Mulch is a versatile material with numerous advantages for a home garden. However, some types of mulch can be harmful to domesticated animals, particularly dogs, if swallowed. Pet owners must use pet-safe mulch.

What is mulch?

Mulch is an essential part of any healthy garden. It is a protective layer of covering that is applied to plants or the soil’s surface. Mulch is used to maintain moisture in the soil, discourage weeds, and improve the garden’s appearance. Mulch can be made from several organic and non-organic materials, and when used correctly, it can significantly boost soil productivity.

Is mulch safe for dogs?

If your pet enjoys chewing on mulch, you should avoid using it in your yard. On walks, Fido may come across some ground cover. Please keep your pet on a leash and keep him out of manicured areas. Some mulches are suitable for pets, while others may be hazardous or toxic. Continue reading to find out which options are dangerous and which are safe to use in the yard.

What mulch types are toxic to dogs?

When chewed or swallowed by dogs, some toxic mulches can induce mulch poisoning, which can result in an allergic reaction, diarrhea, vomiting, or even a gastrointestinal obstruction.

As a result, you must choose your mulch thoughtfully and be aware of what to avoid:

Cocoa mulch: Made from cocoa shells, this popular landscaping material is particularly toxic to canines. Your dog will be tempted to gnaw on the sweet-smelling mulch. This cocoa bean mulch, like chocolate or coffee, contains the chemical “theobromine.” If enough is consumed, it can cause heart abnormalities, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and, in extreme cases, death.

Pine needle mulch: Puppies and dogs can be drawn to the aroma and texture of pine needles. This mulch resembles grass and may tempt your dog to eat it when he is hungry or bored. Swallowing the sharp pine needles might cause stomach lining injury in your pet.

Wood Mulch: Some mulch contains wood species that are toxic to pets and can cause allergic responses. Oak, cherry, and trumpet vine cedar are all dangerous woods. Furthermore, some mulch contains the CCA (chromate copper arsenate) treated wood arsenic (CCA). CCA is a hazardous chemical that is harmful to the environment, humans, and pets.

What is the best type of mulch to use around my pet?

  • Cedar mulch: This toxin-free mulch is a great garden covering that also serves as a cozy bed for your dog. Because it is finely shredded, cedar is a dog-friendly mulch because the fibers are easily digestible. It’s also a great bug repellent. This form of mulch absorbs moisture and microorganisms, which means that it must be replenished every year.
  • Rubber mulch: This is an eco-friendly and long-lasting solution that is less dangerous to your chewing canine. Rubber mulch, which is typically created from discarded tires, can endure far longer than wood mulch. It does not absorb liquids, making it easier to remove odors and urine. Rubber mulch resembles natural wood in appearance but lacks the sweet-smelling odors that entice dogs to chew. Of course, every dog is different, so there is still a chance of gastrointestinal obstruction if your dog is a chronic chewer.
  • Stones and rocks: This is a non-hazardous option for dog owners to use around their pets. Rocks have no taste and are incredibly hard, making chewing them nearly impossible. To keep your dog’s paws safe, use smooth and rounded rocks. The fact that rock and stone mulch do not contribute nutrients to your soil is a drawback.
  • Untreated wood mulch: Avoid wood mulches that have been dyed or treated with chemicals because they are harmful to the environment and your dogs.
  • Cypress mulch: It is not hazardous to dogs and is a common form of mulch used in landscaping. 

So, before you buy bags of mulch from home improvement stores or landscaping supply companies online, think about how they may affect your dogs. Choose one that is useful to your landscape design while also being environmentally safe and your pets.

How to select the best dog-friendly mulch

Start by looking for natural or synthetic alternatives that are cushioning and gentle on the dog’s paws and joints. Choose a nontoxic mulch that is safe to use near animals and people. It’s also a good idea to choose a mulch that can be quickly replenished if it gets dirty or stinky. Once you’ve decided on your mulch, place it in a small area of your garden and keep an eye out for any allergic reactions, like coughing or skin rashes. If this occurs, remove the mulch immediately and replace it with a different mulch.

Why do dogs eat mulch?

Chewing is in a dog’s nature, especially in young puppies. Your dog may chew on mulch because it smells and tastes good, such as Cocoa mulch. Sometimes your dog will chew on wood mulch because they are malnourished or hungry. However, in most circumstances, your dog will chew out of boredom or curiosity.

What happens if my dog eats mulch?

Puppies and tiny breed dogs are most vulnerable to garden mulch poisoning, but all dogs are in danger. Mulch in large chunks can be a choking hazard. If your dog is chewing on larger pieces of mulch and tries to swallow one, they may choke, as some dogs have done with sticks. Pesticides can also stay on mulch for much longer. If you have sprayed pesticides on your lawn or backyard, it may still be on your mulch when your dog goes in for a curious snack.

Mulch may also cause allergies in certain dogs. As a result, it is important to watch out for allergic reactions. Excessive scratching, a  rash, irritability, and pus-filled lumps are all possible symptoms. Mulch, on the other hand, can provide additional risks. Some mulches can support the growth of mold, which, if consumed, can cause tremors, serious neurological damage, and seizures. Mulch toxicity symptoms often occur within 6-12 hours and might include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Death
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting

Keep your dog in an area of your garden where there is no mulch if feasible, and exercise caution when taking your dog to parks and public spaces with mulch. We’ll go through which mulches are safe and which aren’t for dogs down below.

It is important to realize that not all types of mulch are harmful to your dog. When introducing your dog to new environments, it is critical to remain aware and cautious. If you suspect your dog has eaten mulch, especially cocoa mulch, contact your veterinarian right away. All of the symptoms of mulch poisoning can be quite serious. If feasible, bring a sample of the ingested mulch to the doctor to help find what is causing problems.

How can you keep pets away from mulch?

Mulch is a fantastic area for many interested animals to dig, pee, and sleep. This kind of activity might damage the mulch and upset the plants beneath it. Mulch can also be dangerous to your pet, so keeping them away from it is the best solution for both your plants and your pet. It is not always possible to keep dogs within, but keeping them away from the flower beds is possible.

Here are several possibilities:

  1. Cut some chicken wire to the length of your garden beds, spread it over the mulch and soil, and secure it in place with nails. Make holes in the wire for the plants to grow through, and make sure there are no sharp edges for your dog to injure himself on. Putting wire on top of the mulch makes it much more difficult for your dog to dig and chew on. It will also produce an unpleasant surface for your dog to walk on, causing them to choose the grass or surrounding garden naturally.
  2. You can also set several wooden pegs around the flower beds, placing them about 20-30cm apart. Make sure the stakes are not sharp or readily pushed over by your dog or the wind. The pegs make it tough for your dog to move around and rest on the mulch without collapsing on the spaced-apart wood.
  3. Another approach is to spray your mulched garden with an odor repellant. This is available at most pet stores and online. Choose a spray odor for small areas and granules for bigger garden beds. After rain or strong winds, reapply the repellent and follow the recommendations on the product label.

What about cats?

While cats are unlikely to try to consume or chew on your garden mulch, they may mistake your newly mulched garden beds for a new litter box. Newly laid mulch has the correct depth, smells clean and fresh, and is easy to move around — in other words, it’s ideal for a cat litter box.

It can be not easy to keep cats out of your mulch, but here are a few tricks and tips:

  • Include items in your garden that will keep them from getting too comfy. If you arrange your pebbles and plants in such a way that your cat cannot get to them, they will most likely stay away from your mulch.
  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper on your mulch. Spicing up your gardens will not harm your cats (or plants), but it will discourage them from lying in the mulch. Just be careful not to overdo it with the cayenne.
  • Purchase a sprayer (or other similar devices) to keep pets out of your garden. Some sprayers have a sensor that sprays your pets if they try to enter your garden.
  • Offer an alternative to mulched gardens. Some homeowners choose to provide their cats with a real outside litter box.

Using one (or more) of these methods can help keep your cats out of your garden and your mulch fresh and clean.

Mulch’s advantages for pet owners

Mulch has numerous advantages for your garden. It can help reduce weed growth, insulate your soil, and boost nutrient density, but it also has a significant advantage if you have pets.

Setting your mulch at the appropriate depth may deter your dog from digging in your gardens. While this is not a guarantee, most pets will not try to dig into the soil through your mulch – especially if you choose larger bits like pine bark nuggets. This protects and maintains the appearance of your gardens.

Can I substitute black plastic fabric for mulch?

Mulch made from plastic sheets is popular among gardeners. It can also be used as an additional layer beneath other types of mulch to balance the beauty and utility of your garden. Plastic sheeting produces a solid covering that effectively slows weed development and aids in retaining soil moisture. It does, however, make it more difficult for water to enter the soil. As a result, most gardeners discover that they must apply a thick layer of mulch on top of the plastic sheeting, effectively resulting in the same mulch concerns as described before.

Most dogs will disregard plastic sheeting, but they may gnaw, dig, or tug at it if they are bored enough. This not only risks destroying your landscape, but it may also cause choking and gastrointestinal problems for your dog. Plastic is also non-biodegradable, which is bad for the environment.

Before you go out and buy bags and bags of mulch for your garden, think about how they can affect your dog. Conduct your research and choose a dog-safe mulch that is also useful to your landscaping.

Last thoughts

So, is it safe for dogs to eat mulch? Both yes and no.

While some mulch is deemed safe for dogs (that is, it is not toxic to them), it is always a good idea to observe your dogs while they are near your garden beds to discourage them from swallowing it.