Cocoa Mulch: Toxic to Cats and DogsPublished May 18, 2010
I am constantly amazed by some of the information that seems to resurface to find its way into our email boxes over the years. The other day a friend sent me an email with the following warning: "Please share this with all the pet owners you know and ask them to do the same - the information you take a few minutes to share might prevent the senseless loss of other pets. Please tell every dog or cat owner you know. Even if you don't have a pet, please pass this to those who do. Over the weekend, the doting owner of two young lab mixes purchased Cocoa Mulch from a popular chain-store, to use in their garden. The dogs loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away from their garden. Their dog (Calypso) decided the mulch smelled good enough to eat and devoured a large helping. She vomited a few times which was typical when she eats something new but wasn't acting lethargic in any way. The next day, Mom woke up and took Calypso out for her morning walk. Half way through the walk, she had a seizure and died instantly." The sad thing about this popular garden product is that there was nothing printed on its label warning people that this material is highly toxic to pets, Cocoa Mulch; this product manufactured by Hershey Chocolate Company prominently displays this warning on their website, "This product is highly toxic to dogs and cats." Hershey claims that "it is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees, (depending on each individual dog), however 98% of dogs won't eat it." And since this is the season in which many of us spend time working on our gardens, I thought it to be important to remind folks about the dangers of Cocoa Mulch. But since this story has been circulating since its original publication in May 2003, I thought it wise to do some research about its veracity and if there have been any updates published since its first appearance. Snopes.com is one of my favorite sites to check out the truth about such stories, so I immediately visited their web page. Their comment pertaining to its authenticity was "mixed", but it clearly verified most of its accuracy. Updated in 2009, with no additional additions, this is what Snopes provides. "Unlike the majority of scary alerts spread through the internet, there is a degree of truth to this one, in July 2007, (another dog) a 3 year old Labrador belonging to a Minneapolis couple died after eating cocoa mulch purchased at a local store. His owners had a vet at the University of Minnesota to determine through necropsy if the death of the dog was caused by consuming this product. The dog was previously healthy and sound. The vet found cocoa shells in the dog's stomach and evidence of theobromine. Cocoa Mulch is a risk, especially to dogs, but of course outdoor cats that roam in gardens could be attracted to the aroma of chocolate, so they are at risk as well." Some vendors of the product said that in spite of the warnings continuing to circulate especially on the internet that they have not heard of any dogs being injured by the mulch. Shane Compton of Hewitt's Garden Center said, "There are always stories on the Internet, but in the 30 years we've been here, we've actually never heard of anybody's dog getting sick." Cocoa Mulch brand claims that their products are theobromine free and safe for pets, but the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals continues to post warnings about the product, confirming that many varieties of cocoa mulch continue to be manufactured with the use of cocoa beans. Since cocoa contains Theobromine and Caffeine, which are both potentially lethal to dogs and cats depending on the amount consumed, it is far safer for pet owners to use mulch manufactured with cedar or other products which are not poisonous to pets. And while Snopes.com does continue to post warning announcements on their website, as far as I am concerned, "where there is smoke there is fire". So please consider not using cocoa mulch in your gardens to ensure the safety of your pets. What are your thoughts about this persisting story? Have you ever used cocoa mulch in your garden? Please leave a comment and share your opinion.