By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Providing your pup with proper nutrition is critical to ensuring they remain healthy, happy, and disease-free through all life stages. However, providing your dog with a healthy diet continues even after you purchase a bag of dog food from your favorite pet food store.
Proper handling and storing of your dog's kibble is vital to ensure your four-legged friend receives healthy nutrients and is protected from potentially deadly food-borne illnesses. Quality pet food can be pricey, and proper dry kibble storage will prevent waste and save money.
It's not uncommon for pet owners to pour dry pet food into a decorative counter container or to store it in the basement or garage for safekeeping. But, incorrect handling and storing of your dog's food can have detrimental effects on your dog's health. Follow these top storage and handling tips to keep your dog's dry food safe and healthy.
Inspect the Dog Food Bag and Purchase from a Reputable Source
When possible, purchase your dog's food from a trusted brick-and-mortar store so that you can inspect the bag before bringing it home. Ensure the kibble bag is free of holes, rips, or tears, which can lead to dangerous food contamination or insects. An in-person purchase also lets you speak to the store employees and see firsthand how the product is stored.
Many pet owners prefer to purchase their pet's products at the click of a button, which is convenient and ensures you never run out of your pup's food or favorite treats. But before you stock up, check that your online source is reputable. Additionally, discounted or unverified sellers may not properly handle pet food, which can have dangerous health consequences for your dog.
Ways to ensure you are purchasing from a reputable seller include:
- Asking your veterinarian for their recommended online resources
- Checking for verified customer reviews
- Contacting the manufacturer to see if the online source is a verified or approved seller
Check the Expiration Date and Inspect the Kibble After Opening
Checking the "best by" or expiration date provides vital information on how long it is safe to feed the product to your pet. These dates will vary based on food ingredients, processing, and manufacturing date. Some higher fat or protein-rich kibbles may break down quicker and have a shorter shelf life.
The "best by" date indicates that the unopened, adequately stored bag is safe until the date listed and should ideally be used before that date. Once you open a bag of kibble, it should be used within two to three months, depending on the specific manufacturer's recommendations.
Additionally, always check the following after opening a new bag of food:
- Smell – The kibble should not smell rancid or foul. While the smell of dog food is likely not appealing to humans, the odor should reflect the ingredients.
- Color – Using clean or gloved hands, gently sift through the food to check for any discolored kibble or film on the food. Mold or other contaminants can change kibble color. Mold is toxic to dogs and leads to gastrointestinal (GI) distress or seizures in some cases. Discard the entire bag of kibble if any kibble appears moldy.
- Moisture – If the kibble appears soft, damp, or wet, this is an indication of improper storage, and it should be discarded. Excess moisture can lead to bacterial or mold growth on the kibble.
Store Food in a Cool, Dry, Temperature-Controlled Environment
It may be tempting to store dog food out of the way in a garage, basement, or outside storage area. However, extreme heat, humidity, and cold are detrimental to your dog's kibble quality and safety. High heat and humidity lead to nutrient breakdown and provide an ideal environment for bacteria and mold growth.
The ideal food storage temperature is under 80 degrees in a cool, dry place protected from direct sunlight. Extreme cold or freezing temperatures generally do not affect the nutritional value of kibble. However, freezing may affect the kibble palatability. As a general rule, follow the same food safety and storage rules for your pup's kibble as you would for human dry food storage.
Keep the Bag Sealed and in a Secondary Pet- and Pest-Proof Container
Pet food companies choose bags designed to keep your dog's kibble fresh and tasty. However, once the bag is opened, excess exposure to air can lead to oxidation of fats and nutrient breakdown, so open bags should not be kept for more than a few months. Proper storage will slow nutrient breakdown and prevent dangerous food-borne illnesses and contaminants, like insects or storage mites. Food contaminated with storage mites can lead to dog allergies and often an incorrect food allergy diagnosis.
Dog food bags contain essential information that may be required for a food recall or if your dog becomes suddenly ill after ingestion. For dog owners who prefer to store pet food in something other than the original packaging, take a photo or keep the portion of food label that contains the following information: UPC code, lot number, brand, manufacturer, and best buy date. The lot number helps the FDA identify where the food was made so they can address problems in case of food recalls.
Ideally, your dog's kibble should be stored in the original bag in a pet-safe, airtight container. Safely sealing your dog's food after each use with a bag food clip or airtight cover will also prevent rodents from helping themself to the kibble. Additionally, placing the bag in a secondary, food-grade, sealed container will prevent your dog from helping themselves and overeating, which can lead to GI problems or a life-threatening stomach bloat.
Practice Good Food Hygiene
Good hygiene practices are essential when handling any food, including your dog's kibble. Ensure to wash your hands before and after feeding your dog and anytime you access the kibble bag or storage container. Additionally, if you store your dog's food directly in a metal or plastic container, clean it with soap and water between each new bag of food, and never pour fresh food on top of the old food. Dog food bowls should be cleaned daily to prevent scum buildup and bacterial contamination.
General Tips for Keeping Your Dog Nutritionally Healthy and Safe
Feeding your dog a healthy diet is essential for their overall well-being. Equally important is the proper handling and storage of your dog's kibble to prevent an accidental illness or allergy. Follow these tips to ensure your pup remains healthy from the inside out:
- Choose an AAFCO-approved diet for their age and breed, and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure how long your dog's food is safe after opening.
- Monitor your dog for any adverse effects after eating, and bring them for a veterinary examination if you suspect they are suffering a food-borne related illness.
- When in doubt, throw it out. If your dog's kibble has an unusual odor or color or has been improperly stored, throw out the bag and open a fresh one.
- Regularly check the FDA pet-food recall list to ensure your dog's kibble is safe.
- Keep a probiotic on hand, like Native Pet's Probiotic Powder, to support their overall GI health or your dog's gut health when transitioning to a new food.
Food is fuel for you and your pup, and proper handling and storage are as important as choosing the right diet for your dog. Talk to your veterinarian if you are unsure which food is safe for your pup or if you suspect your dog is suffering from an adverse reaction to their diet. Food allergies are uncommon but can affect any age or breed of dog. Depending on how your dog's food was handled or stored, it may also be possible that your dog has been exposed to storage mites or a contaminated diet.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.