Dog treats: they’re a pet parent’s secret weapon and a pooch’s favorite reward. But what happens when these tasty nibbles pass their expiration date? Can you still use them or should they be discarded? In this comprehensive guide, we explore the shelf life of dog treats, signs of spoilage, and tips for proper storage.
Understanding Expiration Dates on Dog Treats
Contrary to what most people might think, the expiration date or ‘best by’ date on a dog treat package isn’t a hard and fast deadline by which the product becomes unfit for consumption. Instead, it’s a manufacturer’s estimate of how long the product will retain its optimal quality and nutritional value.
Once a product is past this date, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe for your pet. However, its texture, flavor, and nutritional value may start to decline. For dry treats, this can mean they become stale, while moist treats may lose their appealing softness or firmness.
Do Different Types of Dog Treats Have Different Shelf Lives?
Absolutely! Just as with human food, the shelf life of dog treats can vary greatly depending on their ingredients and how they’re stored.
Dry Treats: These are the most common types of dog treats and include products like biscuits and chew sticks. They tend to have a long shelf life, often up to a year or more. Once opened, dry treats can last several months if stored properly.
Wet or Moist Treats: These treats usually have a shorter shelf life compared to dry treats, but they are still typically good for several months. However, once the package is opened, they should be consumed within a week or two.
Fresh or Homemade Treats: If you’ve whipped up a batch of homemade treats or bought some fresh from the pet store, these will have the shortest shelf life. Depending on the ingredients, they may only last a few days to a week, and should always be stored in the refrigerator.
Signs Your Dog Treats Have Gone Bad
While an expiration date can be a good guideline, it’s also important to look out for other signs of spoilage.
Smell: Dog treats that have gone bad may emit a rancid or off odor.
Appearance: Mold, discoloration, or a change in texture can be a sign that your dog treats are no longer safe to consume.
Packaging: Damaged or bloated packaging can be a sign of bacterial growth or other spoilage.
Proper Storage of Dog Treats
Just like with human food, how you store your dog treats can significantly affect their shelf life.
Keep Them Sealed: Keep your dog treats in their original packaging until they’re needed. Most dog treat bags are designed to be resealable, which helps keep the treats fresh.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place: High temperatures and humidity can speed up the spoiling process. Your pantry or a kitchen cabinet away from appliances is usually a safe bet.
Consider a Treat Jar: For daily treats, consider using a treat jar with a tight-fitting lid. Just ensure it’s regularly cleaned to prevent bacterial growth.
Refrigeration: Some treats, especially homemade or fresh ones, may need to be refrigerated.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What Happens if My Dog Eats Expired Treats?
While the ‘best by’ date suggests the period of peak quality, many treats are safe to consume even after this date. However, if the treat exhibits signs of spoilage such as a rancid smell, mold, discoloration, or changes in texture, it’s best to avoid giving it to your pet. Ingesting spoiled treats can lead to upset stomach, diarrhea, or even food poisoning in dogs.
2. Can Expired Dog Treats Cause Diarrhea?
Yes, expired or spoiled treats can cause diarrhea in dogs. Bacterial growth or other forms of spoilage can lead to digestive issues, including diarrhea and vomiting. If you suspect your dog has eaten a spoiled treat and shows signs of illness, consult your vet immediately.
3. How Long Do Dog Biscuits Last Once Opened?
The longevity of dog biscuits once opened depends on their storage. If kept in a sealed container in a cool, dry place, they can last for several months. However, exposure to air, humidity, or high temperatures can shorten this period, leading to staleness or spoilage.
4. How Can I Tell if Dog Treats are Bad?
Just like human food, dog treats may emit an off-putting or rancid smell when they’ve gone bad. Other signs include mold, discoloration, changes in texture, and damaged packaging. If your dog’s treats exhibit any of these signs, it’s best to discard them.
5. How Long Do Dry Dog Treats Last?
Dry dog treats have a longer shelf life compared to moist or fresh treats. Unopened, they can last up to a year or even more. Once opened, if stored properly, they can last for several months.
6. Do Milk-Bone Dog Treats Expire?
Milk-Bone dog treats, like other dry treats, do have an expiration date. However, they can often last several months past this date if stored properly. Check the packaging for the ‘best by’ date, and always inspect the treats for signs of spoilage before feeding them to your pet.
7. Can Expired Dog Treats Be Donated?
It’s not recommended to donate expired dog treats. While some may still be safe to consume, shelters typically prefer to err on the side of caution and may not accept expired donations. Always check with the shelter or organization before donating expired products.
8. What Should I Do With Expired Unopened Dog Treats?
If you have expired unopened dog treats and they show no signs of spoilage, you might be able to still use them depending on how far past the expiration date they are. However, if they’re significantly past their ‘best by’ date, it’s best to discard them to avoid any potential health risks to your pet.
9. Do Dog Chews and Bones Expire?
Dog chews and bones, especially those made from natural materials like rawhide or animal bones, do have a shelf life and can spoil over time. Many commercially available chews have a ‘best by’ date on their packaging, indicating the period of optimal freshness and quality. However, the risk of spoilage increases if they are improperly stored or exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Always inspect these items for any signs of spoilage, such as an unusual smell or visible mold.
10. Are Certain Types of Dog Treats More Likely to Expire Sooner Than Others?
Yes, the type of dog treat can significantly affect its shelf life. For instance, dry biscuits generally last longer than moist treats because they have a lower water content, making them less susceptible to bacterial growth. Fresh or homemade treats without preservatives will spoil the quickest. Always consider the treat’s type and storage needs when purchasing and storing.
11. Do Dog Treats Expire Faster Once the Package is Opened?
Upon opening, dog treats are exposed to air, light, and potentially heat and humidity, all of which can accelerate the spoiling process. Therefore, once the package is opened, the shelf life of dog treats will generally be shorter than if the package remained sealed.
12. Is it Safe to Give Dogs Treats That Have Been Discontinued or Recalled?
No, it’s not safe to give dogs treats that have been recalled, as there is typically a health or safety reason behind the recall. Discontinued products can be a gray area. If they were discontinued for reasons unrelated to safety or quality, they might be safe to consume before their expiration date. However, it’s essential to monitor your dog for any adverse reactions.
13. How Can I Extend the Shelf Life of Dog Treats?
Proper storage is the best way to extend the shelf life of dog treats. Keep them in a cool, dry place and seal the package after each use. For treats used less frequently, consider storing them in the refrigerator or freezer. Always defrost frozen treats thoroughly before giving them to your pet.
14. Are Homemade Dog Treats Less Likely to Expire?
Not necessarily. The shelf life of homemade dog treats will depend on the ingredients used and how they are stored. Treats made from fresh ingredients and without preservatives will generally have a shorter shelf life than commercially made treats. To ensure freshness, store them in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
15. How Can I Tell if Dog Treats Have Spoiled if My Dog Has Already Eaten Them?
Monitor your dog for any signs of distress or illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or lethargy. If you notice any unusual behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately. Remember, when in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and avoid giving your dog treats that are past their expiration date or show signs of spoilage.