Beth Yount of Bala Cynwyd can say with certainty that Passover pet food options have become easier to find during the more than 20 years she has been a cat owner.
“There was a time when it was probably a lot harder, when there were fewer options,” she said. “People in general based everything on grains, but now that people are so concerned about being grain-free or gluten-free, the pet industry has become the same. It gets easier every year, as people become more devoted to their pets and more concerned about their diets and the pet’s diet.”
For those who find keeping kosher important, generally their pets can eat non-kosher foods, though some may have an issue bringing it into the kitchen. There are two exceptions though: mixing meat and milk, and chametz during Passover.
Congregation Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Rachel Kobrin explained that this is because people can’t eat, own or benefit from chametz during Passover, just as they can’t benefit from a cooked mix of meat and milk throughout the year.
“Owning pet food that has chametz in it and feeding it to your pet, while you’re not directly eating it, you are still owning it,” she said. “Even if you could make an argument that someone else is owning it and feeding it to your pet, our pets, when they’re fed, give us lots of love and attention often and a happier disposition. There’s some benefit that we get from our pet’s joy, so I would argue that pet food does need to be clear of chametz.”
Alhough not a pet owner herself, Kobrin suggests looking for pet food recommendations from sites that compile lists of kosher foods.
“Kashrut is really meant for people, not for animals,” she said. “[Passover] is really the exception.”
Yount feeds her two cats, Patches and Skittles, normal pet food the rest of the year, but because she doesn’t want to benefit from chametz during Passover, she goes with what is recommended by Star-K Kosher Certification and the Orthodox Union for the holiday. She looks at the lists and goes with whatever she is able to most easily find.
A member of Lower Merion Synagogue, she is quite observant of kashrut during the holiday and does a thorough cleaning of her kitchen.
“You can’t own any chametz, and there are lots of wheat-based fillers in regular cat foods during the year,” she said. “We don’t want to own any chametz, so we buy the cat food that doesn’t have it.”
For this Passover, Yount bought pet food online from Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. She hadn’t bought cat food online for Passover before, and she found that doing so expanded her options.
The company has been endorsed by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. Evanger’s President Holly Sher said the reason why it has been endorsed and not certified is that the standard for kosher food is not as high for pets as it is for people.
According to Evanger’s website, its products are available in 34 stores in the Philadelphia area. The company recommends calling a store before going over.
“It’s a very small population that has to keep kosher, as we all know,” Sher said. “Yet, it’s a good thing [to offer kosher pet food].”
Sher decided to provide kosher pet food after a brief conversation with a neighbor about 10 years ago. By that point, she had run Evanger’s for years.
Sher is Jewish but does not keep kosher. While walking her dog one day, she ran into her neighbor who was also walking her dog. The neighbor explained that she fed her dog in the garage because she didn’t want to bring non-kosher food into her house.
“I said, ‘Well, I can help you,’” Sher recalled. “She goes, ‘Well, what can you do?’ I’ll make my food kosher. I know how to do that, and so I just did it. It was just over a five-minute conversation.”
To get the endorsement, she had to change a few of the recipes to make sure there were no grains, she noted. Only wet pet food can be made kosher because dry pet food has a lot more ingredients. For that reason, she recommends that pet owners transition their pets slowly to wet food if they eat dry food prior to Passover.
For pet food the rest of the year, Evanger’s simply doesn’t mix meat and dairy. The meat itself isn’t kosher because no one wants to pay kosher meat prices to feed their pet.
Though Sher hasn’t found that her clientele has changed much because she offers kosher pet food, she finds she gets more appreciative customers.
“I get customers who really, really appreciate us,” Sher said. “I wish there was a lot more like that.”
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