Cocoa Mulch Toxicity

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Dr Donna Spector

As spring and summer approach, many people begin tending to their lawns and gardens.  Many will consider using cocoa bean mulch as a natural, chemical-free fertilizer.  This mulch is made from the shells of spent cocoa beans used in chocolate production.  It degrades into an organic fertilizer which naturally deters slugs, snails and other pests, while giving gardens a very attractive rich color and appealing chocolate smell.  Unfortunately these same characteristics may make it appealing to dogs, who can be easily poisoned from its toxic effects.

Cocoa bean shells and mulch contain the stimulants theobromine and caffeine; methylxanthines which are both toxic to dogs.  Dogs are highly sensitive to methylxanthines and low doses can cause gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.  Higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures and even death.  In fact as little as 2 ounces of cocoa mulch can cause stomach upset and just over 5 ounces can cause seizures.  Death has been reported after the ingestion of just over 9 ounces of mulch.   While milk chocolate contains much less of the toxic compounds, if you suspect your dog has gotten into ANY type of chocolate, contact your veterinarian for immediate advice.    

As a pet owner, it is advisable to use less toxic, pet-friendly alternatives such as shredded pine or cedar bark in landscaping projects.  Prevent dogs from wandering unsupervised into other landscaped yards to avoid unintentional poisoning.  If you suspect your dog has eaten cocoa mulch or any other toxic substance, seek veterinary attention immediately.  Prompt action by your veterinarian can save your dogs life. 

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