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How Long To Leave Dog Food Out: The Importance of Timing

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

As a new dog owner, I used to obsess over how long I should leave my dog’s food out. On the one hand, you want to make sure your dog has enough food to eat, but on the other, you don’t want to leave food out for so long that it becomes spoiled or attracts pests.

How long you leave your dog’s food out depends on the type of food you are feeding your dog. Wet, homemade, and raw food can be left out for up to 20 minutes before it spoils, becomes less appetizing, and attracts pests. However, dry dog food can be left out much longer – between 6 to 8 hours.

In this article, we’ll explore the following:

  • How long can you safely leave out each type of dog food
  • Factors influencing the extent to which dog food can be left out
  • Consequences of leaving dog food out too long

As dog owners, we spend a lot of time evaluating and choosing the best food for our furry friends. It’s just as essential to know how to keep your dog’s food fresh when feeding him.

How Long Should I Leave Dog Food Out? A Rottweiler looking at his bowl not eating his food.

How Long Should I Leave Dog Food Out?

You should leave dog food out as long as it takes your dog to finish it, provided that your dog completes his food in less than 15 minutes. Any leftovers should be emptied within a few minutes after the dog walks away from his bowl.

This encourages your dog to finish his food, establishes your authority as his provider, and ensures your dog gets fresh and healthy food. You can read more on this subject here, Should I Take My Dog’s Food Away If He Doesn’t Eat It? (Picky Eating Dogs).

Five factors dictate the extent to which dog food can be left out. This section will explore each so you can decide the best time frame for feeding your dog.

1. How Aromatic Is The Food?

Generally, the more aromatic the dog food, the less time it should spend out in the open. Pests can get attracted by the aroma of the food even if the food is kept in a kennel away from prying eyes. Dry food isn’t as aromatic as wet, homemade, or raw food, meaning that the former type can be left out for much longer.

2. How Moist Is The Food?

Do you remember the 5-second rule? Though it has been debunked, I grew up thinking that any morsel or snack picked up within 5 seconds of falling on the floor was fair to eat.

The main reason it didn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny was that the moisture content of the food dictated how long it took to get contaminated. Dry snacks like hard candy didn’t have as many germs upon dropping compared to wet items.

Even the myth busters demonstrated this to an extent…

While there is no 5-second rule for dogs, the moisture content’s relationship to the speed of contamination is quite relevant. The drier the food, the longer it can stay in the open without getting spoiled.

3. How Quickly Does Your Dog Finish His Food?

The third factor that dictates the recommended duration for leaving out dog food is how quickly your dog finishes it.

Ideally, the food must be left out long enough for the dog to finish it, and this time should not be more than 15 minutes. However, some dogs take longer to be done with their food. Don’t keep the dog food out perpetually, though. You don’t want your dog to realize he can be picky.

4. Where Do You Place The Dog Food?

Here, the main concern is whether the food is outdoors or indoors. If it is outdoors, then you can develop a fanbase among uninvited birds. Outdoor bowls must be emptied as soon as the dog walks away.

See also: 7 Easy Ways To Keep Birds From Eating Dog Food

Indoor bowls shouldn’t be left out continuously, either. But you can afford to keep the food out for around twenty minutes without gathering a crowd of birds.

5. How Humid Is The General Environment?

The final factor which most dog owners overlook is the general humidity. In a dry environment, food can stay out longer without going bad. In a humid atmosphere, even dry food can get contaminated by microorganisms, if not insects.

Now that we have gone over the five factors that affect the general duration for which you can keep dog food out, let’s look at the specific timeframes for three main types of dog food in an average atmosphere.

How Long Can You Leave Dry Dog Food Out?

How Long Can You Leave Dry Dog Food Out? A German Shepherd looks at a bowl of dry dog food and is totally disinterested in eating it.
My dog Willow is not eating her dry dog food.

You can leave dry dog food out for around 6-8 hours, as without moisture, it will remain mold free and not spoil. However, if you leave kibble out all day, it can still become exposed to bacteria and become stale, with a substantial loss of aroma.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my German Shepherd eats dry food with either a wet food or a ‘human food’ topping. However, that wasn’t always the case, as when she was younger, she would eat kibble with nothing added.

“But if there were ever an odd time when she didn’t eat her kibble, I would still remove it after 15-20 minutes or so, as I wasn’t keen on leaving it out for hours.”

World of Dogz

Please keep in mind that some dogs do not find dry food appetizing, which might mean that they will be picky. Take your best measures to make dry food flavorful – so it gets devoured as soon as you put it down.

Do not resort to perpetual availability as a tool to encourage eating. It will only encourage picky behavior.

How Long Can You Leave Wet Dog Food Out?

You may read elsewhere that you can leave wet dog food out for up to 4 hours. Really? Would you eat your dinner after it had been left out for 4 hours? I know I wouldn’t – and neither should your dog.

Unless you’re deliberately letting your dog free feed based on your vet’s recommendation, you should leave wet dog food down for no longer than 15-20 minutes. Depending on the perishability of the food and environmental conditions, you might want to leave it out for even less.

When the bowl is placed outdoors, it must be emptied immediately after your dog walks away.

Wet dog food is generally more appetizing, so you won’t usually have the disinterested dog dilemma. And if you have it, empty out the bowl anyway because you don’t want the food contaminated by bird poop or infested by bugs while your canine is acting finicky.

How Long Can You Leave Raw Dog Food Out?

Raw dog food can be left out for 15 to 20 minutes indoors and should be emptied out within 5 minutes of your dog walking away from the bowl, especially if it is placed outdoors. Raw dog food can have ingredients that are appetizing to insects, birds, and mammal pests too.

To avoid attracting raccoons and rats, ensure there is no raw dog food left behind in your dog’s food bowl.

This recommendation also depends on the specific recipe. Some recipes feature freeze-dried ingredients, while others contain fresh and moist meat. The more perishable the final product, the less time it should spend out in the open.

Bowl of Raw Dog Food. How Long Can You Leave Raw Dog Food Out?

Consequences of Leaving Dog Food Out (With Timeframes)

Now that you know the acceptable time frame for leaving dog food out, let’s go over what happens to the food after it has been left standing for a while. This section covers the effects of food left out for different spans of time.

The Food Becomes Less Appetizing (After 5 Minutes)

After 5 minutes of being untouched, the odds of your dog perpetually ignoring his food increase exponentially. Food becomes less appetizing by the minute, so any attempt at making your dog like his food by leaving it out all day is inefficient at best and counterproductive at worst.

“If my German Shepherd does not eat her food within the first 5 minutes, I know she isn’t going to bother with it. It’s almost as though it become less tempting by the minute!”

World of Dogz

The Food Starts Attracting Microbes (After 20 Minutes)

Depending on the environmental conditions, the type and load of bacteria, and the type of food, bacterial contamination can occur to unsafe levels anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours. The USDA refers to this as the “2 Hour Rule.”

Dog Looking at His Bowl of Food

The Food Gets Spoiled (After 20+ Minutes)

Wet, home-cooked or raw dog food doesn’t take long to go bad. After around 20 minutes of idle exposure, most dog food will begin to spoil. In the right conditions, bacteria can quickly grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.

Bacteria multiply most quickly in the 40 to 140 °F temperature range, sometimes doubling in just 20 minutes. That’s why we should not leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours or one hour in temperatures over 90 °F.

Final Thoughts

You should train your do to finish his food as soon as you put it down. Fortunately, this does not require much effort because most canines are pretty interested in finishing their food. Leftover food should be cleaned out of the bowl immediately, as it can get contaminated and can erode your dog’s food consumption discipline.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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