During the week of Passover, observant Jews abstain from eating leavened foods, like bread and pasta. But for some, the practice of keeping kosher for Passover extends to their pets as well.
Passover, which concludes on April 13, celebrates when the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites fled Egypt so quickly that they didn’t allow their bread time to rise, so they took it to go in the form of a dry, cardboard-like flatbread called matzah (no amount of cheese and sauce can cover up the taste, in my opinion). Thus, modern Jews have to endure a week without leavened foods, or chametz, to remember that we suffered.
For strict observers of the holiday, there can be no chametz in the household during the week of Passover, and this includes pet food. While some pet owners temporarily sell their pets to non-Jews (don’t worry, the process is symbolic), there are other options that don’t involve being away from one’s four-legged friend for a week.
For the past 20 years, Star-K, a kosher certification organization, has put out a yearly list of approved kosher for Passover pet foods. The list is extensive; not only does it cover food for dogs and cats, but it also lists approved foods for fish, birds, reptiles, and rodents. Grain-free foods from popular brands like Purina, Friskies, and Kirkland are featured on the list and observant Jews are allowed to shop at non-Jewish-owned stores like Petsmart and Petco prior to Passover, making it easy to stock up before the first seder.
For owners who don’t want to buy specialized food for their pet only to use it for a week (because, let’s face it, pet food is expensive and animals can be picky), many switch their pets to a raw diet consisting of meat, poultry, and fish. Kitniyos, or rice and beans, are also permitted to be fed to pets during Passover. Some people, as highlighted by the New York Post, simply feed their pets what they eat for the week.
For Jewish pet owners who do opt to change their pets’ diets for Passover, they often start the process of introducing new foods months in advance to give their pets time to adjust. It’s recommended that any dietary changes for animals be made gradually, as rapid changes can really mess up our little buddies’ digestive systems. So whether you’re making alterations for Passover or any other reason, start by mixing the new food with your pet’s current food over the course of a week.
I’ve certainly joked in the past about making my dog keep kosher for Passover. Maybe next year I’ll make her suffer with me.