Cocoa Mulch Toxicity
By: Dr. Debra Primovic
Most types of mulch are safe if ingested by a dog but there is one potentially toxic type of mulch made from the hulls of cocoa beans. Cocoa shells are a byproduct of chocolate-making and contain ingredients similar to chocolate. When this type of mulch is fresh, it even has the aroma of chocolate and when ingested has effects similar to those of chocolate toxicity.
Cocoa shell mulch is popular because of its rich dark brown color that can darken more with time. It is most commonly used to help prevent weed growth and maintain soil moisture. Additionally, many believe that it is great for the soil and found to kill slugs and deter termites.
Ingestion of large amounts of fresh mulch can result in “chocolate toxicity”. Depending on the toxicity of the mulch and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. Common symptoms include vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Once toxic levels are reached in the body, the stimulant effect becomes apparent at which time you may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination and possibly excessive panting. Heart rate and blood pressure levels may also be increased. Seizure activity may occur in severe cases. These signs can occur within a few hours of ingestion. Prompt veterinary care is recommended.
Diagnosing cocoa mulch ingestion is generally based on the owner’s witnessing or suspecting ingestion and on physical exam findings. The signs are consistent with “chocolate toxicity:” and include pets that are hyperactive, panting, have increased blood pressure and increased heart rates. Dehydration may also occur if there has been significant vomiting and diarrhea.
Treatment depends on the severity of the clinical signs and may include continuous intravenous fluid therapy, medications to help control vomiting and sedatives to counteract the stimulant effects of chocolate.
Occasionally medication to reduce heart rate and high blood pressure is indicated.
Most pets treated for chocolate or mulch toxicity recover and return to normal within 24-48 hours of treatment.
Home Care and Prevention
If you have curious pets that like to eat dirt and mulch, the best prevention is to avoid using this type of mulch. Most bags are clearly labeled with caution around animals and to avoid ingestion. If you have a garden service mulching your yard, determine first what type of mulch they plan to use.
To prevent toxicity, keep your pet away from the mulch until the chocolate aroma has gone. A thorough watering or heavy rainfall often reduces the potential toxicity.
If you suspect your dog has consumed a toxic amount, remove your dog from the source of mulch and call your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may recommend that you induce vomiting by oral administration of hydrogen peroxide. Transport your pet to your veterinarian immediately.
Home care for pets that have ingested toxic levels of mulch is primarily aimed at reducing gastrointestinal upset and making certain that there is no access to additional mulch. Once the nausea is gone, your veterinarian may recommend a bland diet for a couple of days.
Watch for tremors, hyperactivity or seizures. If your pet is not eating and drinking, continues to vomit, has persistent diarrhea or still seems hyperactive, consult your veterinarian for additional recommendations.
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