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Rabbanit Alissa

Last time, we talked about kitniyot. This time, we are going to explore another hot topic: How do we take care of some of our favorite family members over Pesach? Our pets!

Pesach can be a digestively hard time for humans, but it is especially tricky for pets. Animals get used to their regular diets, and when any diet is changed, it can lead to great discomfort and illness for them. But given that most pet food has chametz in it, what are the rules for how we care for these loving and dependent family members?

You may think-- even though my pet loves challah and Shabbat walks-- he/she isn't halachically Jewish, so what's the problem!? The problem is that prohibition of chametz on Pesach is not only about achilat chametz (eating chametz). It's also about benefitting from chametz through its being eaten by others whom we are responsible for feeding. This includes our animals.

Akiva and I adopted a dog in September (her name is Judy and she is a poochon whom we absolutely adore!), and even if we sold her chametz dog food to a non-Jew, we would still halachically be the beneficiaries of her eating it on Pesach (as we would benefit from her being nourished by it-- halachically, she 'belongs' to us and any good thing that happens to her, is a direct benefit to us). Plus, we would be stealing the food from the non-Jew to whom we sold it!

So what do we (and other pet enthusiasts) do?

There are several options:

  1. If you are willing to board your pet over Pesach, you can sell him/her to a non-Jewish boarder, who can continue feeding your pet his/her regular pet food. The halachic preference here is that you do not sell the food to the boarder yourself, rather that the boarder purchase the food from the store independently (this prevents the appearance that you've simply made the boarder your agent to serve your chametz to your pet). But this option requires that you don't spend the holiday with your pet, which can be hard for some of us. This leads us to option #2.
  2. If your pet will be celebrating Pesach with you, then you must find a chametz-free food alternative. This can mean finding packaged pet food that is entirely kitniyot (which as we discussed last time is fine even for Ashkenazim to own and benefit from on Pesach). Or you can cook special kitniyot food from scratch for your pet (like plain rice with boiled chicken). Regardless, you will have to wean your pet off of his/her regular food slowly before Pesach to avoid dietary issues and then reintroduce the chametz food slowly after Pesach (the chametz food should absolutely still be sold along with the rest of your chametz). Alternatively, you can keep your pet on a year round kitniyot-only diet. For many, though, this can be monetarily challenging or labor intensive. Which leads us to option #3.
  1. For the first time ever, this year there is an OU-P pet food alternative (only for dogs and cats). For $30 you can get 24 servings (2 per package, and it comes in a case of 12 packages). The only ingredient is chicken, so while it still requires a diet change (with the drawbacks described in #2), it may have fewer consequences. For many, this is worth a try (it's what Akiva, Judy, and I will be doing)!
  1. Finally, right now there is another interesting halachic possibility being suggested by Rabbi Chaim Jachter. He points out that it would be permissible to feed your pet food that:

a. was purchased before Pesach,

b. is less than 50% chametz, AND

c. would be deemed unfit for human consumption.

The third of these requirements is the tricky one, as it is halachicly debated whether dog and cat food (though not fish food) actually meets the criterion of "unfit for human consumption". Therefore Rabbi Jachter hinges this leniency on the severity of dietary discomfort and illness that a change in food would have on a particular pet.

If this seems like the only viable option for you, Rav Yosef and I invite you to read the two articles below from Rabbi Jachter, and to contact us to discuss:

Finally, as we work to rid the house of chametz before Pesach, what should we do with our pets' food bowls/containers? Their food receptacles do not need to be kashered, but it is good practice to clean them out of any chametz residue.

Pesach is a time when the home is the center of the ritual experience. We invite guests and celebrate the sedarim with those we love. So it is only natural that we want our pets to feel welcome and a part of the joy of freedom with us. We hope this information makes that a little easier this year! Afterall, the Torah says they were also part of the miracle: וּלְכֹ֣ל בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֹ֤א יֶֽחֱרַץ־כֶּ֨לֶב֙ לְשֹׁנ֔וֹ לְמֵאִ֖ישׁ וְעַד־בְּהֵמָ֑ה לְמַ֨עַן֙ תֵּֽדְע֔וּן אֲשֶׁר֙ יַפְלֶ֣ה ה׳ בֵּ֥ין מִצְרַ֖יִם וּבֵ֥ין יִשְׂרָאֵֽל, "But to all the children of Israel, not one dog will whet its tongue against either man or beast, in order that you shall know that the Lord will separate between the Egyptians and between Israel" (Shemot 11:7). ;)

Fri, June 2 2023 13 Sivan 5783