For you, its time to go to bed. For your cat, the night has only just begun. It naturally follows to question whether or not to leave out a little wet food for them. But should you? Is this a safe and practical thing to do or is it one that actually needs to be avoided at all costs? I spent some time researching the literature and discussing with many vets to find out for good.
So, can you leave wet cat food out overnight? It comes strongly advised not to leave wet cat food out overnight. In fact, wet cat food should not be left for more than 2-3 hours at any given time. This is because wet cat food left at room temperature will quickly warm, becoming a perfect environment for bacteria to grow, develop and pose a risk to your cat.
While it is true that a cat is biologically different, its fair to assume that they probably should not be exposed to the very same things that can be dangerous to us.
And besides just the risk-factor alone, wet food becomes very unappetizing quickly. Chances are, your cat will not even be enthusiastic to consume it after a few hours anyway.
Can we blame them; just take a closer look at wet food the next time you take it away. The smell starts to go, the texture changes.
While wet food has many benefits to your cat, its longevity and the ability to leave it down for hours is certainly not one of them.
Let us now take a closer look at why wet cat food spoils, signs its beginning to go off and how to affectively store it if you have surplus left over.
So, be sure to keep on reading if you want to keep your cat safe, while saving yourself from waste and unnecessary expense!
How Long Can Wet Cat Food Sit Out Before It Goes Bad?
Wet cat food will generally spoil around 1-4 hours after it has been open and has been exposed to air.
Although, it does depend on the food, and the ambient temperature of your home.
Generally, the warmer it is, and the larger the surface area, the faster the food will spoil.
So for instance, wet cat food that is spread thinly in a bowl is going to go off faster than it would be if it was in central pile (the centre of the food that is anyway).
In fact, in ‘Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation’, it states that food that has been left between the temperatures of 40° F (4.4° C) and 140° F (60° C) for 4 hours must be disposed of. This is advice from the USDA.
So, even if your cat was to prefer eating their food in multiple sittings, leaving it out for an extended period of time just should not be done.
It also comes advised not to leave it too late. Why risk it?
So, after 1-2 hours, you should be looking to take away and remove any wet food that has been put down.
And be sure to wash the bowl thoroughly with a good brand of soap before putting any more food in.
As you can imagine, this is just not practical during the night. Who wants to get up every 2 hours to do this? Even once would be a nightmare.
So, it may be a better idea to consider dry food for your cats consumption at this time.
Its dryness pretty much makes it impossible for bacteria to grow.
Thus, it is generally safer for much longer.
This is actually why it was originally invented; to last for longer periods of time without going bad.
But again there is a catch.
Any food (wet, dry or otherwise) that is left out oxidizes (the process of decomposing). For dry cat food, it is estimated to be within 36-48 hours.
So while your cat is not likely to get sick, dry food can still become stale and unappealing.
It will be able to get your through the night, but should still probably be changed the following morning.
How Do You Know If Wet Cat Food Is Bad?
Wet cat food that is spoiled can easily be detected by how your cat responds, and how it looks and smells.
Perhaps the first indication is that your cat will generally refuse to eat it.
This is most evident for cats with a healthy and large appetite, whom suddenly does not want to eat the food they are usually so fond of.
Other signs to look out for include:
- Different, stronger smell,
- Drier, harder consistency,
- Visible signs of mold,
- Your cat is showing symptoms of discomfort or illness (such as diarrhea) following consumption.
So long as you can taking away wet cat food within 1-2 hours of being put down, you should not notice these signs.
In fact, its better to be overly cautious here.
Beyond this, it comes advised never to offer food to your cat that is past its expiry date, whether it has been opened or not.
Can Cats Get Sick From Old Wet Food?
Whether or not a cat will get sick from old wet food will depend on the bacteria that has been able to grow upon it.
This has a lot to do with the conditions, the length of time it has been left out, and the type and brand of food.
For the most part, cats are unlikely to get sick from old wet food. But it will not do them any good either.
Its a risk that certainly is not worth taking.
While it is true that once opened, bacteria from the surrounding environment will begin to develop on the food; thankfully, this bacteria is relatively benign and unlikely to cause illness in your cat.
But it is certainly possible.
However, these bacteria need to be already present in the food itself.
These bacteria are not the type to live in the environment, although they can proliferate if left in ideal growing conditions (warmer temperatures – such as your home).
So, the longer infected food is left out, the more dangerous it becomes to your cat.
This is how and when leaving out wet cat food can become exceptionally problematic. When it is already infected.
You and your cat would need to be pretty unlucky. You would have need to have purchased wet food that is already contaminated. But it does unfortunately happen.
There are even reports of some manufactures having to recall food for this reason.
Just remember, this is the exception rather than the norm.
But you need to ensure you are buying high quality food from reputable brands.
And nevertheless, consumption of infected food will result in food poisoning, with your typical symptoms experienced by your cat: vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy etc.
If you notice any of these after your cat has eaten food, it comes strongly advised to take them to a vet at the earliest opportunity.
How Do I Store Leftover Wet Cat Food?
Storing left over cat food and keeping it fresh and safe for consumption by your cat is all about keeping it in optimal conditions; away from humidity and moisture.
It is these two primary offenders that cause wet food to spoil.
It is the exposure to the air that will result in exposure to bacteria. This is why wet food generally lasts a long time when sealed, but not when opened.
Nevertheless, even then, a sealed can of wet food should never be stored in a place where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So a garage or a shed will not do.
Instead, look for a dry, cool place such as a inside a kitchen cupboard or closet.
But, if you have half of a can of open wet food, how do you go about storing it?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that you can safely refrigerate it.
Refrigeration is considered the best way to store leftover wet cat food. It should be done immediately after opening.
If you look closely on the side of the canned food, the manufacturer should give you the go ahead to be able to do so.
So, it is advised to take out the wet food your cat needs for that meal, and store the rest away in a sealed container in separate place in the fridge.
Perhaps the best, most affordable and practical sealed container to use are Ziploc bags.
It comes advised to use a Ziploc bags, opposed to just the can or other storage container, for several reasons:
- Leaving in a can will likely affect the taste; your cat may not even want to eat the next serving,
- You can keep them better airtight; to prevent moisture from accessing the food where it will spoil. That’s right, food can even spoil in the fridge!
- They are easy to use, economical and safe to use in microwaves.
I get my Ziploc Bags on Amazon for a great price!
One thing to consider is that cats are not generally fond of cold food.
So, you will need to warm it the refrigerated food somewhat before the next serving.
To do so, you can place the sealed Ziploc bag in the sink, and then run some water over the bag in the sink for a few minutes.
Alternatively, you can put the next serving in the microwave (still in the Ziploc bag), and warm on a low setting for 5-10 seconds.
Otherwise you will need a small microwavable dish that you cover with plastic wrap.
If you decide to microwave – just remember, its not about making the food hot – but to room temperature. It does not need long.
You do not want to risk burning your cats mouth!
It comes strongly advised to not leave wet cat food out overnight. Besides, its hardly going to be very appetizing to your cat.
Of course you can consider dry cat food, but even then its going to depend on the feeding schedule that you have.
For instance, if you decide to feed your cat at regular times each day, leaving food out overnight is probably not even necessary.
But if you decide to free feed your cat, leaving a small serving of dry food in their clean bowl at night, may just do the trick.
There’s pros and cons of each.
Planned mealtimes helps you understand how much your cat is eating, if there are any changes in appetite, and helps you track how long food has been left out.
Free feeding gives your cat the ability to eat on their own schedule, instinctively, as they desire.
But it can lead to waste.
Either way, just be sure to regularly change your cats food, and feed them the best quality nutrition that you can realistically afford.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.