In the previous Halachot, we have explained that one may not interrupt by speaking between reciting a blessing and eating. For instance, if one recited the Shehakol blessing on a cup of water in his hand, one may not speak after having recited the blessing until one drinks some of the water.
We have also explained that if one did mistakenly interrupt with speech between reciting the blessing and eating, one must repeat the blessing for the food one wishes to eat, besides for one who spoke about a matter related to eating. For instance, if one recited the Hamotzi blessing on bread and before dipping the bread in salt, one realizes that there is no salt on the table and exclaims “Please bring salt”, this is considered an interruption related to the meal and is not considered an interruption.
The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (40a) states: “Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: One may not eat before feeding one’s animal as the Torah states (Devarim 11), ‘And I shall give grass in your field for your animals, and you shall eat and be satisfied.’” Since the Torah mentions animals before man within the context of eating (contrary to what would have been more proper, i.e. mentioning man first), it is therefore teaching us that one may not eat before feeding his animal. The Rambam and all other Poskim rule likewise. Clearly, there is no distinction between domesticated animals, undomesticated animals, or birds regarding this law and one must feed all of them before eating himself. Thus, if one has a pet in his home and would like to eat something, one must first feed the pet and only then is he permitted to eat.
Regarding just tasting some food before feeding one’s animal, the Turei Zahav (Chapter 167, Subsection 7) writes that tasting alone is not prohibited, as the Gemara writes that one may not “eat” before feeding one’s animal; we can infer from here that tasting is indeed permitted.
Nevertheless, Maran Ha’Chida in his Birkei Yosef (ibid. subsection 5) questions this ruling of the Turei Zahav, for the Rif and Rosh’s version of the Gemara is that one may not “taste”; many other Rishonim quote the same text. If so, we can infer that merely tasting alone is also prohibited. Indeed, this is the text of the Gemara in Masechet Gittin (62a) that one may not even taste food before one has fed one’s animal. Thus, even tasting alone is prohibited. Maran zt”l rules likewise in his Halichot Olam (page 352).
Regarding drinking before giving one’s animal to drink, the Sefer Chassidim writes that in this regard, man comes before his animal and he may indeed drink before giving his animal to drink, as the verse (Bamidbar 20) states, “And you shall give the congregation and their animals to drink.” Similarly, the verse (Bereshit 24) states, “Drink and I shall also give your camels to drink,” whereas regarding eating the verse states, “And he gave straw and fodder to the camels” and only then does it say, “And [food] was placed before him to eat.”
Thus, halachically speaking, one may not taste any food before feeding the animals one has in his care; however, regarding drinking, one may, in fact, drink before giving his animals to drink. Nevertheless, this only applies when withholding the drink from them does not cause the animals any suffering; however, if they suffer as a result of the lack of food or drink, their caretaker must supply them with all of their needs in any case due to the law of “suffering of animals,” for which the punishment is quite severe.
We should indeed point out that if one has animals under one’s care, one must be exceedingly careful not to cause them any suffering either as a result of withholding food and drink from them or with regards to their living conditions and the like, for this is a very grave sin and the Hashem hears the cries of these animals and the result may be a very harsh punishment for their keeper. There is a very famous incident related to this idea where the holy Ari z”l told a woman who could not conceive that the reason for her punishment was because she made it difficult for her chickens to drink water. For this reason, several luminaries, including the Sefer Peleh Yo’etz, advise that it is preferable not to get involved with this to begin with and it is not worthwhile to raise animals at all if one does not know how to take care of them in a way which will not inflict suffering upon them. This primarily applies to raising certain problematic animals, such as chicks and the like, which are easily made to suffer. In any case, if one has already entered this situation, one must be exceedingly careful regarding the prohibition of causing pain to animals by caring for them in the appropriate way, as prescribed by Halacha.