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Cocoa mulch and dogs

Bert Cregg, Horticulture and Forestry

Recently I was asked to comment about a rash of e-mails floating around cyber-space

concerning the toxicity to dogs of mulch made from crushed cocoa bean hulls. Cocoa mulch is a

by-product of cocoa production. The dark brown mulch is aesthetically and aromatically pleasing,

giving the garden a rich, chocolately scent. Since theobromine, a naturally occurring compound in

chocolate is toxic to dogs, the internet is now filled with cyber-legends of dogs eating cocoa

mulch and keeling over dead.

According to an article published in the


theobromine. The JAVN article states “no reports of lethal toxicosis from ingesting this mulch

have been filed with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Poison Control Center this year (2006). In 2004 and 2005, 16 reports of single exposure to the

mulch were received, none resulting in death.”


“Dogs consuming enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to

that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts

of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors and other more serious neurological signs could

occur. To date, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has not received any cases involving

animal deaths due to cocoa mulch ingestion. One key point to remember is that some dogs,

particularly those with indiscriminate eating habits, can be attracted to any organic matter.

Therefore, if you have a dog with such eating habits, it is important you do not leave him

unsupervised or allow him into areas where such materials are being used.”

It should be noted that processed cocoa mulch may contain much lower concentrations and

some manufacturers market cocoa mulch that is “pet safe.” Consumers should look for products

that are tested and certified theobromine-free.

As always, I stand by my recommendation to use locally processed wood products such as

ground hardwood bark and ground pine bark. Plants grow well in these mulches, which are

typically among the most cost-effective and natural looking mulches available and they help

support the Michigan economy.Journal of the American Veterinary Medical(JAVM June 1, 2006 p. 1644), cocoa bean husks can contain up to 2.98 percentASPCA posts this comment regarding cocoa mulch on its website

Go green with our new gardening web siteMSU Extension has launched a new web site of its gardening resources at:

www.migarden.msu.edu. The web site covers many aspects of gardening and is beginning with a

focus on vegetable gardening.