You want to feed your cat the best, but they can be picky eaters. Many cat owners give their kitty cold food. Other owners claim that you should never give them cold food. Is it safe for them? Can they eat cold food? 

Can cats eat cold food?

There are many reasons you may want to give your cat cold food. Perhaps you open a can and then put the remainder in the fridge. Perhaps your dry food is in the garage, and gets cold in the wintertime. Perhaps you occasionally give them a piece of chicken or fish from the fridge. Is this ok?

Most Cats Prefer Warm Food

In most cases, it simply comes down to cat preference. They prefer their food warm. You probably know that food, particularly meats, taste different when they are cold. Humans usually prefer meat warm, Your cat probably has the same preference. 

Instincts

Cats are not as domesticated as their canine counterparts. They have retained more of their wild instincts. Most cat behavior stems from behaviors that wild cats use to survive, where dog behavior has been modified to better suit our needs. 

Cats are predators. Yes, your cute fluffy feline is a cold blooded killer. When you see them batting at a cat toy, they would happily do the same with a mouse, and perhaps even eat their kill. 

When cats eat prey, it’s warm. When they kill prey for food, they eat it immediately. It is close to their own body temperature at this time. Is it any surprise that your kitty expects their food to be this temperature when served to them? 

Smell and Taste 

Studies have shown that cats can smell and taste a difference between cold and warm food. Cold food doesn’t smell and taste as strong, which can make it unappealing to them. 

Smell and taste are closely linked for cats and humans. Have you ever smelled something that made you hungry? Have you ever done a taste and smell experiment? Grab your favorite food. Hold your nose and take a bite. You’ll notice that without the smell, much of the taste is gone as well. 

A cat’s sense of taste and smell is better than ours, so it’s easy to see how taste and smell changes could have a big impact. 

But My Cat Doesn’t Seem to Mind?

Some cats don’t seem to mind cold food. There are also rare cats that seem to even prefer it chilled. Just like personalities, tastes will vary from person to person, or cat to cat. 

If your cat doesn’t mind cold food, it’s not a problem to feed it to them. You do need to watch for signs of stomach upset like diarrhea. Cold food can be harder to digest, and cause stomach problems for some cats. If your cat is eating well and is healthy eating cold food, there’s no need to change your routine. 

Can cold food make cats sick?

Generally, cold food isn’t a danger to cats. However, there is one risk that you should know about. 

Bacteria

Humans digestive system is designed to handle a surprising level of bacteria.  Dogs have an even more robust system, because they are hunters as well as scavengers. It’s very rare to see a cat eating road kill or poop, but it’s common practice for dogs. 

Cats digestive system is much more sensitive. It’s not equipped to handle bacteria. Bacteria that your digestive system could handle could make your cat very sick. 

You may have experienced food poisoning at some point in your life. This is when you ingest a bacteria through food that makes you sick. Salmonella is the most well known food borne bacteria that affects humans, and it can make you violently ill. 

Cats sensitive systems can reach this level of sickness from many bacteria that can be lurking in food. When food is cooked or heated to 165 degrees, it kills most harmful bacteria. If cold food has grown bacteria, it can be dangerous for your cat. 

The issue is that you won’t always know the bacteria is there. You’ve probably encountered meat that was clearly spoiled. It smelled off, felt slimy, and probably had a strange color. However, even food that looks perfectly fine can have harmful bacteria. 

Is it OK to feed cats cold wet food?

Most experts say that you should feed your cat warm or room-temperature food for a few reasons. 

Preference

Again, most cats prefer their food warm. This is the temperature they would eat food in the wild. It has a better smell and taste warm as well. 

Bacteria

The other concern is bacteria. However, most cat owners don’t warm food enough to kill any bacteria present when warming their cats food anyway. At 165 degrees, the food is too hot to eat. It must be cooled down before serving. 

Generally, if you follow food storage guidelines, cold canned food should be safe for your cat. However, cold food that has been previously cooked should be heated to 165 degrees and then cooled before serving to your cat. Cooked canned fish like tuna is also safe to serve at room temperature.

Should you warm up refrigerated cat food?

The most common reason cat owners feed their cat cold food is because it’s been refrigerated after opening. Canned cat food should be refrigerated after opening,  but must it be heated before serving? 

Preference

Canned cat food should be safe from bacteria as long as it has been properly refrigerated. This leaves preference as the main concern. If your cat prefers their food warm, or has any gastrointestinal issues when eating cold food, it should be warmed before serving. 

Microwave Dangers

When you need to heat something, your first instinct is to stick it in the microwave. It’s quick and convenient. However, it may not be safe. 

First, microwaving the food depletes some of the nutrients. Processed food has already lost some nutrition during the cooking process, and microwaving worsens this effect. This is just the beginning. 

Pancreatitis is a big problem for cats and dogs. It can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. Owners are told that it usually occurs when a pet is fed a diet too high in fat. 

Microwaving pet food changes the chemical structure of the fats. This makes them harder to digest, and even harmful to your cat. It also increases the risk of pancreatitis. 

Lastly, the container you are microwaving could pose risks. Today’s plastics are labeled microwave safe, and they are free of pthlates and bpa. These harmful chemicals could leach out when plastic was heated, and had serious health effects. 

Even though today’s plastics, particularly those marked microwave safe, should be ok, it’s best to avoid microwaving food in plastic containers. Use a bowl or plate made from glass or ceramic. 

How to Warm Cat Food

Instead of putting wet food in the microwave, place it in a bowl of warm water. If you are warming an open can, be sure that the water level is low enough it doesn’t spill into the can. A small amount of water will allow the can to sit in the water without tipping over. 

You can also warm it in a pan on the stove. Keep the heat low, and warm it just to room temperature. Check it on your wrist to be sure it isn’t too hot before you serve. 

You can also let it warm up on the counter. Remember that it shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than a few hours, because it will begin to grow bacteria. 

Other Options

If you don’t want to warm your cat’s food, you do have a few options. One option is to simply feed them dry food. However, wet cat food has a higher water content, and many cats prefer it. 

Many owners mix the wet and dry food. If you mix them before feeding, you’ll end up with a portion of wet food that must be refrigerated. It’s also ok to feed them dry food at one meal and wet food at the next. However, they may eat less of the dry food if they prefer wet food. 

The easiest option is to simply buy smaller portions. Wet cat food is fine at room temperature until it is opened. If you plan to store it after opening, it must be refrigerated. 

There are many sizes of wet cat food available today. Small cans and pouches are both valid options. However, you’ll find smaller cans or pouches to be more expensive by volume than larger portions. You’ll need to decide if the convenience is worth paying a bit more. 

Should cat food be refrigerated?

Knowing proper cat food storage will help keep your cat healthy. It also helps the food retain its taste and nutritional value. 

Unopened Wet Cat Food

You should keep unopened cat food stored in an area between 50-100 degrees. Extreme temperature changes may also affect the quality of the food, so aim for a climate-controlled environment. A basement with a steady temperature is also an option. If your garage fluctuates between cold and hot, it’s not an ideal location. 

It’s best to store it in a dark place as well. A pantry or storage closet works well for this. As long as it’s not getting prolonged sun exposure, however, it is ok. 

Never freeze cat food, unless it is a fresh or raw cat food that is designed to be frozen. It affects the taste and can affect the nutritional composition as well. 

Opened Wet Cat Food

Once cat food has been opened, it should be refrigerated. Once cat food is opened, it is good for 4 hours at room temperature. If your cat doesn’t finish what is in their bowl, the remainder should be thrown away in 4 hours or less. 

Once the food is exposed to oxygen at room temperature, it can grow bacteria. It’s similar with raw meat. You wouldn’t leave chicken on the counter for hours, because it can grow harmful bacteria. It’s good in the fridge for 5-7 days. 

When storing wet opened cat food, you’ll need to cover it. Uncovered food will lose moisture, which causes it to dry out. It will also make other things in your fridge taste like your kitty’s favorite food. 

You can purchase plastic lids that fit on top of the can of food. These provide a great barrier for moisture and odors, and they are convenient to use. If you don’t have lids, you can also use plastic wrap. 

If the food is in pouches, you can place it in a zip-lock bag. You can also use a chip clip to close it. 

You can also put the unused food in a plastic container. This provides a good seal. Ziploc bags do prevent moisture loss, but they still allow some odor to escape. 

Dry Cat Food

Dry cat food also requires proper storage. Cat food bags are designed to prevent oxygen from getting to the food, and fat from leaching from the bag. 

When oxygen comes into contact with the food, it causes oxidation. This causes the food to  break down over time. This can affect the nutritional value and taste. 

It should also be stored between 50-100 degrees to prevent the nutrients from breaking down. The environment should be dry. Once the bag has been opened, you can store it in a container to keep it fresh. 

If storing it in a plastic container, leave it in the original bag, and put the bag in the container. If you are storing it in a metal container, you can take it out of the original bag if desired. 

Once opened, the bag is fresh for 14 days. It can stay fresh longer if you keep it in a sealed container. It’s best to only keep the food for one month after opening, even with proper storage. The fats begin breaking down as soon as fat is exposed to oxygen and light. As it ages, it won’t be harmful, it it won’t be as nutritious. It will also lose some of its flavor and smell over time. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.