How Long Can You Leave Wet Cat Food Out Before It Spoils?

As any cat owner knows, the portion of wet cat food is seldom right. Sometimes, more than one can or pouch is needed for your hungry kitty, but you’re often left with extra wet cat food. Throwing it away seems wasteful, so the next logical question is, “How long can you leave the wet cat food out before it spoils?”

Blue Lynx Mitted Ragdoll Cat Trigg next to PawNosh glass pet bowls and cat placemat.  How Long Can You Leave Wet Cat Food Out Before It Spoils?

The short answer is 1-2 hours (according to the FDA), but let’s go a bit deeper and find out why you shouldn’t leave wet cat food out more than that, what can happen if you do, and what you can do to store the cat food safely.

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How long can wet cat food sit out?

The 2-Hour Window

According to the FDA, perishable food left at room temperature for more than 2 hours should be thrown away. Some cat food brands advise keeping wet food out for a maximum of 1 hour, while others instruct that keeping their wet food products out for as long as 4 hours is safe.

Please note that these timelines are more of a guideline than a rule. Depending on the type of wet food you’ve just opened, how fresh it was, and the temperature at which you leave it, it might take 1 hour or less to spoil or be perfect for serving after 4 hours. However, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Always check the expiration date on the can or pouch of wet food. Do not feed your cat expired wet food. However, if the expiration date is coming soon, remember that the food might take less time to spoil if you leave it out (closer to 1 hour rather than 4).
  • Never leave the wet cat food in direct sunlight because this will make it turn much quicker. If the opened can of wet food has been in the sun on a hot summer day for over half an hour, you should consider throwing it away.
  • The ingredients in wet food significantly influence how long it can last. For instance, fish-based wet food will deteriorate quicker than chicken-based cat food. Additionally, organic wet food for cats does not have chemical preservatives, making it spoil more quickly than commercial cat food brands.

Readers’ Favorite Cat Food and Covers:

What Happens When Food Goes Bad?

Feeding your cat wet food that has been out too long is dangerous because it is a perfect medium for developing bacteria and fungi. As the food begins to spoil, the chemical composition of the ingredients changes, and it becomes a good breeding ground for these pathogens.

Let’s look at an example. When you leave food out for a day or more, you will find it riddled with mildew. This is the massive development of fungi in the spoiled food medium. This is a fortunate situation because mildew is visible. So when you see it on the food, you know it’s no longer suitable to eat.

Ziwi Peak Canned Cat Food - Mackerel in Pawnosh bowl

It usually takes about 24 hours for mildew to develop (maybe less during summer). Still, it takes far less for bacteria to develop on rancid, wet food. As the pathogens develop, they consume the nutrients in the food, thus altering the chemical composition, and they produce toxins that stay in the food.

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When you feed your cat wet food that’s been out for a long time, you also feed it the bacteria and toxins it has produced. Depending on the type of pathogen that has developed, the cat may start feeling ill, and you might see some of the following symptoms:

  • lethargy
  • fever
  • diarrhea – the severity varies a lot depending on the pathogen
  • blood in the stool
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite

If you notice these symptoms in your cat, you must take it to the vet because it needs medical attention. Diarrhea is dangerous because the cat becomes dehydrated easily. Moreover, nausea and vomiting prevent the cat from drinking water to rehydrate, so it might need to be hydrated subcutaneously/intravenously.

Aside from dehydration, infectious gastroenteritis will not go away on its own. The cat will need antibiotics to fight off the bacteria developing in its digestive tract. It will also need a special diet to help it throughout the treatment.

Charlie eating wet food
Charlie is eating wet food.

Is it Worth Leaving Wet Cat Food Out?

While that’s ultimately up for you to decide, when you leave wet cat food out, the food starts to go bad even in the 1-4 hour window. After about one hour, the meat begins to dry out, so there is little chance that your cat will eat it.

The sauce also gets a darker-colored pellicle on the surface, which makes it less tasty. The smell and taste are most likely different after it’s been out for a few hours. Wet cat food that’s been out may not be a tasty or healthy meal for your cat.

Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat Caymus on the counter in the Kitchen Lickin Chicken with dry food on top

So what can you do? When you’re left with half or one-third of a can of wet cat food, are you supposed to throw it away?

The answer is no; there are plenty of solutions that prevent spoilage, as well as waste. Here are some of the best ones:

What You Can Do to Prevent Spoilage and Food Waste

1. Refrigerate It

By far, the best solution is to refrigerate wet cat food. It would be best to do this as soon as possible after opening it to prevent the development of pathogens. You can keep the cat food in the fridge for a maximum of 2 days, but check the label for specific instructions. Some cat food products might spoil faster than others. Ideally, the leftover cat food in the fridge should be served for the cat’s next meal.

When you serve cat food, always ensure you do not serve it cold because it can make your cat ill. If it eats the food cold, right out of the fridge, it could get laryngitis or pharyngitis. This could be a simple sore throat or a more complex inflammation that requires treatment. To avoid this, leave the can out until it reaches room temperature or heat it up.

PawNosh Glass Pet Food Bowls Colors Aqua Celery and Tangerine with Ragdoll Cat and Floppycats

Remember that heating cat food in the microwave is not a good idea because it does not heat up evenly. It can have specific areas where the temperature of the food is very high. An excellent way to heat it up is to add a bit of warm water or low-sodium chicken stock and stir to warm up the food. If your kitty shows a different interest in the second serving of the wet cat food, check out our 5 ways to spice up cat food.

2. Buy the Smallest Cans/Pouches

Wet cat food comes in containers of many shapes and sizes. Each cat has its own eating habits. While some cats eat a standard pouch in a single serving, others might eat it in as many as three. Choose which wet cat food you buy depending on how much your kitty eats in a single meal. While smaller cans and pouches are usually more expensive than larger ones, consider them an investment in your cat’s well-being. Feeding your cat fresh food each time is the ideal approach.

Ziwi Peak Lamb Canned Cat Food Product Review Pate Inside Can

3. Use Can Covers or Ziploc Bags for the Fridge

When you store wet cat food in the fridge, you must cover it to keep it fresh. If you don’t cover it, it will dry out, and you will have to throw out a large portion of it on the second serving. Moreover, the wet cat food must get as little air as possible, even in the fridge.

While refrigeration slows down the alteration process significantly, having access to air still permits the development of some bacteria and fungi. So when you store the cans in the fridge, use a can cover to keep the food safe and to prevent it from drying out. Pet food can covers are inexpensive and extremely useful. As an alternative to pet food covers, you can use Ziploc bags. Place the can inside the Ziploc bag, get the air out, and zip it up to keep the food safe.

Pet food can covers cat can tops

If you have leftover cat food in a pouch, you can use a food seal clip and place it in a fridge. If you don’t have any, Ziploc bags are also useful for pouches. Another alternative is to remove the leftover cat food and move it into a plastic container with a lid.

To summarize, wet cat food can be left out for up to 2 hours, but do this only if you have no other alternative. Your best choice is to get your cat smaller portions so you don’t have leftover cat food. If you have leftovers, refrigerate them after opening the can/pouch. Use a pet food can cover for the cans you refrigerate to store it safely, then remember to heat up the food before you serve it.

How do you store your leftover cat food? Does your cat enjoy it on the second serving? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I never leave my two Ragdolls wet food (Feline Natural or Ziwi ) out more than
    3-4 minutes. : )…….. That’s how long it takes my Raggies to chow down their ‘wet’. They always clean their plates !

  2. Every cat I have had over 40+ years now, I have left canned food out at night and before I leave for work…never had any sick kitties. They eat most of it right away but for sure come back to finish it off hours later. I also feed them cold leftovers. I add water to it each time because they lap it up easier. They also get dry food available all the time. I guess I’ve been lucky not to have any issues. Thank you for the information, I will adjust what I do so I can be a better mom!

  3. Omg. I leave it out, (or in my microwave) till I’m done work – usually 8 hrs! It’s been going on a year and they have never gotten sick.
    My vet also advises I feed them dry food more as wet cat food rots their teeth over time. …

    1. EEK – yikes on the vet thinking dry food is good for them and wet food rots their teeth! Please check out and to learn more about proper feline nutrition. I would also cease microwaving the food.

    2. Hi Kate,

      My vet surprised me by being super strong on her opinion to feed wet food to kitties and wishes all her patients would do that. She said, unlike dogs, it does not rot their teeth and helps keep them from getting UTIs because of the amount of water in canned food. I had a consulting vet tell me the same advice. She is a cat only vet that my vet referred me to for some kitty specific advice about a surgery.


  4. Marcella Green says:

    I learned how to feed my cat wet food. Very helpful information.
    My cat likes to graze and wind up feeding her multiple times/day which makes it hard to keep her on a schedule that will give her the right temperature for the food.

  5. Jeri Thompson says:

    I have made many of the above mistakes. Microwaved cold food is just not popular here. I only have 1 cat now so I use Fancy Feast petites. They are perfectly sized for one kitty! Thank you for the advice!

    1. Ive always left my canned cat food (fancy feast classics pate) out and they eat it when they are ready (usually right away but sometimes 2-3 hrs later) we give them 2 cans for the day and 2 cans at night with Acana dry food available all day. Ive only ever had one of my cats get sick when he ate both cat foods really quickly. I get the bacteria build up… might start only giving one can and seeing if they will eat it right away.

  6. I didn’t know about not giving the cat leftover cat food from the fridge cold. My cat has been eating this way for many years..oops..well he is 12 and still alive so that is a good thing. 🙂 I will have to warm it up a touch from now on. He loves all wet cat food, leftover or not…eats it right up within a half hour or less and I buy the smallest can which lasts about 2 days for him. I store it in the can with the special lids to cover them.

    1. Hi Norma I have a kitten that’s 5 and half months and I give him wet and dry cat food. My question is where do you find covers for the very small cans of leftover cat food? I put a huge cover over it but I am sure that the air is getting into the cans I have tried using aluminum foil on top of the cans because that’s all I had to cover the food too. So please where did you find tiny cover for tiny cans of wet cat food? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  7. TYSVM for this SUPER PAWESOME & FABULOUS post, Jenny honey! Wonderful topic! Great info! Well done! 🙂 <3

    I rarely leave Miss PSB's wet food out for more than 30 minutes. If she hasn't eaten it during that time frame then she will just have to wait until her next feeding (this usually isn't an issue…lol). I store her leftovers in a ceramic ramekin and seal it with a "burpable" silicone lid (found the lids on Amazon a few years ago). However, she's not really fond of leftovers. Very picky about that. That's why I buy the smallest cans of food. 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3

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