Many gardeners are familiar with the use of cocoa bean shells, a by-product of chocolate production, in landscaping—it’s especially popular for its attractive odor and color and eventual degradation into organic fertilizer. But many pet parents don’t realize that cocoa mulch, if eaten in large quantities, can be toxic to their furry friends.
“Dogs are attracted to the fertilizer’s sweet smell,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services, “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 raised 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 with cardiac monitoring and preventing further exposure.
“We advise pet parents not to use cocoa mulch in areas where dogs can be exposed unobserved, particularly dogs who have indiscriminate eating habits,” says Dr. Hansen. He further recommends that pet parents consider using a nontoxic alternative, such as shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark. These will keep your pooch—and your garden—happy and healthy.
If you suspect your dog has ingested cocoa bean mulch, please contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. For more potential garden and lawn pet hazards, check out Guide to Pet-Safe Gardening.