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Do I Need To Refrigerate Canned Dog Food | A Vet Weighs In

Palatable and nutritious, canned dog foods have gradually become favorites for both pets and their parents. And although wet dog food has tons of benefits, most pet parents often wonder how best to preserve the products before and after opening. For instance, do you need to refrigerate canned dog food? 

You don’t need to refrigerate canned dog food that’s unopened as the cans are usually airtight, which helps keep contaminants out, making them safe when stored at room temperature. However, once opened, it is advisable to refrigerate all types of canned dog food, regardless of brand.

So the dog food lasts the longest, I recommend silicone covers like these, found on Amazon. We use them for all our canned foods and soft drinks, and they work great.

In this article, I’ll explore how to refrigerate canned dog food safely. I’ll also elaborate on some information I learned from Julee Avery DVM, when discussing the best way to preserve canned dog food. Keep reading to learn more.

How To Store Canned Dog Food

Hungry dog looking for food in the refrigerator

There are several ways to store canned dog food. However, the method used should largely depend on whether the can is opened or not. 

If unopened, you can store the canned dog food in the pantry or places you store your other foodstuffs. According to the FDA, you should store canned dog food in a cool, dry place with temperatures below 80°F (26.7°C).

And although canned dog food is best consumed in a single sitting, it’s normal that your pup might fail to finish his food. Therefore, in situations where you want to store opened dog foods, your best bet is to store the can in the fridge at temperatures between 40-45°F (4.4-7.2°C).

Avoid storing your canned dog foods, whether opened or closed, in excessively hot rooms or locations. As a good rule of thumb, the storage area should not be exposed to direct sunlight as it leads to nutrient loss. 

How Long Can Canned Dog Food Stay in the Fridge?

As PetMD vet Dr. Jennifer Coates advises, opened canned dog food shouldn’t sit in the fridge for over seven days. The vet further recommends using canned dog food within four days of opening, at least if you want your dog to consume fresh and nutritious food. 

Giving your furry friend canned dog food that’s been stored for over a week isn’t advisable as the food won’t be nutritious or palatable. Bacteria could also contaminate the food if the conditions inside the fridge aren’t conducive for long-term storage. Dr. Coates recommends throwing out any opened canned food refrigerated for over seven days. 

Can You Freeze Opened Canned Dog Food? 

You can freeze opened canned dog food if you want to store it longer. Be warned, though, that freezing wet dog food deteriorates its overall quality, specifically in terms of taste and nutritional content. So if your dog’s a picky eater, chances are he might happily walk away from canned food. 

If you choose to freeze the canned dog food, it’s advisable to empty the contents into zip bags like the iMailer Reclosable Zip Bags with Resealable Lock from Amazon. Divide the canned food into small portions and seal the bags tightly and separately to ensure they don’t stick when frozen.

Placing the can in the freezer isn’t recommended as it can end up changing the taste and texture of the food, and your furry buddy wouldn’t want that! 

How Long Can Opened Canned Dog Food Sit Out? 

Per Dr. Jennifer Coates (PetMD), dog food left at room temperature for over four hours should be thrown out as it’s likely contaminated by disease-causing bacteria. After trashing the food, be sure to clean the dish with soap and clean water to reduce the chances of food poisoning. 

To stay on the safe side, it’s advisable to give your dog canned food when he’s hungry, specifically as the first or last meal of the day. The chances of not finishing his canned food are high during lunch, especially if he tends to snack around lunchtime. But if you want to preserve open canned dog food, it’s best to seal and refrigerate it immediately.

If your dog’s a picky eater or isn’t big on canned food, you can divide the food into several portions and serve him a small amount as you store the rest in the fridge. 

Does Canned Dog Food Go Bad in Heat?

Canned dog food will go bad when exposed to excessive heat. This is because high temperatures tend to do more harm than good, leading to nutrient loss and quick spoilage. 

Temperatures over 95°F (35°C) are likely to spoil canned food, making them unsafe for consumption by your pet. The higher the temperature, the greater the risk of the food going bad. 

Dr. Aja Senestraro, a renowned PetMD vet, strongly advises against storing canned dog food in areas with inconsistent temperatures. This means you should look to store your dog’s canned food in areas, say a pantry, that are cool and dry. Avoid leaving canned dog food in your car’s trunk for too long before taking it in for permanent storage. 

How Can You Tell if Canned Dog Food Is Bad?


Although canned dog food rarely goes bad, it’s crucial to know some of the signs of rancid food- just to be on the safe side. 

You can tell if canned dog food has gone bad if you notice mold on it or if it has an unpleasant, non-dog food odor. Furthermore, the presence of bugs or a watery, broken-down texture are also indicators of spoiled food. Finally, check the expiration date.

Let’s look at each of these indicators (and a few others) in more detail.


Perhaps the easiest way to tell if your dog’s canned food is bad is by checking for mold. 

Even a sign of developing mold should be a red flag that the canned food isn’t safe for consumption. You should never feed a dog moldy food, even if you scrape off the molded part.


Although wet dog foods don’t have the best aroma, they still have decent enough scents that aren’t too pungent. But if you find your canned dog food smelling weird, especially after being opened, chances are it’s gone bad and should be thrown out. 


As a good rule of thumb, you should avoid giving your dog wet food that’s infested by bugs, worms, or any type of creature. This frequently happens when the canned food is improperly stored once opened, and the bugs could make your dog sick if consumed. 


If your dog’s canned food has changed in texture and is watery, you should just throw it out, as giving it to your pup is too much of a gamble. Furthermore, a change in texture will also make the taste displeasing for your dog. So, if you notice a change in its texture or your dog isn’t as eager to eat it, it’s probably time to throw it out. 

Expiry Date

Although dog food can still be safe when consumed after the best-before date, it’s advisable to pick recently prepared canned dog food. Avoid buying expired canned dog food, as it won’t be as nutritious to your pup as fresh wet food. Plus, your dog will likely appreciate the taste of fresh, canned food.

Broken Seal

While canned dog food might still be good despite having a broken seal (if recently opened), you should avoid buying such products to keep your pup safe. Broken seals or dented cans allow air and moisture to get in, creating ideal environments for bacterial growth. 

Observe Your Dog’s Reaction

Don’t go around forcing your dog to consume canned food that you opened and refrigerated a while back (especially if the temperatures were inconsistent). If your dog refuses to eat the same food he ate when fresh, chances are it’s no longer safe for consumption.

Related Do Animals Like Music? (And How They Are Affected by It).

Can Dogs Eat Cold Food From the Fridge?

Deva Khalsa, a holistic vet, advises against giving your furry friend food straight from the fridge. While properly stored cold foods won’t cause any harm to your dog (if still good), they can greatly take away from his dining experience since cold temperatures reduce aromas and change tastes. 

Removing the food from the fridge some hours before dinner will allow it to warm to room temperature. Allow the food to warm while still inside the can before serving it into his bowl. 

Is Heating Up Dog Food Bad? 

Heating up dog food isn’t bad, provided the food isn’t too hot. Dr. Deva Khalsa (AKC) insists that while it’s good to heat up canned dog food after refrigeration, you should be cautious about how you heat it as some methods might end up destroying nutrients. 

For instance, microwaving, despite being effective, can easily destroy nutrients, more so if you end up overheating the food. Dr. Khalsa further adds that just two seconds of microwaving is enough to destroy all-important enzymes in veggies and grains.

If you don’t prefer microwaving, then you can take up alternative means like placing the wet food in a clean plastic bag and immersing it in hot water until it’s warm enough. You can also add a bit of hot water to the wet food and stir until it’s hot enough.

What Is the Best Container To Store Opened Canned Dog Food?

The best container to store canned dog food is the original container. Using a can cover to seal the top part is highly recommended as it’ll help keep the food airtight, thus preventing moisture, air, and contaminants from creeping in. 

Alternatively, you can wrap the end of the can in tightly sealed foil and hold it in place using a rubber band. 

If you’re to store canned dog food in containers, then it’s best to go for a quality plastic container, unlike poor-quality cheap containers, they don’t leave smells or flavors on the food. 

For small cans, here is the container I recommend. For taller cans, go with these round containers from Amazon.

Another option is to get a silicone stretchy cover for the tops of cans, like these, also found on Amazon. I use them all the time for soda cans and soups.

Is It Safe To Store Canned Dog Food in Plastic Containers?

Storing canned dog food in plastic containers isn’t recommended. For the best outcomes, you’re better off using glass containers. This is because, besides imparting undesirable smells and flavors, plastic containers are notorious for collecting oils from foods, making them rancid in the process.

Unlike glass, plastic containers are also prone to scratches and deformation (especially poor-quality plastics), which can allow contaminants to get inside the food, and you don’t want that. 

But if you must use plastic containers to store canned dog food, then it’s best to go for high-quality plastics with tight seals. You might also want to get large enough containers that can fit the entire can. Be warned, though, that this may eat up a considerable amount of space in your fridge. 

What Canned Dog Food Has the Longest Shelf Life?

The shelf life of canned dog food largely depends on the manufacturer. However, most wet foods have a shelf life of two to five years from when they were canned. The best-by date is usually indicated at the bottom of the container and tells you when the food is freshest and most nutritional.  

And since shelf life varies from product to product, it’s best to always check before making any purchase. As a rule, avoid buying too many canned foods at a time if you cannot see the best-by dates on the packaging. However, most high-quality canned dog food brands always indicate these dates as they help clients determine the freshness of the products. 

To Refrigerate or Freeze Canned Dog Food: Which Is Better?

After opening canned dog food, it’s best to store it in the fridge right away if your pup can’t finish the food in a single sitting. However, freezing the food is ideal if you want to keep it edible for a long period, but more often than not, freezing negatively affects its flavor and taste.

Remember, canned dog food becomes unfit for consumption within two to four hours of opening. So you’re better off throwing the can away if you don’t refrigerate the remaining food. 

While refrigerating opened canned dog food is highly recommended, you can also store portions of the wet food in zip lock backs. Whichever storage method you prefer, it’s best to keep the temperatures inside your fridge consistent, as fluctuations can affect the food’s freshness. 

Wrapping Up

Despite having a long shelf life, canned dog food tends to go bad in a matter of hours once opened, hence the need to be eaten in a single sitting. But if your furry buddy can’t finish a single can, it’s best to split the food into two portions and store the rest in the fridge. 

Before storing any opened canned food in the fridge, remember to seal the top using plastic seals. You can also use foil and a rubber band, but you’ll need to ensure it’s airtight.

Thanks for reading!