Pet Alert – Cocoa bean mulch can be toxic to dogs

I use mulch in my garden beds, as I’m sure many of my fellow garden readers do as well.

I use shredded cedar and sometimes small cedar chips. It sure works well on the garden and looks nice too, but I suppose from a pet point of view that mulch isn’t the best bet. Plus the mulch I use is colored red and I have no idea if the dye is toxic or not, but I do know that coniferous woods like cedar are toxic to most animals.

My puppy is slowly learning to stay away from the garden, but when she was younger she was attracted to the cedar mulch and I found myself constantly pulling pieces of it out of her mouth (as soon as she grabbed it of course). She’s a Labrador Retriever – a breed that’s notorious for eating just about anything they can get in their mouth. They also have one of the highest rates of bowel obstructions (and surgeries due to said bowel obstructions) because of all the indigestible stuff they eat. That’s why I’ve been worried about my dog and my garden ever since I got her. Not to mention the toxic plants that I grow as well!

Cocoa bean mulch has become quite popular in recent years. It looks nice in garden beds, breaks down like other natural mulches and I believe it smells nice too.

If you happen to use Cocoa Bean Mulch in your garden and own a dog you might want to read the report that i just received in my ASPCA newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

If your dog likes to spend his summer grazing in your garden, his treat-seeking nose may lead him to one danger in particular: the sweet-smelling, but potentially harmful cocoa bean mulch. Made of cocoa bean shells and considered desirable for its eventual degradation into organic fertilizer, this gardener’s choice can be toxic to canines if eaten in large quantities—and some dogs have been known to eat amazing amounts!

In 2007, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) handled 26 cases of cocoa bean mulch ingestion—a third originating in California. “Dogs are attracted to the fertilizer’s sweet smell,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, ASPCA Veterinary Toxicologist and APCC Director, “but like chocolate, cocoa bean mulch can be too much for our canine companions.”

Ingestion of large amounts of cocoa bean mulch, which contains residual amounts of theobromine—a methylxanthine found in chocolate and known to be toxic to dogs—may cause a variety of clinical signs. These typically start with vomiting, diarrhea and elevated heart rate, and if large amounts are consumed, they may progress to hyperactivity, muscle tremors and possibly other more serious neurological signs.

Treatment includes administering medical-grade activated charcoal, bringing tremors under control, cardiac monitoring and preventing further exposure.

“One key point to remember is that some dogs, particularly those with indiscriminate eating habits, can be attracted to any organic matter,” says Dana Farbman, APCC Senior Manager, Professional Communications. “Therefore, if you have a dog with such eating habits, it’s important that you don’t leave him unsupervised or allow him into areas where such materials are being used.”

By now most of you have probably already added mulch to your garden, that is, if you regularly do add mulch. If you used cocoa bean mulch be sure to keep your dog away from your garden beds!

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  1. Abaculus says:

    Thanks for the information. I need to make sure I keep the neighborhood
    animals away from my flower garden. Do you have any idea if its poisonous to cats?

  2. John Christopher Tervolds says:

    It is toxic to both cats and dogs. However, I believe cats are less likely to eat it. Dogs, on the other hand, will often eats things just for kicks.

  3. flushdoggy says:

    Thanks for the info. I have a yorkie who i only feed home made food. I will watch out the cocoa bean

  4. Have you considered using recycled rubber mulch? If you get the right kind, it should be okay for your pets and family.

  5. Lawn Care Service Columbia MO says:

    Wow, I hadn’t even thought of this – I own a pet blog and will post about it! Thanks for reminding me that what we use in the yard is important for those of us who have pets.

  6. Types of Dogs says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I will be writing about this on my website.


  7. Miss Platnum says:

    This is good to know! I recently moved to the suburbs so automatically we have dogs and garden with flowers… Thanks a lot for the article!

  8. Very good advice about being careful of what you have in your garden. Good idea to look up what’s bad for dogs and cats. A good tip about what to do for cats and your garden is leave orange peals around your garden bed. Cats absolutely hate citrus.