Cocoa Mulch Contains an Ingredient Harmful to Pets-Truth!


Summary of eRumor:

There are several versions of this eRumor but all of them say that commonly sold cocoa mulch contains theobromine which can be lethal to cats and dogs.  One version tells the story of a pet owner who lost a dog because of cocoa mulch.

The Truth:

It’s fairly well known that some animals should not eat chocolate and according to the experts we checked with that warning applies to cocoa mulch as well, although the number of reported animal deaths is very low.  The villain is theobromine, a chemical that is similar to caffeine.  It can give a boost to humans but dogs and cats cannot always metabolize it successfully and it can be lethal to them.  That is especially true of the shells of the cacao beans, which are ground up and used in cocoa mulch, and contain even higher levels of theobromine than the bean.

Most packaging of cocoa mulch makes it clear that it’s not for human or animal consumption.  It also appears that all cocoa mulch is not the same.  One manufacturer we checked with, the maker of Mirana cocoa mulch, said that their mulch is the result of a series of processing steps and that the level of theobromine in their mulch is barely detectable. 

We did find at least one documented case reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)..  The report says that a dog that had ingested cocoa mulch developed convulsions and died 17-hours later.  An analysis of the stomach showed ingested cacao bean shells and lethal levels of theobromine.

The AVMA has issued a release because of this new eRumor about cocoa mulch.  It says that according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there have not been any reports in 2006 of animals dying from cocoa mulch ingestion.  In the years spanning 2004 and 2005 there were 16 cases of cocoa mulch ingestion reported, none of which resulted in death.

The ASPCA says that the account of the death of the dog named Calypso that is in the eRumor is “suspect.”  The symptoms are not completely consistent with death from cocoa bean ingestion.  The ASPCA says that although vomiting is a common result, the dog is described as having had a single seizure the next day during a walk and then dying suddenly, which is not what would be expected.

Updated 5/25/06

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Version #1

Cocoa mulch which is sold by Home Depot, Foremans Garden Supply and other garden supply stores, contains a lethal ingredient called “theobromine” which is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells like chocolate. It really attracts dogs, and they will ingest this stuff and die. Several deaths have already occurred in the last 2-3 weeks.

Just a word of caution. Check what you are using in your gardens, and beware of what your gardeners are using in your gardens.

Version #2

    Sent to us by Meagan Karnes, of Fur Crazy Pet Care.
    Yesterday, one of our clients experienced a tragedyb and
    wanted me to pass a special message along to all of my dog loving friends and family. I was hoping you could forward this to your contact list.
    My client was the doting owner of two young lab/golden retriever mixes.
    Over the weekend, they purchased Cocoa Mulch from Target to use in their
    garden. They loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away
    from their garden. They set the bag in their yard. Their dog Calypso, decided
    that the mulch smelled good enough to eat so she broke into it and devoured a large helping.  She vomited a few times which was typical of her when she would get into something she shouldn?t have gotten in to. She was not 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 seizureand died instantly. Although the mulch had NO warnings printed on the label, upon further investigation on the company?s website, this product is HIGHLY toxic to dogs. Denise (Calypso?s mom) wanted me to pass this information along so no one had to experience the same tragedy she went through.
    In Loving Memory of Calypso.
    Cocoa Mulch is manufactured by Hershey’s, and they claim 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 all dogs won’t eat it.”