Although one is allowed to feed pets non-kosher foods, there are still kashrut issues that one has to be aware of. Throughout the year, not only are we commanded not to eat foods that contain a meat and milk mixture, one is also not allowed to derive benefit from them. Feeding pets these foods is considered a derived benefit and, therefore, it is forbidden. On Passover, we are commanded not to eat chametz, nor may we derive benefit from or own it. Having pet food, which contains chametz in one’s possession during Passover, transgresses this prohibition. On the other hand, it is permitted to derive benefit from non-kosher and, therefore, one is allowed to feed pets non-kosher food.
Ashkenazi Jews who do not eat kitniyot are allowed to feed kitniyot to their pets on Passover. The Torah’s prohibition of eating, owning, and deriving benefit from chametz is limited to the five grains – wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. As an extra safeguard, Ashkenazi Jews have been instructed to avoid kitniyot as well. (See our article on kitniyot in this guide.) This safeguard prohibits eating kitniyot, but does not forbid owning and deriving benefit from kitniyot. Therefore, one may feed kitniyot to pets on Passover.
What should one be aware of when buying pet food?
Dogs and Cats
Throughout the year, one has to make sure that pet food with meat does not contain dairy. When it comes to regular food, we are forbidden to have dairy mixed with any sort of meat or poultry, however, with pet food it is only forbidden to have dairy mixed with beef. It is not a problem if dairy is mixed with poultry, fowl, or meat from a non-kosher species (i.e. pork). Therefore, if the label states “beef”, “lamb”, “meat”, or similar declaration it must not have dairy ingredients. “Animal fat” should be considered an ingredient that cannot mix with dairy. Whey and casein are some of the not-so-obvious dairy ingredients that could be found in pet food.
For Passover, pet food cannot have chametz ingredients. Ingredients made of wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelt, pasta, and brewer’s yeast are chametz. Also, note that “starch” could be wheat starch and should be avoided.
Kitniyot ingredients are permitted. Common kitniyot ingredients are: beans, buckwheat, corn, millet, peanuts, peas, rice, sorghum and soybeans.
Be careful with pet foods that are “gluten free” as they still might have chametz ingredients. “Grain free” pet foods seem not to be a problem, but make sure to check the ingredient label.
Fish, Birds, and Small Animals
Feed for fish, birds, and small animals have its own unique challenges as many feeds are grain based. Since some people have difficulty finding suitable pet food, there are those who make their own homemade “Kosher for Passover” pet food. Also, beware that although some reptile foods are not a problem, the feed might be packaged with oatmeal or wheat flakes which is chametz.
While it seems like a good solution, it is not so simple to halachically avoid the issue by giving your pet to a non-Jew for Passover. If you wish to do so, you must discuss with your Rabbi how to go about this.
As always, if you have any questions about specific ingredients please call the COR and we would be pleased to assist.