The best way to protect your household from the effects of a disaster is to be prepared. If you own pets you are responsible to prepare for them as well. Many disasters could cut off your access to more pet food from the store. A prolonged power outage could keep the stores closed, or they may already be sold out. Storing some extra food for pets is essential for their health and well-being.
As a pet and livestock owner I have researched and tested various ways to store pet food. The easiest approach is to store what your dog or cat currently eats, that way you can keep the food in rotation and nothing is ever wasted. Start by building up a three-month supply of pet food and work your way up from there. Here are some recommendations and options for storing emergency pet food.
Store Dry Kibble in the Bag
I work right next to a Purina Mill, and have had several in-depth conversations with the employees in packaging on how to best store dry kibble. Surprisingly, they all say the best way you can store dry kibble is right in the bag. Here is another article (click here) which helps to explain the science behind dry pet food storage. If you look on the back or bottom of a dry food bag you will find a ‘Best Buy Date’ or “Expiration Date”, this date could be several years out. ‘Natural’ pet food formulas tend to not last as long due to their lack of preservatives. The date on the back of the food bag means that the manufacturer will not guarantee optimum freshness and nutritional quality past that date. It’s doesn’t mean that it will suddenly rot and go bad after that date. It usually indicates that nutritional value could be lost after that point in time, therefore the goal is to use the pet food by then.
Containers: Pet food manufactures want their product to keep as is stated on the bag or they get in trouble. So they provide you with one of the best containers for it. The bag keeps the food dry, dark and even allows it to breathe slightly. This is important because even dry pet food contains moisture in the form of fats and oils; it is for this reason that repackaging dry pet food in Mylar or other vacuum sealed bags for long-term storage is not recommended. Few containers and/or storage methods are appropriate for processed food which contains fat and oils. The wrong storage container could cause a greasy film to build up on the container’s sides that will go rancid, cause the food to be distasteful and hasten food spoilage of any new food you add to the container. Even if you seal the dry food up in bags with oxygen absorbers and silica packets the fat and oils in dry kibble will still go rancid.
Keeping dry pet food sealed up in the bag it comes in, is the best way to preserve it. If further protection is needed it is recommended that you place the entire unopened bag into another container like preferably a metal bin, or an airtight plastic container. As soon as you open a bag of dry pet food oxidation starts to occur at a rapid pace, once opened, most commercial pet food will last less than six months so it’s best to use it in that time.
The best option for storing dry kibble is to build up a supply and rotate it out for use before exceeding the manufacturers date on the bag. Use the oldest bag first and purchase new bags just like normal to replace them, rotate the older bags to the front. Keep an eye on the food’s appearance and smell, if the kibble goes bad before the date on the bag; return the bag to the manufacturer or place of purchase. Keep dry kibble in a dark, dry area protected from extreme temperature swings.
Store Canned Pet Food
Just like the date on the dry food bag, the date canned pet food means the manufacturer will only guarantee the nutritional quality listed up to that point in time. Canned pet food can last anywhere from 2-5 years according to most manufacturers. Some people claim it should be nutritionally valid for up to 10 years.
A year’s supply of canned pet food is fairly inexpensive to acquire, will last longer and takes up less space than dry kibble. Rotate the supply by using the oldest food first and putting the new stuff in the back. Once a supply has been acquired continue using and purchasing pet food like usual, this way you are continuously renewing your supply. If a disaster were to strike on any given day cutting off the flow of new food, there would be still a year’s worth of stored pet food left to use. Keep canned pet food in a dark cool area protected from extreme temperature swings.
Make Your Own Pet Food
There are many different recipes for homemade dog and cat food available on the internet. After all, store-bought pet food didn’t appear on the market until the 1930s so up to that point in time everyone just made their own pet food or fed their pets whatever they ate. In fact, one of the biggest trends in pet health today is organic raw diets, resulting in pet owners around the world moving away from store bought food.
One of the ways you can preserve homemade pet food is by canning it. While the resulting jar of food will be cooked and no longer raw it is still FAR healthier than it’s store bought counter parts. Homemade pet food lacks many of the unhealthy additives and preservatives that most commercial pet food contains.
Click here for a Homemade Dog Food recipe
Click here for a Homemade Cat Food recipe from PetMD
The only drawback to canning pet food is that the canning recipes have not been scientifically tested for safety, so there is a greater margin of risk. This is an option I would only recommend to someone who has had experience with canning and knows how to mitigate the risks involved with using an untested canning recipe. The running estimate for the self-life of home canned pet food is 10 years.
Another “homemade” option is just to stock extra amounts of the ingredients used to make their food. This usually consists of rice, meat and some veggies, all these items are easy to add to long-term storage in a house or ‘bug out location’. Just make sure there is enough food stored for both humans and animals.
Store Freeze Dried Pet Food
Another option you may not hear about real often is freeze-dried pet food this would also be an option for Raw Diet fans. It is usually formulated with high quality ‘raw’ food, and then freeze-dried for convenience and longer storage times. Freeze-dried pet food is expensive just like human freeze-dried food is, but it could be a viable lightweight, long-term storage option for emergency pet food. Below I have linked to a few types of freeze-dried pet food, click on the blue text to see the product. I currently use freeze-dried dog food while camping with my own dogs so I can tell you first hand that it’s easy to prepare and they love every bite.
This is freeze-dried dog food, rehydrated.
Most of the freeze-dried pet food products available on the market would need to be repackaged in Mylar as the plastic packages it comes in are not meant for long-term storage. Adding some oxygen absorbers and silica packets to the mix would also be a good precaution. Unlike dry kibble, freeze-dried pet food is completely suitable for this storage method. The manufacturers were probably not thinking that preppers would stash their products away for years at a time, so repackaging is necessary.
Word to the Wise on Raw
While raw diets can be a challenge to prep for there are a couple of options available. Not prepping for your pet because they are on a raw diet and it is too expensive or bulky is irresponsible. I am pretty sure store bought or cooked food would be more healthy for your pet than starvation.
As the owner of three very large dogs I combine several of the above options for our pet food storage because I like having a plan B, C, and sometimes D. Doing what works best for your situation and storage space while making sure your pets are taken care of is key. Hopefully this information makes setting aside and storing extra food for pets a little more doable and less confusing.
Start now to make sure you are staying prepared.