Cocoa mulch can be dangerous or deadly for pets

By Ashley Swann - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There could be something in your yard or your neighbors' yard that is dangerous and potentially deadly if your pet eats it. It's called cocoa mulch and just like chocolate, its smell is what attracts many gardeners & pets to it.

Like most dogs, 7-year-old Blaze likes to eat.

"He's a hardy eater, just like his owner," said pet owner James Harris.

In fact, James Harris says he & his wife have to be extra careful to keep Blaze away from foods that may harm him.

"A couple times, we have left the trash out & he's gotten into the trash," said Harris.

No doubt, everyone knows to keep their canines out of the garbage. But what about your yard?

A certain type of mulch, called cocoa mulch, can be dangerous or even deadly to your best friend. And its smell is often what makes it irresistible.

"Smells just like chocolate," said Jason Snider.

In fact, Sneeds Nursery & Garden Center Horticulturist Jason Snider says the same company that makes the candy bar, is also behind the mulch.

"Basically what they do is just shell off cocoa beans before they make chocolate and use it up as mulch," said Snider.

Snider says cocoa mulch is extremely popular among gardeners, mainly because of its fine texture & pleasant aroma.

"Just to make their garden smell good. Really, that's the attraction," Snider said.

Most homeowners have no idea the mulch poses any threat to their animals. But an e-mail that began circulating on the internet in recent years is sounding the alarm. The message tells the story of a Minneapolis labrador that died as a result of eating a large amount of cocoa mulch.

Dr. Christopher Patterson of the Three Chopt Animal Clinic says, while isolated, the story should give pet owners pause.

"There definitely are some concerns associated with cocoa mulch," said Dr. Patterson. "It has two chemicals in it. It has caffeine in it and theobromine in it, which are in chocolate."

Depending on the amount ingested, Dr. Patterson says dogs could experience symptoms ranging from vomiting and diarrhea, to muscle tremors, seizures & death.

Still, he reiterates that severe cases of cocoa poisoning are rare and recommends pet owners simply heed the warning in fine print on most cocoa mulch bags and to keep it away from animals.

"I think the smartest thing is that if you have a dog or a cat, you probably shouldn't use this mulch," Dr. Patterson said.

A shocking discovery to dog owners like Janet Howell, who say they wouldn't risk putting cocoa mulch in their yards.

"I've spent a lot of money on her eyes, I can't afford to have something else happen to her," said Howell.

For more information on cocoa mulch and the dangers it poses to your pet, check out the SPCA and Consumer Affairs websites.

(c) 2009. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.