Whether you’re using commercially prepared dog food like kibble or making your own dog food at home, feeding high-quality ingredients can help improve your dog’s health and longevity. To make things easier you can consider dog meal prep by preparing portions or big batches of cooked food for the week.
After you’ve put some thought into choosing the right diet for your pet, it makes sense that you’d want the food to stay fresh for as long as possible. Food that isn’t stored properly can lose its nutritional value or worse, make your dog sick.
Whether you pre-portion your dog’s kibble rations or batch cook a week of meals, it’s essential that what you’re feeding your dog is still safe for them.
How Do I Store My Dog’s Food?
The first step to ensuring your dog’s food stays fresh is proper storage, especially if you’re trying to meal prep for your dog. “Oxidation (a chemical reaction when food is exposed to oxygen) is what causes spoilage and loss of nutrition over time,” explains Dr. Steph Sheen, DVM. “Storing food in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight limits exposure to air and UV light, which slows the oxidation process.”
For maximum freshness for food being served, ideally your dog would consume each meal in full. Alternatively, if you allow free-feeding or grazing, you can leave kibble out at room temperature. Dr. Sheen recommends measuring out the daily amount “rather than topping up the bowl to avoid old food from staying at the bottom for too long.” After eight hours, you should throw away any uneaten food and refrigerated food should be returned to the fridge sooner than that.
Extreme heat or cold can “compromise the quality, safety, and palatability of food if it’s stored in a garage or shed,” explains Dr. Ruth Ann Lobos, DVM, a senior veterinarian at Purina. Some dog food manufacturers use vitamins and antioxidants, which serve as natural preservatives to keep food from oxidizing and becoming rancid. To minimize exposure to moisture, air, and high temperatures, Dr. Lobos recommends following the FDA’s guidelines, which are:
- Store dog food and treats in their original bag or container, at room temperature
- Put the opened bag into a container as opposed to emptying the bag
- Make sure the container you use is airtight, clean, and dry
How Long Does Food Last?
“The expiration date on the bag refers to how long food stays fresh in an unopened bag,” Dr. Sheen explains. “Once you open the bag, air is introduced into the food and the oxidation process begins.” Her advice for making food last is to select a quantity that your dog can consume within about six to eight weeks and avoid packaging that’s torn or damaged at the time of purchase.
Keeping food in its original bag helps prevent nutrients from leeching out of the food into the container, so it may be better to continue to scoop their meals rather than keeping pre-portioned meals in individual containers. Another advantage of using the original packaging is having important information on hand including the brand, manufacturer, expiration date, lot number, and product code in case you have any questions or in the event of a product recall.
“Typically, the expiration date is 12 to 18 months, but it can vary based on the formula,” Dr. Lobos says. She suggests keeping a calendar of how long it takes your dog to finish a bag of food when deciding what size to purchase. You can always double check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure about the expiration date.
How Can I Ensure Homemade Meals Are Safe for My Dog?
Preparing meals at home allows you to combine fresh ingredients that are easy for dogs to digest. Just make sure not to deviate from the recipe or engage in what’s known as “recipe drift,” which is when “pet owner substitutes chicken or fish for another ingredient, which totally changes the nutrient profile of the recipe,” Dr. Lobos explains.
Even something as small as using a different cooking oil or switching vegetables in the recipe can create an imbalance over time, according to Dr. Sheen. It’s better for your dog to use a whole new recipe rather than trying to substitute ingredients.
If you have a senior dog or a dog with medical conditions, homemade meals are still a great option. You can cook the food yourself or purchase pre-made meals. Keep in mind that many recipes found online don’t meet minimum nutritional requirements, Dr. Sheen explains. Simply adding a generic multivitamin isn’t sufficient to meet your dog’s needs.
What’s most important is using a recipe that is complete and balanced by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Sheen says. This often means needing to supplement your dog’s food with specific vitamins and minerals. In addition, make sure to follow the nutritionist’s recommendations to provide consistent, complete, and balanced nutrition.
Is Batch Cooking a Good Option?
Seeing as cooking requires a lot of planning and preparation, preparing food in batches can help you save time. You’ll need to consider the size of your dog, how much food they consume each week, and how much storage space you have in your kitchen or freezer. For a small dog, you can prepare a batch that lasts a few weeks and keep it frozen until ready for use. For a larger dog, you may need to cook more often or prepare more than one batch at a time.
“Once prepared, the food can be kept in the freezer for up to a year, especially if it’s stored in a vacuum-sealed package,” Dr. Sheen says. “Although it begins to lose some nutrition after six months.” Keep batches frozen until you’re ready to serve them. Once defrosted, food can last in the fridge for three to four days or slightly longer if kept in an airtight container or vacuum-sealed package.
This also depends on the ingredients you’re using. Cooked meals might be a better option if you or your dog has a compromised immune system due to age or illness.