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The Dangers Of Cocoa Mulch

Spring is in the air!  For lots of people, the warming weather means they can get back to gardening.  Whether you have a massive garden and a green thumb, or just have a tiny bit of turf to tend, pet owners know that some plants can present health risks to our furry family members.  Seemingly unrelated, almost all pet owners also know all about the danger of chocolate.  Why am I talking about chocolate in a post that started off being about gardening?  Because of cocoa mulch, that's why!  Don't let your pet become a victim of the mulchacre (get it - mulch massacre?)!  The dangers that cocoa mulch can present to pets is no laughing matter.

So what exactly is cocoa mulch, you ask?  And what did it ever do to me to make me want to write an anti-mulch post about it?  I'm glad you asked.  Cocoa mulch is, well, it's mulch.  Mulch can be made of a verity of substances, but is generally a soil covering that gardeners use to help reduce weed growth, conserve soil moisture, improve the fertility of the soil, and sometimes just to look nice.  Sounds pretty harmless, right?  Most mulch is.  But cocoa mulch, as its name suggests, is made from cocoa bean hulls.  The hulls are a byproduct of the chocolate industry.  Unlike the cocoa bean itself, the hulls aren't used to produce yummy delicious chocolate.

Normally I'm a huge proponent of recycling.  Using normally useless cocoa bean hulls as mulch sounds like an awesome idea, especially since I'm a huge chocolate fan.  Hey, all those bean hulls that are a result of my late night chocolate binges have to end up somewhere right?  But the ASPCA and many other animal advocates warn against the use of cocoa mulch, especially if you have any four footed garbage disposals - otherwise known as hungry dogs - that frequent your yard.

The reason why, as you've probably guessed by now, is because chocolate can be deadly to dogs.  Or I should say, a chemical in chocolate can be deadly to dogs.  That chemical, theobromine, can also be present in cocoa hulls.

There's been some debate on just how series of a risk using cocoa mulch around dogs can be.  The American Veterinary Medical Association posted an article back in 2006 suggesting that the mulch may not be quite as dangerous as some people make it out to be.  However, they still recommended that pet owners avoid using cocoa mulch.

The ASPCA put out this PDF based on a study done in 2003 that suggests that even if dogs don't die from eating cocoa bean hull mulch, it can cause other symptoms of theobromine poisoning such as vomiting and muscle tremors.  Not fun, for dog or owner!  And according to popular myth busting website Snopes, there has been at least one confirmed dog death attributed to the consumption of cocoa mulch.

What do you think?  Is the evidence enough to convince you to avoid using cocoa mulch in your own garden?  My dog Kitsune has a passion for food, and sometimes what he considers to be food is a far cry from what I consider eatable.  Even if he never eats enough cocoa mulch to do any damage, letting him gain a taste for chocolate is the last thing I want.  All the chocolate in this house belongs to me, and me alone!

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