Reviewed January 2023
To some people, the concept that there are restrictions regarding what can be fed to animals may seem amusing. They wonder: “Really now, must dogs also eat kosher?” Of course, animals don’t need to eat kosher food. However, Halacha clearly instructs people regarding what, how and when to feed them.
The Talmud Yerushalmi1 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. The following is a discussion of some of these halachos, including the subjects of meat and milk mixtures, Pesach, buying and selling non-kosher pet food, feeding animals on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and feeding animals before you eat.
STAR-K is not necessarily recommending ownership of pets; rather, we are providing information for those owners who require it. We recommend that you discuss with your own rabbi whether or not pet ownership is appropriate for your family.2
Other important halachic issues pertaining to pets are: catching, walking, moving, or petting animals on Shabbos; causing pain to animals; and neutering or spaying.3 These issues are beyond the scope of this article.
Meat and Milk Mixtures
It is permissible to derive benefit from non-kosher food. Therefore, non-kosher foods may be fed to animals without hesitation.4
However, one may not benefit from cooked meat and milk mixtures.5 One who feeds his pet such mixtures gains benefit, since he need not feed it any other food. (Feeding stray animals meat and milk mixtures is permitted by some authorities, since one derives no apparent benefit.6 However, some authorities also prohibit this maintaining that there is benefit in fulfilling one’s desire to feed a stray.7)
Dog and Cat Food
Dog and cat food are the most common pet food which present this concern, so let’s look at their manufacturing process.8 The base of the food is usually grain, meat, fish or chicken, which is mixed with other ingredients. For dry food, hot water or steam is added. The food is subjected to high heat and pressure and then dried. Canned food is mixed, cooked, canned and sterilized. Sometimes, the food is cooked in the can itself. In general, since dog and cat food is cooked, this presents a potential meat and milk concern.
Other conditions also apply. Combinations of meat and milk are forbidden to be given to pets only if the combination is forbidden M’doraisa, Biblically, to be eaten by Jews, and both meat and milk are from a kosher species.9 Therefore, only if beef and milk are cooked together, is it forbidden to feed this mixture to animals.10 However, it is permitted to feed to animals a combination of chicken and milk, or pork and milk, even if the mixture is cooked. 11
In trying to ascertain what is in a pet food, one might question the accuracy of the ingredient panel. Since the U.S. government strictly regulates the labeling of pet food,12 one may assume the labels are correct with regard to the laws of feeding animals.13 Nevertheless, one must be careful about reading the label:
- If the label states “meat” as an ingredient, the source may be cattle, sheep, or goats, in which case it is subject to the prohibition of meat and milk. It may also be pork, in which case it is permitted. Since the type of meat is unknown to the consumer, then if it is mixed with milk the pet food may not be fed to animals. If the meat source is from horses, the label must state “horsemeat.”14 The food would then be permitted for pets.
- One should be aware that casein and whey15 are considered milk, and animal fat is considered meat.
Chometz from the five grains16 is assur b’hanaa on Pesach, i.e. we are forbidden to eat it or derive benefit from it. One may not even have chometz in his possession on Pesach.
The following commonly listed items found on pet food ingredient panels are not acceptable for Pesach: Wheat (cracked, flour, germ, gluten, ground, grouts, middlings, starch17), barley (cracked, flour), oats (flour, grouts, hulled), pasta, rye, and brewer’s dried yeast. Note: Any questionable ingredient should be reviewed by a competent Rabbinic authority. Dog and cat food made with gravy or sauce generally contain chometz.18
Kitniyos, legumes, such as rice and beans, may be fed to animals even though they are not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews. The following commonly listed items found on pet food ingredient panels are acceptable for animals on Pesach: Beans, buckwheat, brewer’s rice,19 corn, grain sorghum (milo), millet, peanuts, peas, rice, safflower, sesame, soybeans, soy flour, and sunflower.
Buying After Pesach20
Petco and Petsmart are examples of non-Jewish owned stores where one may purchase pet food after Pesach without a problem. If a store is approved for buying chometz after Pesach for human consumption (e.g. it is on the Star-K published list), then pet food with chometz may also be purchased there.
Giving Pets to a Non-Jew for Pesach
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.21 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.22The sale should take place only under the guidance of a Rabbi who is thoroughly familiar with these laws.
Q. Are “grain-free” pet foods acceptable?
A. There has been a proliferation of “grain-free” dog and cat foods on the market. While we still recommend checking the ingredient panel on those foods, they are a good place to start your search for an appropriate food.
Q. Is it necessary to buy a new food bowl for your pet for Pesach?
A. No. However, the bowl used year-round should be thoroughly cleaned before Pesach.
Q. If I am going away for Pesach, what should I do with my fish?
A. Vacation blocks often have chometz. One can purchase a block without chometz or use an automatic fish feeder and fill it with non-chometz food.
Q. During a Pesach visit to the zoo, may one purchase the animal feed?
A. No. This feed is often chometz and should not be purchased or fed to the animals during Pesach.
Q. Must pet food with chometz be put away and sold before Pesach?
Q. Can kitniyos, such as rice and beans, be fed to animals on Pesach?
Q. What are some common chometz ingredients in pet food?
A. Wheat (cracked, flour, germ, gluten, ground, groats, middlings, starch), barley (cracked, flour), oats (flour, groats, hulled), pasta, rye, and brewer’s dried yeast. Any questionable ingredient should be reviewed by a competent rabbinic authority.
Q. What are some common ingredients which may be kitniyos but are permitted in pet food?
A. Beans, buckwheat, brewer’s rice, corn, grain sorghum (milo), millet, peanuts, peas, rice, sesame, soybeans, soy flour, and sunflower.
Q. Is pet food “with gravy” permitted?
A. Most often gravy contains chometz. Read the ingredient panel carefully.
Q. Are the vitamins or minerals in pet food chometz?
A. They may be chometz, but are batel (nullified) due to the small amount added.
Pet Food as a Business
The Shulchan Aruch states the following prohibition: It is forbidden to buy or sell food as a business if the food is Biblically prohibited (such as pork or improperly slaughtered beef).23 May one engage in the business of buying and selling treif pet food? Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l ruled that since the pet food is clearly marked as such, one is permitted to conduct a business of buying and selling pet food.24 The prohibition applies only to food meant for humans. Note: Rav Moshe Feinstein’s ruling does not refer to pet food which is otherwise forbidden, such as milk and meat mixtures or chometz on Pesach.
Feeding Animals First
The Gemara25 states that one must feed his animals before he himself eats. This is learned from the order of the verse found in Krias Shema – “And I will give grass in your fields for your animals and you will eat and be satisfied.”26 The verse first mentions food for animals and subsequently food for people. Some authorities interpret this as a true D’oraisa, Biblical command, while most understand this to be D’rabonon, Rabbinical in nature.27 This halacha applies to one’s animals, birds, and even fish if they depend on a human to feed them.
The importance of this requirement is seen from the following halacha: Normally, one who speaks between reciting a brocha and taking a bite of food must make another brocha. However, if the interruption was made in order to tell someone to first feed the animals, he need not repeat the brocha.28
On the other hand, one is permitted to drink prior to giving his animals a drink. We learn this from Rivka, who offered Eliezer water before giving some to his camels.29 One reason given for the distinction between food and drink is that a person is more likely to become involved in his eating as opposed to drinking.30
However, if children and animals need to be fed at the same time, one must first feed the children if they are incapable of feeding themselves.31
This commandment does not obligate a person to feed his animals every time he eats. Each animal has a different feeding schedule. The obligation is that before one eats, he should consider whether his animals also need to be fed. One need not attend to the feeding himself; he may appoint someone else for this. Additionally, he must ensure that the needs of the animals are taken care of it should they become hungry at any other time of the day. Even if one is fasting, he must attend to the needs of his pets.32
Food Fit for Humans
Common custom allows for feeding animals food that is fit for humans.33 This apparently is not consistent with the Gemara’s34 statement that food fit for humans should not be fed to animals. One may rely on the prevalent custom in this matter. There are various explanations cited for this leniency: 1) The Shulchan Aruch does not codify this as Halacha since there is perhaps another opinion in the Gemara which disagrees,35 2) The Gemara was not referring to a case where one is obligated to feed his animals.36
Some authorities state that it is not proper to feed animals from the bread over which one recited the brocha of Hamotzi.37 Some authorities further state that it is not proper to feed animals scraps from one’s table, since a table is compared to the mizbayach, altar, and imparts some degree of holiness to the food.38 However, these matters are beyond the letter of the law and are intended for those people who want to be meticulous.
If the food will be thrown out anyway, then it may be fed to animals in all of the above cases.
Feeding Animals on Shabbos or Yom Tov
A person is permitted, and indeed required, to feed his animals on Shabbos and Yom Tov provided that the animals are dependent on him for sustenance, as is the case with pets.39 Other animals may not be fed, since it is assumed they may find their food elsewhere and feeding them involves unnecessary tircha, effort, which is prohibited.40 Dogs are a singular exception to this rule, and any dog may be fed.41
Even when feeding is permitted on Shabbos and Yom Tov, one must minimize his effort. For example, if a dog is fed a large slab of meat, and he can eat it without further preparation, the owner must not cut it up into smaller portions. If the dog cannot eat it because it is too large, the owner may cut it into a few pieces.42
A person is permitted to carry outside on Yom Tov even without an eruv. However, one may not carry food or other supplies for animals unless there is an eruv.43 Similarly, although on Yom Tov food may be cooked (or selected, etc.), this may not be done for animals.
Some people have the custom of putting grains or bread out for birds on Shabbos Shira44 in recognition of the role the birds played while Bnei Yisroel traveled in the desert.45 Since these birds are not dependent on people to feed them, this custom presents a halachic problem. Some authorities have presented various explanations in defense of this custom,46 and one may rely on them if he so desires. However, the proper course of action is to refrain from putting out the food on Shabbos.48 One may, however, put it out on Friday.
During Tashlich on Rosh Hashana, some people have the custom of throwing bread into a river for the fish. This presents a similar halachic concern, since the fish do not need people to feed them. Although some authorities defend this custom, it is best to refrain from this practice.48
The Torah is replete with examples of how we must be mindful of the needs of animals. We are forbidden to cause pain or anguish to animals. We must not muzzle work animals while threshing, so that they are free to eat. Even Moshe Rabbeinu’s appointment as leader of the Jewish People was a result of the care and concern he exhibited while tending sheep. Concurrent with showing this concern for our animals, we must follow the Torah’s requirements with regard to feeding them.
1. Kesuvos 4:8.
2. See, for example, Bava Kama 83a, Shulchan Aruch C.M. 409:3, Sefer Chasidim 1038, and Sheilas Yaavetz 1:17.
3. Shulchan Aruch E.H. 5:14
4. See Shmos 22:30, Shach Y.D. 117:3, Aruch Hashulchan 117:19, and Igros Moshe cited in note 23.
5. This is derived from the Torah, which on three separate occasions states the prohibition against cooking meat and milk together. The Gemara (Chulin 115b) explains that this repetition is necessary in order to teach us that cooking, eating, or benefiting from meat and milk mixtures is forbidden. The rabbis forbade consumption of any mixture of meat and milk, even uncooked. However, with regard to the prohibition of benefiting from meat and milk mixtures, there are no such additional restrictions. (Rama Y.D. 87:1).
6. Gra cited in Sha’ar Ha’tziyun O.C. 448:75. He opines that it is forbidden to feed chometz to stray animals due to the stringency of the prohibition, but meat and milk mixtures may be fed to them.
7. Taz Y.D. 94:4, cited by M.B. 448:28.
8. Fish, bird, hamster and rabbit food contain no actual meat, but they could contain meat by-products which would be subject to the prohibition of milk and meat.
9. Y.D. 87. If the meat is from a kosher species but is a neveila, the Rambam holds it would not be included in the issur hana’a, but our custom is to follow those who are strict in this matter. See Pischei Teshuva 87:6.
10. If the combination of beef and milk is mixed, but not cooked, then Jews are rabbinically prohibited to eat it. If baked or fried together it is subjected to dispute, whether it is Biblically or rabbinically prohibited – poskim are strict in this matter. See Pischei Teshuva 87:3 and Gra 87:1. Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 87:25 writes that steamed mixtures are forbidden mi’safek.
11. Chicken and milk, even if cooked, is prohibited to be eaten by Jews by rabbinic decree. Pork is not a kosher species. Horsemeat and milk is likewise permitted to be fed to animals since horsemeat is not a kosher species.
12. According to the FDA, pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. The Federal regulations, enforced by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), establish standards applicable for all animal feeds and govern proper listing of ingredients. Some states have adopted regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These regulations are more specific in nature. (www.fda.gov, “Pet Food Labels”)
14. “Understanding Pet Food Labels”, Purina Office of Consumer Affairs.
15. See Badei Hashulchan 87:75.
16. Wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye.
17. ‘Starch’ listed without further description may in fact be wheat starch and is unacceptable.
18. Manufacturing equipment is likely to be used for both chometz and non-chometz pet foods and cause a transfer of chometz taste into the latter. The non-chometz pet foods may still be used since there is no benefit to the owner from the chometz taste. ( See O.C. 550:7 ).
19. By-products of brewing are to be regarded as chometz. However, brewer’s rice is simply a description of rice whose kernels are broken. See I Title 7, Volume 7, Sec. 868.302
20. After Pesach, there is a rabbinical injunction against eating or deriving benefit from chometz she’avar alav haPesach, chometz that was in the possession of a Jew on Pesach. Therefore, after Pesach, consumers must ascertain that the chometz they purchase was not in the possession of a Jew on Pesach. Chometz may be purchased from a store owned by a gentile or from a Jewish-owned store whose owner properly sold the chometz before Pesach.
21. If one does not know whether or not his pet will be fed chometz by a non-Jew, he is permitted to place his pet with the non-Jew. One need not assume that it will be fed chometz. (O.C. 448:7. See, however, Chok Yaakov note 23.) Nonetheless, as stated in the text, one must assume that a kennel will feed its animals chometz.
22. The owner may still not specifically instruct the non-Jew to feed chometz.
23. Y.D. 117.
24. Igros Moshe YD 2:37.
26. Deuteronomy 11:15.
27. Beiur Halacha 167:6.
28. O.C. 167:6. Beiur Halacha states that this is only b’dieved, but l’chatchila should not be done.
29. M.B. 167:40. See Pri Migadim M.Z. 7.
30. Responsa Har Zvi 1:90.
31. Igros Moshe O.C. 2:52. The elderly or infirm who are incapable of feeding themselves also take precedence.
32. Piskei Teshuvos 176:108.
33. See Machatzis Hashekel O.C. 171:1.
34. Taanis 20b, cited in Magen Avrohom 171:1.
35. Eliya Rabba, cited in M.B. 171:11.
36. K’sav Sofer O.C. 33.
37. M.B. 167: 97 in the name of the Sha”lah.
38. Reishis Chochma (Sha’ar Hakedusha 15:40), Kaf Hachaim 167:141, Ben Ish Chai (Emor 1). According to Ben Ish Chai, this applies only to animals that are not kosher, such as cats and dogs, but not to kosher animals such as sheep and cows.
39. O.C. 324:11. Another Jew’s pets may also be fed. See Beiur Halacha.
40. According to Aruch Hashulchan (324:2) one may feed any animal which is visibly hungry and cannot find food.
41. Mishna Berura 324:31. This is due to the fact that Hashem had special pity on the dogs either because it is more difficult for them to find food, or in recognition of the role they played during the Exodus when no dog ‘whet his tongue’ against the Jews.
42. Do not cut into small pieces (because of the prohibition of tochen). M.B. 324:3.
43. O.C. 512:3.
44. The Shabbos of Parshas B’Shalach.
45. Either because they sang to Hashem after the splitting of the sea, or because they ate up the Manna which had been put out by Dasan and Aviram.
46. Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 324:3, Tosfos Shabbos.
47. M.B. 324:31.
48 M.A. 583:5 (See Machatzis Hashekel), Mateh Efrayim 598:11.