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Pet Food

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Are there any restrictions as to which foods I may feed my pet?  

A. Pets are not required to keep kosher (even if they feel like a full-fledged member of the family!) and, therefore, they are permitted to eat non-kosher food.  However, there are certain non-kosher foods which we are not only forbidden from eating, but we are even enjoined not to have any benefit/pleasure from them.  Those foods may not be fed to a pet because when one does so, the individual – the owner – is having a forbidden benefit from the non-kosher food.  The lists of foods which have this stricter restriction (known as assur b’hana’ah) include:

  • Milk and meat which were cooked together (see below)
  • Chametz on Pesach (and on Erev Pesach after a given time in the morning)
  • Non-kosher wine or grape juice (according to many opinions, see Shulchan Aruch & Rema YD 123:1, Shach 108:25 & 124:71, Mishnah Berurah 467:33 and Sha’ar HaTziun 467:57)

Within the first category (milk and meat cooked together) some of the details are that:

  • It is limited to beef, lamb, or goat meat (even if they are not kosher) and does not apply to poultry or to non-kosher species (e.g., pork) (Shulchan Aruch YD 87:1 & 3).
  • It includes most dairy products (e.g. whey, milk powder, casein) but does not apply to lactose because it is only considered dairy mid’rabannan.  [It is known as meimei chalav; see Shulchan Aruch YD 87:8, 81:5 and Shach 81:12.]
  • The milk and meat must be cooked together, but if they are merely blended together without heat, the mixture is non-kosher but may be fed to pets.  [For this reason, hand soap that contains animal fat and milk may be used; the ingredients are blended but not cooked together.]

Some of the details regarding chametz in pet food are:

  • We cannot benefit from chametz but can benefit from kitnios.  Therefore, our pets can eat foods made from rice, corn, soy, etc., even though we would not eat them on Pesach.  [Any utensils used with kitnios should be washed in a sink which is not used for Pesach dishes.]
  • In checking pet food ingredients for chametz, not only should you be on the lookout for the five chametz grains – wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt – but you should also avoid brewer’s yeast (a common flavoring agent, which is chametz), grain distillers dried yeast (likely chametz), malt (a barley-based sweetener), pasta, and other generic words which may refer to a chametz ingredient (e.g., flour, gluten, middlings, starch).
  • Many varieties of animal food contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, some of which may well be chametz, and there is no realistic way for a consumer to determine which of them are problematic.  The good news is that vitamins comprise such a small percentage of animal food that they are batel.  Therefore, it is generally accepted that if the animal food was created before Pesach, it may be used on Pesach.

Accordingly, when choosing pet food, one must be sure that it does not contain any of the aforementioned items.  The cRc assists pet owners with this task by reviewing the formulations of several pet foods made by a specific company and approving of their use for Pesach and year-round.  Many other pet foods are also acceptable for use by anyone who is familiar with food ingredients and has the knowledge and patience to review the ingredient panel.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, March 8 2024.