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Cocoa bean mulch and your pets

Hospitalized Labrador Retriever with elizabeth collar in a cage
What did you eat?

As we see almost every day, someone online wants to make sure that “pet owners know to avoid this product”.  With springtime and gardening ideas in the air, the current concern making the rounds on social media is about the use of cocoa mulch.   Something that smells like chocolate is sure to entice your pup (especially certain breeds, like Labradors) and so the questions become, when should we be concerned or should we avoid the use of cocoa mulch in our yards?

Before we get into the mulch itself, let’s review what we know about chocolates and our pets.  When we consider chocolates and cocoa products, the dangers to our pets come from a class of chemicals known as methylxanthines.  Specifically, chocolate contains theobromine as well as caffeine and these two chemicals can cause GI upset in our dogs.  Beyond vomiting and diarrhea, some dogs may experience heart arrythmias or even seizures.  Some chocolates are worse than others because they contain higher percentages of the theobromine and caffeine ... products with high levels of cocoa liquor (the liquid that is produced after grinding the hulled cocoa beans) are more toxic.  Thus, cocoa powder is worse than baking chocolate is worse than dark chocolate is worse than milk chocolate.  In very general terms, most dogs can handle about 1 ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight without serious issue.

Large piles of cocoa bean hulls
Cocoa bill hulls prior to becoming mulch

How does cocoa mulch fit into this?  Well, cocoa mulch is a byproduct of chocolate production. It consists of the hulls of the cocoa bean and these MIGHT still contain enough theobromine and caffeine to be problematic, especially if your pup eats a significant amount of the mulch.  Some brands may note that they have “removed the methylxanthines," but in reality, some mulches could contain anywhere from 0 to 255 mg of theobromine per ounce of the mulch.   For reference, the toxic doses for theobromine in dogs are 9 mg per pound for mild signs and about 18 mg per pound for severe signs.  If your enthusiastic canine companion weighs about 20 lbs and eats an ounce of cocoa mulch, you might be in for a night of cleaning up some messes from your pup! Beyond any potential GI signs, like vomiting and diarrhea, or any potential serious issues, like heart problems, there is also the potential for your dog to develop an obstruction.

The chocolate aroma is greatest at the time right after you have spread the mulch. The good news is that the effects of rain, heat, and the sun will help to lessen the amount of methylxanthines over time, so the danger will actually decreases the longer the mulch is out.

As always, it’s important to review potential health hazards for your furry friends, but do remember to double check and verify information.   Cocoa mulch CAN be dangerous, but a little common sense will help keep your playful pup safe!


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