Don’t Waste It! 10 Creative Ways To Use Leftover Dry Cat Food


According to the 2020 Pet Food Study conducted by the National Animal Rescue Association, an estimated 12% of dry cat food purchased in the United States goes uneaten each year. That equates to nearly 1 million tons of cat food wasted annually.

While there are many reasons cats may turn up their noses at food, dealing with uneaten dry kibble presents pet owners with a dilemma. Is it safe to save and re-serve unused cat food? What are the best ways to repurpose or dispose of it responsibly? This article will explore common reasons for cat food waste, risks associated with storing and reusing unused kibble, recommendations for disposing of or repurposing uneaten dry food, and tips to prevent excess waste in the future.

In the following sections, we will cover storing unused cat food, donating extra food, composting dry kibble, determining when to throw away old cat food, and strategies to reduce waste moving forward. With some planning and creativity, that bag of rejected cat food doesn’t have to go to waste.

Causes of Uneaten Cat Food

There are several common causes for cats leaving food uneaten in their bowl.

Picky eating or diet changes can lead to uneaten food. Cats may turn up their nose at a new food or flavor, especially if the transition is not gradual. Stress from changes in environment or routine can also cause picky eating.

Overfeeding is another cause of uneaten food. Cat parents may pour too much food into the bowl, resulting in leftovers. It’s best to follow the feeding guidelines on the package based on your cat’s weight.

Food spoilage can lead to uneaten portions. Dry food that sits too long may lose freshness and become unappetizing to cats. Signs of spoiled cat food include mold, an off smell, or very hard texture.

Finally, illnesses like dental disease, mouth pain, infections, or other health issues may prevent a cat from eating normally. If your cat stops eating suddenly, contact your vet, as stated by Purina.

Risks of Wasting Cat Food

Wasting cat food can have significant financial, environmental, and health consequences.

Financially, cat food can be expensive, especially high-quality, natural cat food. Throwing away uneaten dry food is essentially wasting money. With proper storage, much of it could be reused.

Environmentally, wasted cat food contributes to the already massive problem of food waste in landfills. According to the EPA, food waste is the single largest component in American landfills, producing methane gas as it decomposes (The Risks & Impact of Packaged Pet Foods). Reducing cat food waste is one way to lower your environmental impact.

Finally, health-wise, rancid and spoiled cat food can make cats sick. Foodborne illnesses in pets are caused by bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Stale food can also grow mold and fungi, which are toxic if ingested. Rotting food should not be fed to cats, as it poses a contamination risk (Is Dry Food Bad For Cats? The Real Truth & 6 Risks).

Storing Unused Cat Food

Proper storage of unused cat food is important to preserve freshness and prevent spoilage. Here are some tips for storing both wet and dry cat food:

For unopened canned or pouched wet food, store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture. Avoid storage areas that may get hot like garages or near appliances. Check expiration dates periodically and use oldest cans first. Once opened, transfer uneaten wet food to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (Source).

For dry kibble, store in the original bag tightly sealed or transfer to an airtight container. Keep in a cool, dry place out of sunlight. Dry food can typically be stored unopened for up to 6 months if kept properly. Check expiration dates and use oldest food first (Source).

Avoid storage areas that get hot or humid. Don’t store open cans of food for longer than 3-5 days. Always check expiration dates and follow First-In-First-Out practices when feeding.

Donating Unused Cat Food

One great option for unused dry cat food is to donate it to local animal shelters or rescue groups. Many of these organizations rely on donations to feed the animals in their care. Check for local shelters and rescues in your area that accept pet food donations.

You can also look for pet food banks or pet food pantries in your community. These organizations collect donated pet food and supplies to distribute to families in need. For example, the Human Rescue Alliance’s Pet Pantry Program accepts donations of unexpired dry cat food bags.

Another idea is to offer the unused cat food to friends, neighbors, or community members, such as through local message boards or social media groups. Just make sure the food is not expired and is still in its original packaging. This can help find a new home for perfectly good cat food.

Repurposing Dry Food

One of the easiest ways to use up leftover dry cat food is to repurpose it. Dry kibble often lasts longer than wet food in storage, so you may find yourself with extra even if your cat’s appetite changes day to day.

A great option is to use leftover kibble as treat rewards when training your cat. The dry texture and smaller size makes it easy to reward behaviors during a training session. Just save a handful of kibble from your cat’s normal meals to use for positive reinforcement.

You can also crumble some dry food on top of your cat’s wet food to encourage eating, especially if your cat gets bored of the same old wet food every day. The crunch and different flavor profile adds interest. Simply take a handful of kibble and break it into smaller pieces over the wet food.

Mixing flavors is another way to repurpose dry food while keeping your cat happy. Combine kibble from a couple different opened bags so your cat gets some variety with their normal diet. Cats enjoy variety, so blending flavors can help use up small amounts of leftover kibble.

Composting Cat Food

Composting small amounts of cat food can provide some benefits for gardens. According to, adding a small quantity of cat food is acceptable as long as it’s done in moderation. Cat food introduces nitrogen and minerals that are useful for compost. However, it’s important to follow proper composting methods when adding pet food.

To safely compost cat food, mix it into the center of the compost pile where temperatures are highest. This helps the food break down fully and prevents odors or attracting pests. Limit cat food to only a few cups per cubic yard of compost. Make sure the pile has a proper ratio of carbon-rich “brown” materials like dried leaves or straw. Monitor moisture and aeration to maintain ideal conditions. Turning the compost regularly will distribute the cat food evenly.

Avoid composting large amounts of cat food, as this can throw off the nutritional balance. Do not place cat food on the top or edges of the pile. Prevent contamination by keeping litter and feces out of the compost. With the proper techniques and quantities, adding small portions of leftover cat food can enrich compost without risks.

When to Toss Old Food

Cat food that has gone bad should be immediately thrown away for your cat’s safety. The first indicator is to check the expiration date, which is usually stamped on the bottom or lid of canned food or on the packaging of dry food. Per the FDA, dry cat food typically lasts 2-6 months after opening while wet cat food only lasts 5-7 days in the fridge once opened.

Signs that wet or dry cat food has spoiled include an unusual odor, change in color or texture, and mold growth. Refrigerated wet food should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, and keeping either wet or dry food past its recommended refrigeration time can allow harmful bacteria to multiply. When in doubt if your cat’s food is still safe to feed, throw it out.

Preventing Excess in the Future

There are some steps you can take to prevent having excess unused cat food in the future:

Follow proper feeding guidelines – Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate amount of food to feed your cat based on their age, weight, and activity level. Sticking to the recommended daily serving size can help prevent over-purchasing and wasting cat food.

Buy smaller bags – Consider purchasing smaller bags of cat food, rather than stocking up on large bags that may expire before your cat can finish them. Buying smaller quantities makes it easier to adjust based on your cat’s appetite.

Monitor appetite changes – Be aware of any changes in your cat’s appetite, either eating less or more. You may need to adjust food amounts to prevent excess waste. Also monitor for signs of illness, which can cause changes in appetite.

Check expiration dates – When purchasing cat food, check the expiration date and buy an amount that your cat can finish before it expires.

Store properly – Keep cat food in an airtight, waterproof container in a cool, dry place to preserve freshness as long as possible.

Transition gradually – When changing food brands or varieties, transition your cat slowly by mixing in the new food over the course of a week or more. Gradual changes can prevent rejection of new foods.


In summary, there are several reasons you may end up with excess dry cat food, such as changes in your cat’s appetite or buying in bulk. Wasting cat food can be costly and goes against sustainability efforts. The good news is that unused dry food can be safely stored in an airtight container for up to 6 weeks. Beyond that, you have options like donating unopened food to shelters, repurposing it for animals like chickens or wildlife, or composting. To prevent waste in the future, buy smaller bags, monitor your cat’s intake, and donate soon-to-expire food.

Reducing pet food waste is important not just for your wallet, but for the planet. With some planning and creativity, that bag of rejected kibble doesn’t have to head straight for the trash. By storing, donating or repurposing uneaten dry food, you can cut back on needless waste. We hope these tips will help you reduce excess cat food in your home and be more mindful about your pet’s needs.

When in doubt, remember – a little planning goes a long way. Monitor your cat’s eating habits, shop conservatively, and act quickly to handle uneaten food. With some small adjustments, you can avoid the kitty litter landfill.

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