ASPCA study finds cocoa bean mulch could harm dogs

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The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Poison Control Center is warning dog owners about the dangers of cocoa bean mulch.

A retrospective study of case data collected by the center from January 2002 to April 2003 found that dogs that consumed cocoa bean shell mulch might have signs consistent with methylxanthine toxicosis, which is similar to those seen with chocolate poisonings.

The center presented its findings at the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology in September.

Data suggest the most common signs that occurred following ingestion were vomiting and muscle tremors. Although it wasn't possible to quantify exact amounts involved in these adverse events, anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the severity of clinical signs increases when larger amounts are ingested.

"Since the updated data confirm that dogs can have certain clinical effects after consuming cocoa bean shell mulch, the ASPCA advises pet owners that they should avoid using this mulch around unsupervised dogs, and dogs with indiscriminate eating habits," said Dr. Steven Hansen, senior vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production and are frequently used for landscaping by homeowners. Some dogs find the mulch palpable and ingest varying amounts.

In general, while unprocessed cocoa beans contain approximately 1 percent to 4 percent theobromine and 0.07 percent to 0.36 percent caffeine, the theobromine content of processed cocoa bean shell mulch reportedly ranges from 0.19 percent to 2.98 percent. Dogs are known to be sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines.

The full ASPCA study is available at