As the weather warms, our thoughts turn to outside activities like tidying foundation plantings and sprucing up flower beds. Mulch may be one of your first purchases at the lawn and garden store. It provides protection for plants, helps keep the soil moist, and makes the area look well-groomed. Carefully choose a mulch that is pet safe. Some types of mulch can be dangerous for pets if ingested. Others can cause allergic reactions.
It is common knowledge that chocolate is toxic to pets so no one would leave candy kisses or tempting chocolate bars in a flower bed. If you spread cocoa bean mulch for landscaping, you may as well leave a trail of sweet chocolate goodies in your garden.
Some vendors advertise that if you like the smell of chocolate, cocoa bean mulch is for you. That shouldn't be the case if you have a pet. Cats are more likely to use cocoa bean mulch as a nice litter box, but some may take a nibble.
On the other hand, dogs especially puppies are chewers by nature. Chewing mulch may be a matter of curiosity or boredom but ingesting cocoa bean mulch can cause serious medical problems. It is derived from the shell of the cocoa bean that is a by-product of the chocolate industry.
Like chocolate, the mulch contains theobromine and caffeine the chemical compounds that are highly toxic and potentially fatal to dogs. Snopes.com reports that cocoa mulch contains 300-1,200 mg of theobromine per ounce, making cocoa mulch one of the strongest concentrations of theobromine a pet is likely to encounter in a chocolate product.
Hershey's chocolate company markets the aromatic cocoa shells that come off the bean during the roasting process as cocoa bean mulch. They acknowledge that studies show 50% of dogs that eat cocoa mulch do suffer physical harm, but maintain that 98% of dogs won't eat cocoa mulch. That is great for the non-munchers, but what about the 2% of dogs that do gobble the stuff?
Dogs that do ingest cocoa mulch may demonstrate symptoms of theobromine poisoning including vomiting, tremors, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), hyperactivity or diarrhea, seizures, and even death. Immediate veterinary care is imperative at the first sign or suspicion that a pet has ingested any of the mulch.
Pine needle mulch can also pose a danger to your pet. If eaten, the sharp pine needles can actually puncture the stomach lining. This is a very serious condition that requires prompt veterinary attention.
If you have pets, there are many safe alternatives to cocoa bean and pine needle mulches. Mulches from the bark of many types of hardwood trees are available and safe. Cedar and cypress mulches are highly prized by some but safe bark mulches of many other types like oak and pine are available.
Toxin free mulches are not totally risk free as they can pose a choking hazard if eaten by a dog. Some dogs develop allergic reactions to mulch that can cause a rash, pus filled bumps, excessive itching and irritability. Seek medical attention if you suspect your pet has an allergic reaction to garden mulch.
A supplement like NuVet Plus® cannot protect your pet from the toxic effects of cocoa mulch, but it can keep your pet strong and healthy which makes him better prepared to face any physical challenges including allergies. The best solution is to avoid using cocoa bean mulch and to monitor your pet's outdoor activities.
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.