Question: Is it possible to keep a truly kosher home when you have a pet? I’m a vegetarian and I buy only kosher food for myself but I can’t find kosher dog food. When I can I buy her pareve, fish and vegetable meals, but it’s not always easy to find. So despite eating no meat myself, I bring unkosher meat into my home for my dog. What should I do?
–Alan, New York
Answer: Good news, Alan. Unless you’re planning to take a portion of your dog’s food for your own breakfast, the dog food doesn’t need to be kosher.
The Torah explicitly allows us to feed non-kosher food to dogs when it says, “You must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:30) The meat that this verse refers to, “flesh torn by beasts in the field” can’t be kosher because it wasn’t slaughtered in the way mandated by Jewish law, and anyway the meat could have come from a non-kosher animal.
We shouldn’t eat that meat, according to the Torah, but dogs surely can. Therefore, don’t worry about bringing non-kosher dog food into your house–it doesn’t make your kitchen any less kosher. (And though the Torah doesn’t stipulate cats and hamsters as well, the same rules apply for them.)
However, the Jewish law also dictates that one shouldn’t benefit from meat and milk being cooked together. Feeding your dog certainly counts as a benefit to you. So while your dog doesn’t have to keep kosher, she shouldn’t eat meat from a kosher land animal (like a cow, sheep, or lamb) that has been cooked with milk. It is, however, fine for her to eat meat from a non-kosher animal with milk (pork or horse, for instance). Fish and chicken are also allowed to be combined with milk in pet food. (Yoreh Deah 87:3)
There is one brand of pet food, Evangers that has been checked by rabbinic authorities and is certified as suitable for kosher homes, but according to Jewish law, this is unnecessary (and the dog food isn’t suitable for human consumption). There’s really no reason not to buy regular dog food.
The one time that you do want to be careful about bringing pet food into your home is on Passover. Pretty much any kind of pet food you can buy is going to be hametz, which is prohibited to have in your possession on Passover. There are a few ways to deal with this problem. Luckily, Evangers is certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council as free of all hametz, so you can buy it just for Pesach, or you can make your own dog food for a week.
Happy eating to you and your pooch!
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: TRAYF, Origin: Yiddish, not kosher
Pronounced: PAHRV or pah-REV, Origin: Hebrew, an adjective to describe a food or dish that is neither meat nor dairy. (Kosher laws prohibit serving meat and dairy together.)