Staying away from chametz and grains for the duration of Passover is all very well for us, but what about our pets?
The answer is anything but simple. Our pets are not obliged to watch their diets on Passover, of course, but sharing our living spaces, as many of them do, they're very influenced by what we do. And one of the things we do before Passover is clean our houses of lots of stuff that dogs and cats like to eat.
According to Star-K, a kashrut certification and information agency, "the Talmud Yerushalmi states that before acquiring an animal, one must be sure he will be able to properly provide for it. Certainly, the owner must also know the applicable halachos."
One such religious ruling concerns sending one's pet to a non-Jewish friend or a kennels for Pesach.
According to Star-K, "One may not leave his pet with a non-Jew during Pesach if he knows that chometz will be provided. Since many pet foods contain chometz, one should not leave his pet at a kennel unless he supplies the kennel with non-chometz food, or at least stipulates which non-chometz food the kennel may serve.
"In case of necessity, one may sell his animal to a non-Jew who will then take it onto his own property. The non-Jew may feed the animal as he chooses. The sale should take place only under the guidance of a rabbi who is thoroughly familiar with these laws."
OK, we certainly don't want to sell him, so the dog's staying home. Now we have to take a close look at his dog food.
The following items commonly found in pet food are not acceptable for Pesach – either for feeding the dog or even keeping in the house: Wheat (cracked, flour, germ, gluten, ground, grouts, middlings, starch, barley (cracked, flour), oats (flour, grouts, hulled), pasta, rye, and brewer's dried yeast.
Dog and cat food made with gravy or sauce generally contain chometz, Star-K, tells us, and any questionable ingredient "should be reviewed by a competent rabbinic authority."
But no need to worry; Star-K provides a comprehensive list of kosher-for-Pesach pet foods, covering not only dogs and cats, but also fish, birds (parrots, parakeets, cockatiels and macaws,) hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits.
Unfortunately, all the recommendations seem to be applicable to the United States only. Israeli pet owners are going to have to look around for local equivalents.
As for legumes (kitniyot in Hebrew,) rice and beans may be fed to animals, even though they are not eaten by Ashkenazi Jews. Other ingredients that are commonly listed on pet food ingredient panels and are acceptable for animals on Pesach are beans, buckwheat, brewer's rice, corn, grain sorghum (milo), millet, peanuts, peas, rice, safflower, sesame, soybeans, soy flour, and sunflower.
OK, we've dealt with our pets' food, but that's not everything. For example, there's still the question of the bowls they eat from. Is it necessary to buy new bowls?
Star-K's answer is no, though "the bowl, cage and living area used year-round should be thoroughly cleaned of chometz before Pesach."
And kitty litter? Star-K says that clay- or wood-based types are fine, but some brands are wheat-based and must be avoided. Examples of the latter are Wonderwheat and Swheat Scoop.
May one feed chometz to a stray animal on Pesach? No, says Star-K.
As the pet-lovers among us know, it's not easy to simply change a pet's diet. Like us, they're creatures of habit and don't like change. Star-K has a suggestion: "It is advisable to mix regular and Pesach food together one to two weeks before Pesach before switching completely to Pesach food. The ratio of regular and Pesach food should be changed slowly to get the animal used to the new diet."
Finally, with the kids out of school and outings the order of the day, is it acceptable to purchase feed for the animals if you visit a zoo during Pesach?
Star-K's answer is no. "This feed is often chometz and should not be purchased or fed to the animals during Pesach."
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