Several years ago, my home was infested with little moths. Mostly in the kitchen. My husband and I could not figure out where they were coming from.
When the exterminator came, he knew exactly what they were. To our surprise, he went right to the pantry to assess our problem. He told us these moths were in one of the dry food products on our pantry shelves.
We could never identify which food item it was—even after we emptied every packaged dry food into plastic containers. We found nothing.
But knowing what I do now, I suspect they came from our dogs’ food.
We never found bugs in any of their food or ours. But these common household invaders love pet food! And other dry food.
What are these things and where do they come from?
These pantry pests can come into your home in any dry food package. You can just as easily infect your home from a box of cereal as you can a bag of dog food.
The most common food pest—and the one that infested our home—is the meal moth. You may find these moths in the food package or flying around your home like we did.
Larder beetles, cabinet beetles and carpet beetles are also common pantry pests. Thankfully, we didn’t have those.
Moths and beetles go through the typical life cycle you would expect from a bug… egg, larvae, pupa and adult.
If you open a bag of dog food and find bugs in any of these life stages, don’t panic! Believe it or not, it’s not that unusual.
If you’re wondering how you’d know, the moth eggs are white grey and measure 1 to 2 hundredths of an inch. The mother will lay about 400 eggs at a time—hard to miss. And beetles can lay between 45 and 90 eggs at a time.
The larvae look like worms. Yuck! They’re caterpillars that will turn into moths or beetles.
The worms will move away from the food before they pupate (make a cocoon). So you may find them on your pantry shelves, or the walls or ceilings in the kitchen.
Once they spin their cocoon, there may be webbing or silk in the corners of the pantry or in the food packaging itself.
Adult moths are small, only 1/2 to 5/8ths of an inch, and can be reddish or grey/white depending on the type of moth.
However, light attracts the beetles. You may see them on your windowsills.
But if you open a bag of dog food and find worms or beetles, you have a problem.
If you find these in your pet food should you change foods?
Not necessarily. Pet food manufacturers try their best to minimize the likelihood of these creatures getting in their pet food.
They heat the food to high temperatures during the manufacturing process. This eliminates these pests. But often the problem occurs after the food leaves the manufacturer.
In a warehouse, a store, or your home, pet food is a magnet for these moths and beetles.
Pet stores sell many brands of food that come from lots of different locations (manufacturing facilities and warehouses) where the contamination could have occurred.
Also, pet stores sell birdfeed, a common source of food for these moths and beetles.
Birdfeed does not go through the heating process during manufacturing that dog and cat food does. So contamination of the bag of pet food can happen at a pet store that sells birdfeed.
Remember too, these bugs may already be living in your pantry when you bring the pet food home. They will be attracted to your pet’s food and find their way into the bag. This is a good reason not to store your pet’s food in the pantry.
Likewise, if the pests are in the bag of pet food, they will find their way to the other dry foods in your pantry.
Storing pet food in another part of your home won’t eliminate the problem. But if these pests are in your pet food when you bring it home from the store, keeping it out of the kitchen may prevent spreading the pests to your food.
But don’t store pet food in the garage. It can get too hot causing the nutrients to break down.
Although pet food manufacturers do their best to eliminate these pests, it’s still not uncommon for them to get into your pet’s food. And it’s not a reflection on the food manufacturer or the quality of the food.
If you open a bag of food and you find eggs, worms, silk webbing, moths or beetles, return it to your pet food retailer. The retailer should take the food back without question and exchange it for a fresh bag.
If your pet has eaten the food before you notice these guys are living in the bag, don’t be too concerned. They may be repulsive but they’re harmless.
If moths or beetles are living in your pantry, how do you get rid of them?
Inspect the dry food in your pantry. If you find pests in any life stage, throw out the whole package.
Store all foods that aren’t contaminated in plastic or glass containers.
Vacuum the entire pantry especially in cracks and corners where bugs or bits of infested food can be hiding. Then throw out the vacuum cleaner bag.
You may find a stray moth flying around for up to 3 weeks. But if you still see them after 3 weeks, you haven’t gotten rid of the source.
If there’s a food product you’re not sure isn’t contaminated, you can put it in the freezer at 0 degrees for 4 days. But personally, I’d throw it out if in doubt.
Don’t ask your exterminator to spray an insecticide. That won’t work.
You’d only be spraying the empty cabinets where you keep your food. You’re not going to spray your food, or your pet’s food. And if you don’t get rid of the source, the bugs will live on.
Since my experience with meal moths, I empty the dog food bag into a dog food bin as soon as I get it home from the store. If there’s anything living in the bag that’s not supposed to be there I’ll find it before the pest can contaminate other food in my home.
Have you ever found worms, moths or beetles in your pet’s food? Share at the top of the page.