It is common knowledge that the eating of chametz is forbidden on Passover, but what do you do when your cat has been eating cans of chicken and gravy all year? What about your hamster that loves his oat-based treats?
Since Jewish law forbids even deriving benefit from chametz during Passover, your pet cannot consume it for the duration of the holiday, say many rabbinical authorities. In fact, it can’t even relieve itself on it.
Star-K asserts that one may not feed stray animals chametz, give zoo animals dispenser food (which may contain grains) or even allow pet litter to contain chametz during the holiday. If you choose to board your pet, you should be certain it will not be fed chametz, the Baltimore-based kashrut organization advises.
While the simplest solution may seem to be to sell your pet for Pesach, some Baltimoreans find it’s just too hard to part with Fido.
Karen Schwartzman has found a way to keep her pets happy and obey halacha. Years ago, she gave her dogs soft, prescription, chametz-free food for Passover, and they liked it so much she decided to switch them to it permanently. For hard food, she uses Taste of the Wild brand, a company that promotes a grain-free diet for dogs and cats.
“I wanted a high-quality food, and grain is not good for the dogs,” Schwartzman said in an email.
For the unsure pet owner, Star-K publishes a list of approved foods each year.
Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, who complies the list of foods for Star-K, said putting the register together is a lengthy process.
While the list is not all inclusive, the organization tries to include options for consumers at every income level. Those foods that are included are checked and double checked, first by an online ingredient search, then again in person when Goldberg visits local stores to read the ingredients listed on the packaging of the foods for sale.
“Many people want the list, and they want it early,” said Goldberg. “The pets have to be weaned off the regular food for a couple weeks and given the Passover food, so they want to know what’s available.”
Some stores, such as PetSmart, even keep a list on hand so employees can help customers determine which food is OK to purchase. The Owings Mills Petco, with the help of a rabbi, set up endcaps in their store that feature chametz-free foods for customers to purchase.
Other pet owners told the JT over Facebook that they feed their animals grain-free food all year, since many have trouble getting their pets to adjust to a new diet just for the holiday. If an owner prefers to switch only for Pesach, Star-K recommends weaning the pet off the regular food and onto the chametz-free variety slowly by mixing the two together. This gets the animal used to the flavor and texture of the food before it is the only kind available.
Introducing any changes to your animal must be done gradually, said dog behaviorist and obedience instructor Joy Freedman.
“If you’re going to change anything in a pet’s world, you always want to do half [old] and half [new],” she said.
Freedman feeds her own dogs a grain-free diet year-round because she says she doesn’t trust the quality of the grains used in pet food.
“If you ate McDonalds for a week and then you ate at Woodberry Kitchen, you’d have a similar effect,” remarked Freedman. “It takes a dog’s digestive track a long time — really like three days — to get used to any change in type of diet.”
She recommends basing your pet’s Passover diet on what he or she is already eating right now. If their food is chicken-based, center their holiday diet on chicken. If they usually eat beef, feed them beef with other foods, such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato, mixed in.
Many of the Jewish pet owners Freedman talks with keep their animals on a grain-free diet year-round.
“Switching the dog’s food can be more toxic to the dog’s system,” she said. “They will go through intestinal distress, and nobody wants to clean that during Passover to begin with.”