Cocoa mulch. It looks good. It smells really good. And it tastes good, too. To your dog.
And, it could be deadly.
We have previously discussed the dangers of caffeine toxicity to your pet (click here to read that post). Common and dangerous sources of caffeine are dark chocolate, coffee and tea (and the grounds of both) and coffee beans.
Cocoa bean shells, a byproduct of chocolate production, are sometimes used as mulch around plants in home and commercial landscapes.
While the theobromine content in the shell is much lower than the bean, there is enough active ingredient to make your pet ill if he eats enough of this tasty mulch.
Common signs of illness include vomiting and muscle tremors. Fast heart rate, hyperactivity and diarrhea also often occur. Severity of signs is typically proportional to the amount of mulch ingested.
Dr. Steve Hansen, director of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA APCC) says that while gastrointestinal (GI) signs are common in dogs eating cocoa bean mulch, deaths are rare.
Some reported deaths are poorly documented. For example, the case circulating the Internet as an email, describing the death of a dog named Calypso, (and another, oddly enough, the exact same story but the dog’s name is Moose), who ate cocoa bean mulch one day, vomited several times, and died in a seizure the next day during her daily walk. The main problem with this story, Dr. Hansen says, “if you have poisoning from methylxanthines, you get a progression of signs—vomiting, diarrhea, more vomiting, trembling, the heart rate kicks up, then it may progress to seizures if the dose is exceptionally high, with death being uncommon. A necropsy would have likely shown that Calypso had an underlying condition that caused her death.”
Some brands of the product may lack warning labels. Do not be lulled into complacency by the absence of a red flag. Even if cocoa mulch rarely kills, it can cause severe (and expensive) illness in dogs. ASPCA APCC recommends, “…avoiding use of cocoa bean shell mulch in landscaping around unsupervised dogs.”
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.