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Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

Posted April 14, 2010 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

It's commonly known that chocolate can be toxic to dogs, but did you know that some types of dark-colored mulch contain similar ingredients to chocolate? Cocoa mulch can be harmful to dogs if they eat it, and it doesn't take much for a dog to eat mulch, as I recently learned.

What is Cocoa Mulch?

Cocoa mulch is also known as cocoa shell mulch, cocoa bean mulch, and cocoa bean hull mulch. It's made of shells of cocoa beans just as pine bark mulch is made of the bark of pine trees. It is preferred by some people because it darkens, rather than fades, with age. It also lasts a long time and smells like chocolate.

Supposedly cats are deterred by the scent of cocoa mulch, although I found no research to back this up. (Nobody likes the smell of cat urine in the garden – I've found some granules that can be sprinkled around that keep the cats away for awhile.)

What is Chocolate Toxicity?

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine -- stimulants that are harmful to pets. Ingestion can cause symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal upset to increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and even death. Various systems are stressed by these chemicals, including the kidneys and central nervous system.

How much theobromine does it take to make your dog sick? Of course, that depends on your dog, but most sources estimate it at about 100-150 mg/kg. Baker's chocolate (the kind used in recipes, not for eating straight out of the package) has the highest concentration at 390 mg/oz. Milk chocolate has 44 mg/oz, and semisweet has 150 mg/oz.

Has My Dog Been Poisoned?

Using the estimates above, here are some toxic doses of chocolate:

  • A 10 pound terrier that's eaten 10 oz of milk chocolate (1 oz/pound)
  • A 21 pound beagle that's eaten 7 oz of semisweet chocolate (1 oz/3 pounds)
  • A 90 pound lab that's eaten 10 oz of baker's chocolate (1 oz/9 pounds)

The same amounts of milk and semisweet chocolate for the lab would not be toxic, but they would upset him.

Is Cocoa Mulch Toxic?

Cocoa mulch contains anywhere from 300 to 1,200 mg/oz of theobromine. This makes it even stronger than baker's chocolate; therefore, it certainly sounds toxic to dogs!

Most dogs won't eat mulch, but if you have a curious or "hungry" dog like I do, you never know. My dog ate away at some mulch in our yard for weeks because some cooking oil had been spilled on it. We finally had to cover the area with a tarp and some stones. The mulch alone was enough to make her sick, let alone if chocolate had been added to the equation. It would probably be best to keep cocoa mulch out of the yard where pets are present.

Resources:

http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/cocoamulch.asp

http://www.nationalcocoashell.com/faq/

http://www.petplace.com/dogs/cocoa-mulch-toxicity/page1.aspx

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Participant

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
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#1

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 4:08 AM

How about learning how to spell? Cocoa(bean) shell is not the same as coco(nut) shell.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 7:14 AM

Hi - this blog is about cocoa beans - as in chocolate. So I believe the spelling is correct.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 7:28 AM

What is your point?

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#4

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 9:15 AM

It seems a little irresponsible to use Cocoa mulch at all! You can control your own pets, but there is no way to control the pets of your neighbors. Of course - if you wanted to "teach the neighbor a lesson" about leash laws, maybe that is what you want, but why take it out on the poor dog?

Mulch is nothing but a bug attractant anyway... Stick with something non-toxic or buy a weed eater.

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#5

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 9:42 AM

So this is a by product the cocoa companies have come up with for the cocoa beans after processing it for chocolate.

I think there are plenty of other ways to come up with mulch without having to buy it.

Of course cocoa mulch will have the same properties as chocolate they come from the same plant. So what else is new.

I can't imagine someone paying to spread cocoa mulch into their planters other than it's new and exciting.

You'd be better off just making a compost pile with all your grass trimings and leaves and vegetable skins and using that.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 9:47 AM

Unfortunately, lots of people choose to landscape with cocoa mulch. They love the dark color and the fact that it's fairly fade-resistant. The smell is also a novelty that helps move it from the shelves.

I prefer pine bark mulch myself. The smell reminds me of Christmas.

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Anonymous Poster
#7

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 11:17 AM

You know I have always herd this however one day about 1week before Christmas our German shepherd got into and ate 16 one pound boxes of chocolate covered cherries that we were going to give out as gifts they were hand rolled, he ate them foil and all. by the time we got home and saw the mess we called the Vet, he said that our dog was going to die and that was that and he couldn't do anything about it.

So we waited and waited and waited some more, that dog blew a nasty fart and with the bits of foil in his stool for several days nothing happened. He lived 12 more years, the vet said that he dodged a bullet and that was the last chocolate he ever got. However what really made him sick was when we got some very nice pork ribs and gave him some of the bones, he got extremely ill and we thought we were going to loose him as he wound up with a nasty case of pancreatitis, the Vet told us never to give a dog pork as they have a tough time digesting the fat, that little treat cost us hundreds of dollars in vet bills, He went on to say that no one makes Pork dog food for just that reason. That was the last taste of pork any of our dogs got and if you love your dog you will never give them pork, the Vet said that it is worse than chocolate.

Michael

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 12:08 PM

It sounds like the cherries were probably covered in milk chocolate. My aunt had a Yorkie that ate a package of Hershey kisses, foil and all, and was fine apart from a slight stomachache. Milk chocolate has the lowest concentration of the chemicals that are toxic to dogs.

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#9

Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 1:35 PM

This is probably off topic, but a good dog attempted suicide story...

I had one that was in a kennel, so she was deprived of some of the better things in life (rummaging the woods for remains of unlucky woodland creatures), so I thought I would give her a treat one time. I had been deer hunting and after the butchering process had a front leg that was one complete piece from the hoof to the de-boned shoulder blade. When I fed her that night I fed her the normal bowl of dog food and after she had finished it (wanting to be sure she ate what was good for her, rather than the treat), I tossed the leg in the corner of the kennel, patted her on the head, and wished her an especially good night!

The next morning I stopped for the good morning belly rub on the way off to work, and there was no leg in the kennel. I drove to work cussing my wife for neglecting her of her means of passing the time, and never thought much beyond that. Two days later my wife mentioned that the dog was not eating anything, nor producing the normal "tootsie roll" byproduct of eating - AT ALL. While we were on the subject I mentioned the leg and told her she probably was bored with the normal meal after trying the treat. She asked "What leg?" The dog had eaten the entire thing from hoof to shoulder blade - bone, marrow, meat, fur, and all!

We promptly took her to the vet the next day, being that it was the third day without taking a poop. The vet had never heard of such a stupid thing (eating the entire bone in one sitting), and prescribed some steroids to kick-start her digestive system. She was completely stopped up for nearly 10 days, but eventually everything "worked itself out", and she was no worse for the wear. That was the last time my wife allowed me to feed the dog anything she (the wife) didn't approve of first. She (the dog) lived to a ripe old age and never had a similar problem, but I still wonder how that entire 3' long bone assembly was gotten past the dogs uvula!!!! I picture this poor dog walking around with an x-ray view showing a deer leg from snout to just below the tail! How could it even curl up to cover it's nose with it's tail?

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#10
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Re: Cocoa Mulch and Toxicity in Pets

04/15/2010 2:11 PM

It attacts bugs in the ground and those bugs are beneficial to the soil.

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