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Mulch - Cocoa Bean

Cocoa bean shell products, a by-product of chocolate production, are increasingly used as mulch for landscaping. Cocoa bean shell products have an attractive odor and smell, and some dogs will eagerly eat large amounts of the cocoa shell bean mulch.

In response to increasing reports of dogs eating cocoa bean mulch, a retrospective case study was conducted to further define this unique phenomenon. Sixteen cases of cocoa mulch ingestion by dogs were managed between January 2002 and April 2003.

Of these, six cases were selected for analysis because the final outcome was known, there was evidence/obseration of ingestion, and the managing veterinarian assessed the causality relationship as medium or higher.

They concluded that dogs consuming cocoa bean mulch might develop methylxanthine toxicosis. Clinical signs shown in the case studies included vomiting and muscle tremors, but life-threatening signs were not reported. Pet owners should avoid use of cocoa bean mulch in landscaping and around unsupervised dogs.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

The sweet-smelling mulch made from cocoa bean shells seems like an attractive option to many home gardeners.

Cocoa bean mulch deters slugs and snails, and gives your garden an appealing chocolaty hue and aroma. Unfortunately, however, it is attractive to some dogs and cats, which can be poisoned by eating the mulch.

Most people know it isn’t a good idea to feed dogs chocolate. However, you might not be aware that cocoa bean mulch has the same potentially toxic agents.

There have been a number of warning emails circulating the Internet over the past several years about the dangers of cocoa mulch for pets, and as always, it’s time to tease out fact from fiction.

Why Is Chocolate Dangerous?

Cocoa mulch, is made from the spent cocoa bean shells from chocolate production. Cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine, which are methylxanthines, and these chemicals are toxic to animals.

In dogs, low doses of methylxanthines can cause gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain) and muscle tremors.

However, if consumed in large quantities, cocoa mulch can be fatal to animals.

Higher doses can cause severe and even life-threatening symptoms such as rapid heart rate (tachycardia), seizures and death. According to animal poison control, the clinical severity of symptoms is dose dependent.

There has been at least one confirmed death of a dog after consuming cocoa mulch. Drolet reported that one dog, which had ingested a lethal quantity of cocoa bean mulch, developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. An analysis of stomach contents revealed the cocoa bean shells contained 0.46 percent theobromine.

The hidden hazard in this garden fertilizer is certainly not worth the risk to your pets!

Hershey, the maker of cocoa mulch, reports 98 percent of dogs have an aversion to the smell and won’t eat it. But since this statistic was reported by the manufacturer rather than an independent party, you should assume that it’s a conservative estimate, at best.

According to Dr. Larry Family of the Aqueduct Animal Hospital:

“Puppies are very curious animals. So they’re going to be attracted to various things around the yard, and the effect of eating cocoa mulch seems to be more severe in the small breeds, and it depends on the amount they actually ingest.”

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