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Source: Susan Nelson, snelson@k-state.edu
http://www.k-state.edu/media/mediaguide/bios/nelsonbio.html
News release prepared by: Nellie Ryan, 785-532-6415, media@k-state.edu

Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

K-STATE VETERINARIAN WARNS PET OWNERS TO WATCH WHAT TYPE OF MULCH THEY USE ON THEIR LAWNS; COCOA MULCH CAN BE TOXIC TO PETS

MANHATTAN -- Cocoa mulch has become a popular option for landscaping, gardens and flower beds, but a Kansas State University veterinarian said the aromatic mulch isn't a good idea to have in your yard if you have pets, especially a dog.

Cocoa mulch, made from the roasted shell of cocoa beans and sold in most home and garden stores, smells delicious to pets, but can be deadly, according to Dr. Susan Nelson, a Kansas State University veterinarian.

"Cocoa mulch poses the most threat to dogs because they are more indiscriminate eaters than cats and tend to ingest larger quantities at one time," Nelson said.

Cocoa mulch contains the chemical theobromine, which is the same chemical that can make eating a chocolate bar toxic to dogs. Dogs are intrigued by the sweet smell of the cocoa mulch, which is why it causes so much trouble.

Cocoa mulch affects dogs in different ways, depending on the size of the dog, the amount of theobromine in the mulch and how much the dog ingests, Nelson said.

"If you have a 20-pound dog, mild signs could be seen with the ingestion of a little less than an ounce of cocoa mulch," Nelson said. "More severe signs could be seen with the ingestion of around one to one and a half ounces, so it doesn't take very much."

Dogs that ingest larger amounts of cocoa mulch can experience vomiting, diarrhea, an increased heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures and possibly death. Even a very small amount of ingested cocoa mulch can cause dogs to have gastrointestinal complications.

"If your dog has an encounter with cocoa mulch, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian as soon as possible because the dog will most likely need medical attention," Nelson said.

The best way to prevent dogs from ingesting cocoa mulch is to use safer alternatives such as shredded hardwood or compost, Nelson said.