While mulch serves a variety of functions in the home garden, mulch application issues, like mulch itself, is toxic to dogs and need to be addressed for the safety of your precious pets before they occur.

Generally, mulch poses little threat to cats, though it can become a haven for use as a litter box. Dogs, on the other hand, often chew on some types of mulch, which can become dangerous.

A wide range of mulch materials are available to the home gardener that are each ideal for different gardening applications. In terms of what is best for your garden, natural, plant-based materials should be the first choice, but if you have animals, you need to consider several other factors. 

Before purchasing, make sure your mulch is pet-safe such as ones made with pine needles, leaves, or rubber. Photo By Geoff Tischman of Tischman Pets Photography

Before purchasing, make sure your mulch is pet-safe
such as ones made with pine needles, leaves, or rubber. Photo By Geoff Tischman of Tischman Pets Photography

For example, you need mulch that won’t be toxic if ingested, but you may also want mulch that animals won’t disturb.

Mulches are made using a variety of materials that break down at different rates. When animals are a concern, sometimes the best mulch is one that decomposes into the soil rapidly, giving plants the nutrients they need, without having to sit on the soil for a long period of time.

For example, pine needles are a pleasant-smelling and attractive mulch material, but they break down slowly. If animals walk over it or disturb it, these are easily raked back into place and replenished. However, pine needles can stick into the pads of an animal’s feet and birds or rodents may find it useful as nest material. Grass clippings that are free of herbicides, on the other hand, decompose over a single season and can be tilled into the soil, increasing the organic matter available to your plants. This means there is less risk that the mulch will be disturbed by curious paws before it has a chance to do its job.

Most Animal-Friendly Mulch

Stone and rock mulches are often the most animal-friendly choice. Stone as a mulch material makes a visually pleasing addition to the garden, and it isn’t easily dug away by dogs, and birds, rodents and cats aren’t likely to bother it. However, stone and rock don’t usually add much in the way of nutrients to your soil, and because stone tends to absorb and hold heat, it can cause stress to some types of plants.

Natural Material Is Always Best

Using mulch around animals doesn’t have to be a challenge if you use the most natural product you can find. This way, if an animal does ingest the mulch material, there is no risk of illness or death. Wood chips are commonly used in dog parks, but they are not always pet safe. Read the labels before you buy and find a natural product that does not contain essential oils and resins, which may cause drooling, vomiting and loss of appetite in your pet.

In large amounts, these additives may even cause minor central nervous system depression. Also look for mulches that do not contain insecticides, herbicides or fertilizers. These are used to reduce pests and weed growth and help make soil conditions ideal for plant growth, but some can be highly toxic to animals.

What to Avoid

If you have dogs, mulches made of cocoa bean shells should never be used. While cocoa hulls, which are a byproduct of chocolate production, are prized for the attractive color and sweet odor they add to the garden, dogs may be attracted to them. If your dog ingests enough of this type of mulch, the results can be deadly. Some side effects your dog may experience from eating cocoa hulls include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, increased heart rate, hyperactivity and seizures.

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