The Full Story
Cocoa bean mulch smells like chocolate - to humans and to dogs. The mulch does indeed come from cocoa beans, from which we get chocolate. (The mulch is made from the shells.) Most dog owners know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Unfortunately, cocoa bean mulch can be poisonous, too.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine. The same substances are found in cocoa bean mulch. Dogs that swallow too much can have vomiting, diarrhea, a very fast heart rate, tremors, and seizures. Death is uncommon but has happened.
How much cocoa bean mulch is too much? It's hard to know. It depends on how much theobromine is in the mulch, and there's no way for a pet owner or gardener to tell. The dog's weight matters, too; the smaller the dog, the greater the danger. Also, the more mulch a dog eats, the greater the risk.
It's best if dogs are kept away from ALL sources of chocolate, including mulch made from the discarded cocoa bean shells. Consult your veterinarian: if a dog does eat cocoa bean mulch, giving hydrogen peroxide to cause vomiting might be the first treatment. If a lot of mulch was eaten, or if the dog is very small, the vet might want to give activated charcoal. Of course, any dog with symptoms needs to go to the vet right away.
There are a lot of mulch choices. If you have pets, you may want to leave the cocoa mulch behind in the garden center and choose an alternate. If you have questions about cocoa bean mulch, theobromine, caffeine, or chocolate you can call the poison specialists any time. The 24-hour number is 1-800-222-1222.
Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Abstract: Hansen, S., Trammel, H., Dunayer, E., Gwaltney, S., Farbman, D., and Khan, S. Cocoa bean mulch as a cause of methylxanthine toxicosis in dogs. Journal of toxicology Clinical toxicology. 2003;41: 720.
- Train your dog to avoid mulched areas.
- Avoid using cocoa bean mulch around your home.
This Really Happened
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center studied 16 cases of cocoa bean mulch ingestion by dogs managed between January 2002 and April 2003. Of these, 6 cases were analyzed since the final outcome was known, the ingestion had been observed and the managing veterinarian strongly linked the dog's symptoms to cocoa bean mulch ingestion. In 50% of the dogs vomiting was reported, 33% of the dogs developed tremors, and in 17% fast heart rate, hyperactivity or diarrhea was reported. In 33% of the cases, no clinical signs developed. In dogs in which tremors were observed, the amount of cocoa bean mulch ingested was described as large or significant.
Hansen, S., Trammel, H., Dunayer, E., Gwaltney, S., Farbman, D., & Khan, S. (2003, September). Cocoa bean mulch as a cause of methylxanthine toxicosis in dogs. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology, Chicago, IL.