sit.
For unopened cans, it’s ideal to store them at 75°F or cooler. Higher temperatures can degrade the quality and nutrition over time. An unopened can may last years when properly stored.
But once opened, canned cat food has a limited fridge life of just a few days. Keep reading for proper storage guidelines.
How to Safely Store Canned Cat Food
Here are some tips for keeping canned cat food fresh and safe:
- Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place. The pantry or cupboard works well, so long as temperatures stay moderate.
- Refrigerate opened canned food. Keep leftovers chilled at 40°F or below in a sealed container. Use within 2-3 days.
- Never leave canned food in direct sunlight or near hot surfaces like the stove or dishwasher.
- Don’t store open cans longer than 2 hours at room temperature. Toss any food left out longer.
- Use the oldest cans first and check expiration dates. Discard cans past the expiration date.
- Wipe can rims clean before opening to prevent bacteria from getting into the food.
- Replace refrigerator-chilled food after 2-3 days. Don’t take chances with older leftovers.
Following these canned cat food storage guidelines will help prevent spoilage.
Can You Freeze Canned Cat Food?
Freezing canned cat food is not recommended. The freezing process can negatively affect the texture, making it unappealing. Frozen food may also lose some of its nutritional value over time.
For best results, refrigerate opened canned food in a sealed can or transfer it to an airtight container. Use within 2-3 days. Discard any leftovers after that.
Is Refrigerated Canned Cat Food Safe?
Yes, properly refrigerated canned cat food remains safe for your cat to eat. The cool temperatures keep bacteria from multiplying rapidly.
Refrigerate any opened canned food right away and keep it chilled at 40°F or colder. Store it in the can with the lid replaced, or transfer it to an airtight container.
Use refrigerated canned food within 2-3 days. Discard any leftovers after that time, even if they still smell and look fine. Don’t take risks with older food.
As long as you follow this refrigerated storage guideline, your cat can enjoy chilled canned food without risk of foodborne illness.
Can You Microwave Canned Cat Food?
It’s not recommended to microwave canned cat food. The microwave can create very hot spots that could burn your cat’s mouth. Also, microwaving changes the texture and moisture content.
Instead, use one of these safe heating methods:
- Place the opened can in a pan of simmering water for 5-10 minutes.
- Use a double boiler to gently heat the food.
- Warm individual portions in the microwave just until slightly warm. Test before serving.
- Run the can under hot tap water to take off the chill.
Avoid overheating canned food, which can diminish nutrients. Warm to room temperature or slightly above.
What Temperature Is Too Hot for Canned Cat Food?
As a general guideline, canned cat food shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures above 90°F. At 90°F and above, the risk of bacterial overgrowth increases rapidly.
Ideally, canned cat food should be stored at around room temperature, between 68-78°F. Refrigeration at 40°F or lower is best for opened cans.
While brief temperature spikes are normal, prolonged heat above 90°F can make canned food unsafe. Discard any cans or leftovers left in hot cars, direct sun, or warm rooms for over an hour.
Prevention is key, so keep your cat’s canned food stored in controlled conditions. Monitor temperatures and err on the side of caution.
Can Canned Food Be Left in a Hot Car?
It’s not recommended to leave canned cat food in a hot car. The inside of a car can quickly reach temperatures above 100°F on a sunny day.
At these extreme temperatures, the canned food can deteriorate in quality and become unsafe. Even a couple of hours in a hot car can be enough time for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels in opened cans.
If you’ve left canned cat food in a hot car briefly, thoroughly check for any signs of swelling, rust, dents, or foul odors. When in doubt, discard the food.
Going forward, never let canned cat food sit in a hot car. Bring a cooler with ice packs if you’ll be out running errands on a hot day.
Can Canned Food Go Bad in Cold Temperatures?
While cold doesn’t spoil canned cat food, it can affect the taste and texture. The food may seem thicker or more gelatinous when chilled.
That’s why it’s best to allow refrigerated canned food to come to room temperature before serving. This improves the flavor and makes it more palatable.
Avoid freezing unopened cans, as this can distort the can shape over time.
As long as chilled cans are allowed to thaw and come to room temperature before feeding, the cool temperatures alone won’t make canned cat food go bad. Just monitor for signs of spoilage after opening.
Does Refrigeration Extend the Shelf Life?
Yes, refrigerating an opened can of cat food can safely extend its shelf life. While refrigeration isn’t needed for unopened cans, it gives opened cans more time before spoiling.
Here are the shelf life guidelines:
- Unopened cans: Up to 2-5 years when stored in a cool, dry pantry
- Opened cans: Just 2-3 days at room temperature
- Refrigerated after opening: 3-5 days in the fridge
So refrigeration gives you a few extra days to use up the contents of the can while keeping it fresh. Just remember to discard any leftovers after 3-5 days.
Can Canned Cat Food Be Frozen?
Freezing canned cat food is not recommended. The freezing process can cause the food to lose its appetizing aroma, taste, and texture. Thawing frozen food may also allow moisture and air to degrade the quality.
For best results, transfer any leftovers from an opened can into an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use within 3 days.
Discard any cans that have been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours after opening. Freezing won’t make the food safe again after sitting out that long.
Can Cats Get Sick from Eating Spoiled Canned Food?
Yes, cats can absolutely get sick from eating canned cat food that has spoiled. Foodborne bacteria like salmonella and E. coli can grow in spoiled food and make your cat ill.
Symptoms of food poisoning in cats include:
- Loss of appetite
In severe cases, spoiled food can even cause life-threatening neurological symptoms and organ damage.
That’s why it’s so important to discard canned cat food at the first signs of spoilage. Don’t taste or feed your cat any canned food that smells, looks, or seems unusual. When in doubt, throw it out.
Does Canned Cat Food Last Longer Than Dry Food?
Dry cat food generally has a longer shelf life than canned wet food. Here’s how they compare:
- Dry cat food: 6-12 months unopened, then 4 weeks after opening.
- Canned cat food: 2-5 years unopened, just 3-5 days after opening when refrigerated.
So while unopened canned food keeps for years, once opened it has a very short fridge life. Dry food can be stored safely at room temperature once the bag is opened.
Canned food does have the upside of higher moisture content. Feeding a mix provides nutritional balance. But for long-term storage, dry kibble lasts significantly longer.
Can Unopened Canned Cat Food Go Bad?
Unopened, commercially canned cat food has a long shelf life of 2-5 years. As long as the can remain undamaged and securely sealed, the food inside should remain safe for years.
However, very old canned food may become less palatable or lose some nutritional value over time. For best nutrition and taste, use canned food before the “best by” date.
Check cans carefully for damage, rust, or dents before opening. Bulging or leaking cans may indicate bacteria has contaminated the food. When in doubt, discard a damaged can.
Once opened, canned food must be refrigerated and used quickly. But an intact, sealed can is protected from spoilage.
Can canned cat food be left in a hot car?
No. Never leave any canned food in a hot car for more than 1 hour. The temperatures can quickly cause spoilage.
How long does canned cat food last after opening?
Around 3-5 days when promptly refrigerated. Then it must be discarded to prevent harmful bacterial growth.
Can old canned food make cats sick?
Yes, cats can get extremely ill from eating canned food that has spoiled. Always inspect cans before feeding your cat.
What temperature is safe for canned cat food?
ideally below 75°F. Avoid prolonged temperatures over 90°F. Refrigerate opened cans.
Can heat damage unopened canned food?
Yes, extremely high temperatures over time can degrade nutrients and quality even in unopened cans. Store in moderate conditions.
Does refrigerating canned cat food extend its shelf life?
Yes, refrigeration gives opened canned food 3-5 extra days before it spoils. Discard leftovers after that.
Canned cat food has a high risk of spoilage when allowed to sit in hot temperatures, especially once opened. Take care to store canned food properly, refrigerate opened cans, and discard any food that seems at all spoiled.
While short bursts of heat generally won’t make canned cat food go rancid, prolonged exposure to temperatures over 90°F creates prime conditions for rapid bacterial growth.
By keeping your cat’s canned food refrigerated or in climate-controlled rooms, you can safely store and handle it. Monitor for any signs of spoilage and don’t take risks with canned food past its use-by date.
With proper storage and handling, canned food can offer your cat a convenient, nutritious meal. Just be sure to keep it safe from hot environments that could cause it to go bad. Your cat will thank you with better health and an appetite for their delicious canned food.