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?”
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.
All products featured on the site are carefully selected by the editor of Floppycats, Jenny Dean. In addition, we may earn a small commission when you purchase something through our affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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.
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.
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.
[adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”QhYTTt3P” upload-date=”2023-04-15T00:04:38.000Z” name=”Best Wet Cat Food Brands_ What I Feed My Cats and How I Organize Them” description=”Learn what brands of wet cat food that I feed my cats and how I go about organizing them.” player-type=”default” override-embed=”default”]
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:
- diarrhea – the severity varies a lot depending on the pathogen
- blood in the stool
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,