Do Cat Treats Expire?

Finding your cat enjoying a tasty treat is a delight. Coming across a spoiled, moldy snack can be downright scary! As a responsible cat owner, you need to ask one crucial question – do cat treats expire?

The short answer is yes, cat treats can and do expire. Cat treats contain fatty acids, proteins, preservatives and moisture content that can go through chemical changes over time, causing the treats to spoil and expire even when still sealed. Consuming expired, bacteria-laden treats puts your cat’s health at serious risk.

This comprehensive guide will go into extensive detail on multiple aspects of expired cat treats, including:

  • The science behind why cat treats expire
  • Typical shelf lives of different treat types
  • Proper storage methods to maximize freshness
  • How to decipher expiration date labels
  • Clear signs that treats have gone bad
  • Safety tips for avoiding foodborne illness from treats
  • When to definitively throw out old treats

By the end, you’ll have in-depth knowledge to confidently determine if treats are still wholesome or ready for the trash. Let’s really dive into the details!

Why Do Cat Treats Have an Expiration Date?

Cat treats, just like any human or pet food product, contain certain ingredients and compounds that cause them to go bad over time, even if the package is never opened. The main culprits include:

  • Fats and oils – The fatty acid chains that make up lipids in treats can oxidize when exposed to oxygen and light. This causes them to become rancid, taking on a unpleasant odor and taste.
  • Proteins – The proteins in treats can undergo chemical changes called denaturation. This disrupts their structure, making them ineffective nutritionally. Proteins are also vulnerable to growing dangerous bacterial when they go bad.
  • Moisture content – Treats with higher moisture provide an environment for mold and bacteria to grow if the ingredients spoil. This leads to foul odors, unsafe mycotoxins and illness-causing bacteria.
  • Preservatives – Most treats contain preservative compounds to help extend their shelf life. However, these preservatives slowly degrade over time and lose effectiveness in preventing spoilage after the expiration date passes.

Even when cat treats are properly sealed in packaging, these chemical processes still gradually take place, reducing the freshness, safety and nutritional quality of the treats. This is why all cat treats come labeled with an expiration or “best by” date.

These dates are determined by stability testing conducted by the manufacturer. Samples of the treats are stored over time in controlled conditions while being monitored for any signs of spoilage. This allows an estimation of when the treat will reach the point where it is no longer optimally fresh and safe for cat consumption. Consuming treats past their expiration opens up risks of:

  • Salmonella – This bacteria thrives on expired protein and moisture. It can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and fever in cats.
  • Mold growth – Hard, dry treats don’t tend to grow visible mold. But soft, chewy treats can develop black, white or green mold when moisture and air is present. Inhaling mold spores causes respiratory issues. Consuming mold also releases deadly mycotoxins.

In summary, cat treats contain compounds like fats, proteins and moisture that inevitably cause them to go bad over time, even before opening. Chemical changes lead to rancid odors, inactive nutrients, and ideal conditions for dangerous mold and bacteria to flourish. Expiration dates are determined by manufacturers through stability testing to provide a timeline for when the treat is estimated to spoil. While not feeding treats past their expiration date doesn’t guarantee safety, it does significantly reduce the risks of foodborne illness in cats.

How Long Do Different Kinds of Cat Treats Last?

Now that you understand why cat treats expire, let’s go into detail on the typical shelf life to expect for different cat treat types available. Shelf life varies based on these factors:

  • Ingredients – Treats with higher protein and fat content tend to spoil faster than plant-based treats.
  • Moisture content – The more moisture in a treat, the faster mold and bacteria can grow, shortening shelf life.
  • Preservatives – Chemical perservatives extend shelf life, but each type has different effectiveness.
  • Packaging – Well-sealed packaging that blocks light, air, and humidity exposure retains freshness longer.

Here are the common cat treat varieties and their expected shelf lives:

Soft/Chewy Moist Treats

  • Typical Shelf Life: 6-8 months
  • Examples: Temptations soft treats, Greenies dental treats, Purina Whisker Lickin’s

Soft, chewy treats for cats tend to have higher moisture content from their soft textures. This means they are prone to drying out, getting hard, or developing mold growth if they are not consumed relatively quickly. The softness also makes it harder to seal out air compared to a hard treat. For these reasons, soft chewy treats generally only last about 6-8 months before going bad. Keeping them refrigerated and tightly sealed can slightly prolong their shelf life.

Crunchy/Hard Treats

  • Typical Shelf Life: 9-12 months
  • Examples: Friskies Party Mix, Temptations crunchy treats

Crunchy cat treats typically contain less moisture than soft treats, with a hard, dry texture. Their lower moisture content allows them to stay fresh a little longer before going bad, usually around 9-12 months. However, their fat content can still oxidize over time, leading to rancid odors and flavors. Keeping crunchy treats sealed in an airtight container helps prolong their shelf life.

Freeze-Dried Treats

  • Typical Shelf Life: 18-24 months
  • Examples: PureBites, Stella & Chewy’s freeze-dried morsels

Freeze-dried cat treats go through a process where they are frozen and the ice crystals are removed by dehydration without heat. This removes almost all moisture content, leaving a crunchy, crispy treat that keeps its nutrients intact. The lack of moisture is what gives freeze dried treats such a long shelf life, letting them stay fresh in the package for up to 2 years. Unopened packages that are continuously stored properly can sometimes last up to 3 years before going bad.

Refrigerated and Frozen Raw Treats

  • Typical Shelf Life: 3-6 months
  • Examples: Primal frozen nuggets, SmallBatch raw cat treat cubes

Cat treats that are kept refrigerated or frozen have a significantly longer shelf life than treats stored at room temperature. The cool temperatures preserve the fats, proteins and moisture to prevent spoilage. Refrigerated raw treats typically last around 3-6 months when kept between 35-40°F. Frozen raw treats can often last up to a year when kept at a constant 0°F or below. It’s important to thaw frozen treats properly in the refrigerator before serving to cats. Once thawed, only refreeze if unused portion remains frozen. Discard any thawed treats if mold develops.

Homemade Cat Treats

  • Typical Shelf Life: 3-5 days
  • Examples: Baked tuna treats, chicken & pumpkin mini muffins, liver brownies

Homemade cat treats have the shortest shelf life out of all treat varieties, generally only lasting 5-7 days at most. Without the preservatives used in store-bought treats, homemade treats are prone to very fast spoilage from their high moisture content and lack of sealed packaging. To extend their shelf life slightly longer, homemade treats should be refrigerated in sealed containers immediately after making and cooking. For even longer term storage, homemade treats can be frozen for 2-3 months.

In summary, the shelf life of cat treats can range quite significantly based on the type and ingredients. Soft, moist treats spoil fastest, while freeze-dried and frozen varieties last the longest thanks to very low moisture content. For optimal freshness and avoiding spoilage, cat treat storage also plays a big role…

How to Store Cat Treats for Maximum Shelf Life

Now that you know the typical shelf lives for different cat treat varieties, how should you store them to maximize that shelf life? Proper storage is key to keeping treats fresh right up until their expiration date. Here are some tips:

  • Store unopened treat packages at room temperature in a cool, dry pantry or cupboard. Avoid warm, humid locations like near appliances. These environments accelerate spoilage.
  • Keep treats away from direct sunlight exposure through windows, which can damage nutrients. If needed, place in a dark storage container.
  • Don’t mix older treats close to expiration with newer packages. Serve the oldest treats first before opening fresh packages to avoid confusion.
  • Check the packaging for any specific storage instructions, like refrigeration or freeze requirements. Follow them closely for that treat variety.
  • Once opened, transfer treats to an airtight food container or zipper bag with excess air squeezed out. This prevents moisture loss and staleness.
  • For soft, chewy treats, keep refrigerated after opening to inhibit mold growth from the higher moisture content.
  • For refrigerated raw treats, ensure your refrigerator is consistently between 35-40°F to maintain freshness and prevent bacterial overgrowth.

By properly storing cat treats according to each type, you can help prolong their optimal flavor and nutritional value right up until their expiration date. Speaking of expiration dates, next let’s explain how to decipher the different date formats included on cat treat packaging.

How to Read Expiration Dates and Labels on Cat Treats

Being able to understand the meaning behind the various expiration date formats commonly displayed on cat treat packaging is a must for determining freshness. Here are explanations of the different date types to look for:

Best By Date

A “Best By” date indicates the timeframe where the unopened treat’s texture and flavor quality is optimally at its highest. The treat manufacturer determines this date through stability testing under controlled storage conditions. Treats can often still be safely consumed for a short period past the Best By date, but their freshness and texture gradually declines. After this date, the risk of rancid flavors or staleness increases.

Sell By Date

A “Sell By” date is primarily intended to help retailers know how long to display a treat before removing it from shelves. It is not an expiration date, but rather the last recommended date a retailer should sell the treat to allow for some home storage time. Treats are still fine for cats to eat for 1-2 weeks past the Sell By date, assuming proper storage at home.

Use By or Use Before Date

A “Use By” or “Use Before” date, also known in some countries as “Expiry Date”, is the last date that the manufacturer recommends for consumption of the treat. This is the date where the risk of spoilage becomes dangerous. Do not feed treats to cats past the Use By date due to increased safety risks from microbial growth or instability of nutrients.

Production/Pack Date or Manufacturing Date

This date indicates when the cat treat was actually manufactured and packaged up for shipment. This date is useful in estimating the age of a treat if the expiration date itself is hard to locate on the packaging. Generally, avoid purchasing cat treats if their Production or Pack Date indicates they are more than 6 months old already to ensure adequate freshness at home.

Lot Code

Treats may also display a Lot Code or Lot Number stamped on the packaging. These codes are used internally by the manufacturer to identify and track product batches throughout production and distribution in case of recalls. Sometimes online Lot Code decoders or databases can help determine when certain code formats indicate the treat was produced.

When looking at dates on cat treat packaging, prioritize any date that clearly indicates it is an expiration date, Use By date, Sell By date or Best By date first. These indicate spoilage risk over the more secondary Manufacturing Date or Lot Codes. However, the latter can provide back up information on approximate age if needed.

Now that you know how to read expiration dates, next let’s go over the more foolproof ways of detecting spoiled treats by look, smell and touch…

How to Tell When Cat Treats Are Bad Through Sight, Smell and Texture

While expiration dates are useful, cat owners still need to rely on their senses to inspect treats for more definite signs they have gone bad and need discarding. Here are the common visual, aroma and texture changes that signal spoiled, unsafe treats:

  • Unnatural color changes – Discoloration like dark spots, light patches, grayish hues or unnatural browning all point to chemical degradation and treat spoilage.
  • Hard, dried out texture – Especially in soft or chewy treats. Hardness, crumbling or dryness indicates staling and moisture loss deteriorating freshness.
  • Rancid, sour or ammonia odors – Treats giving off foul, unpleasant smells should not be fed and are unsafe. Even if you can’t smell odors, notice if your cat refuses treats that normally are attractive.
  • Visible mold – The presence of any fuzzy whitish, greenish or black mold anywhere on a treat means it should be immediately discarded. Even small mold spots produce deadly mycotoxins.
  • Sliminess – Excess moisture leading to stickiness or slime growth provides optimal conditions for Salmonella and other bacteria to thrive. Toss immediately.
  • Medicinal, bitter or “off” taste – While you should not taste expired treats yourself, cautious cat refusal may indicate an off flavor they can detect.

When in doubt, remember it’s always better to be safe and discard questionable treats rather than take risks with your cat’s health. Next we’ll cover treat guidelines after opening…

How Long Do Cat Treats Last After Being Opened?

Like many human and pet foods, cat treats have a reduced shelf life and spoil faster once their original packaging is first opened. Here are some general guidelines for maximum freshness once treats are opened:

  • Soft chewy treats – 5-7 days after opening
  • Crunchy biscuit treats – 2-3 weeks after opening
  • Freeze-dried treats – 3-4 weeks after opening
  • Refrigerated raw treats – 7-10 days after opening

Tips for extending the shelf life of opened cat treats:

  • Firmly reseal any packaging after opening or transfer to an airtight food storage container. Exposure to air speeds staling.
  • Keep soft and raw treats refrigerated at 40°F or below after opening to inhibit mold growth.
  • Visually inspect treats before serving each time and discard any that look or smell spoiled.
  • Don’t mix newly opened treat packages with older opened treats to avoid confusion.

Being aware of shortened timeframes for consumption once treats are opened will minimize waste from spoilage. Next we’ll cover important safety tips when handling treats…

Safety Tips for Serving Cat Treats to Avoid Illness

Follow these best practices when storing, handling and serving cat treats to reduce risks:

  • Always inspect treats for any signs of visible mold, odd odors, texture changes, etc. before serving. Never give treats past their expiration date.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching treats to prevent bacterial contamination from hands to treats.
  • Throw away entire packages of treats immediately at first signs of mold. Do not attempt to pick out any “good” pieces, as invisible mycotoxins may remain.
  • Avoid feeding raw treat varieties to reduce risks from potential bacteria like Salmonella. Cooking treats eliminates harmful pathogens.
  • After opening, promptly seal treats and refrigerate or freeze perishable varieties, especially in warm weather. Do not leave sitting out.
  • When in doubt, remember it’s always safer to throw out questionable treats than risk a cat becoming ill from one. Fresh treats can always be purchased again.

Now that you know what safety practices to follow and what to look for, let’s summarize when you should definitely discard treats…

When to Toss Out Expired or Spoiled Cat Treats

Don’t take risks when it comes to your cat’s health – discard treats immediately if:

  • Past printed expiration date – Do not exceed any “Best By”, “Sell By” or “Use By” dates printed on the packaging regardless of how treats look or smell. These indicate spoilage risk.
  • Visible mold – Discard at first signs of any fuzzy growth, spots or specks which contain harmful toxins. Don’t taste tests treats yourself to check!
  • Smells rancid/spoiled – Foul odors of any kind mean treats should be discarded. Do not ignore “off” smells thinking they are still edible.
  • Changed texture – Hard, dried out, sticky or slimy textures point to chemical and microbial instability making treats unsafe.
  • Tastes sour, bitter or unpleasant – While you should not taste old treats, cautious refusal by cats may indicate an off flavor they detect.
  • Discoloration – Unnatural grayish hues, dark spots or light patches signal chemical degradation.
  • Pest damaged – Any signs of gnawing, nibbling or droppings mean dispose of treats. Treats may be contaminated.
  • Stored improperly – Heat, humidity and direct sunlight accelerate spoilage of treats. When in doubt, toss it out!
  • Cat gets sick after eating – If your cat vomits, has diarrhea or shows signs of illness after eating particular treats, discard the entire remaining package to be safe.

In summary, at the first sign of expiration dates passing, visual mold, foul odors, texture changes or illness, cat treats exhibiting any of these conditions should be immediately discarded. Do not take risks by feeding possibly spoiled treats. Your cat’s health and safety is too important!

Key Takeaways on Cat Treat Expiration & Safety

To recap, following are the key facts and tips to remember about cat treat expiration, storage and safety:

  • Cat treats contain fats, proteins and moisture content that inevitably cause them to spoil over time, making expiration dates critical. Feeding expired treats poses major health dangers.
  • Different treat types last varying lengths – from just 3-5 days for homemade treats to 2+ years for freeze-dried types when stored properly.
  • Always store unopened treats in a cool, dry pantry in their original packaging. Once opened, refrigerate perishable varieties and use airtight containers.
  • Look for “sell by”, “use by” or “best by” dates on packages. Also check manufacturing and lot codes for back up.
  • Discard treats at the first sight of mold, foul odors, texture changes or other signs of spoilage regardless of the date. Don’t take risks.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Getting a fresh treat is better than an emergency vet visit from spoiled treats.
  • Wash hands before and after handling treats to prevent bacterial spread.
  • Avoid raw treats which may contain harmful bacteria. Cooking treats eliminates risks.
  • Never exceed any expiration dates. Use by, Best by and Sell by dates indicate spoilage risk.
  • If your cat gets sick after eating treats, discard the entire remaining package.
  • Soft, moist treats last about 6-8 months. Crunchy biscuits last 9-12 months. Freeze-dried types last 18-24 months.
  • Once opened, reseal or refrigerate treats. Soft types last 5-7 days, crunchy 2-3 weeks, freeze-dried 3-4 weeks.
  • If mold is present anywhere, immediately discard the entire package of treats. Mold releases mycotoxins.
  • Store unopened treats in a cool, dry pantry away from heat, humidity and sunlight to maximize freshness.
  • Freeze homemade treats for long term storage. Refrigerate after making for up to 5-7 days.

By understanding all the science behind cat treat expiration, proper storage methods, shelf lives, expiration dates, signs of spoilage and safety tips provided in detail throughout this guide, cat owners can make well-informed decisions about their treats. Follow these best practices to reduce the risks of foodborne illness and keep your cat healthy. Discard expired treats as soon as they display any signs of age – your cat’s safety and wellbeing come first!