Is There a Safe Mulch for Dogs?

When Spring comes, our focus is on reviving our lawns and garden beds. For many of us, this means mulching our gardens to give our plants much needed nutrients. But few people know that certain mulch brands can be dangerous for your pets. While mulch poses little threat to cats, dogs on the other hand often chew on some types of mulch. And, in many mulch brands, there are chemical contained in the mulch that pose a risk to your dogs. Our pets are more than animals, they’re family. So we want them to be as safe in our backyards as we are. So today we will discuss why some mulch is dangerous for dogs, why they eat it, and if there is a safe mulch for dogs.

Safe Mulch for Dogs

What Does Mulch Do for Gardens?

Mulch has been used for centuries to reduce water loss, suppress weed growth, and protect plants against excessively warm or cool temperatures, in order to have the best gardens. Early mulch was a combination of straw, leaves, and dirt. Mulch also slowed the erosion of soil by slowing the process of water hitting the soil. As most mulches are made from organic materials that decompose, the nutrients sink into the soil. This not only helps the roots to develop, it also adds to soil structure to prevent erosion.

Mulch is also helpful for pet owners. Having mulch at the right depth can help stop your dog from digging up your gardens. While this isn’t a guarantee, most dogs won’t try to dig through larger pieces of mulch to get to the soil. This keeps your garden beds looking neat and tidy.

Modern mulch, however, also comes in synthetic and rock varieties. While these mulches don’t decay, they serve the same purpose as the organic mulches, to prevent erosion and weed growth, and well as insulate your garden. But even modern organic mulches are different from the humble combination of straw and leaves we began with. Modern organic mulches come in all shapes and sizes, with a range of additives that aim to help boost the growth of your garden. But, unfortunately, some of the modern mulches are not safe for dogs.

dog eat mulch

Why Do Dogs Eat Mulch?

There are multiple reasons why dogs eat mulch. Firstly, dogs are chewers by nature, especially during the puppy stage. They are also curious by nature. Dogs like to explore and try new things, which means they might have an experimental nibble on your mulch, especially if you’ve never used it in the garden before. Puppies are especially curious and should be monitored when in your garden as you never know what they might try to nibble on.

Dogs will also sometimes chew on wood if their diet is lacking in nutrients, but generally they chew out of boredom or curiosity. The aroma of mulch can also be appealing to dogs due to the smell of decay.

dog mulch sick

What Can Happen if My Dog Eats Mulch?

Puppies and small breed dogs are at the greatest risk of poisoning from garden mulch, but there are risks for all dogs. Large pieces of mulch can present a chocking hazard. If your dog is chewing on larger pieces of mulch and tries to swallow one, they may choke – similar to how some dogs have choked on bits of sticks. Pesticides can also linger far longer on mulch. If you have sprayed your backyard or lawn with pesticides, it might still be on your mulch when you dog goes in for a curious munch.

Some dogs might also be allergic to mulch. So it is important to keep an eye out for allergic reactions. Symptoms might include a rash, excessive scratching, pus-filled lumps, and/or irritability. However, there are other dangers that can come with mulch. Some mulches can grow a mould that, when ingested, can cause severe neurological damage, tremors and seizures. The symptoms of mulch toxicity will usually appear within 6-12 hours and can include:

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

Where possible, keep your dog contained to an area of your garden where you don’t have mulch and be careful when you take your dog to public spaces and parks that have mulch. Below we will discuss which mulches are safe and unsafe for dogs.

Mulches Unsafe for Dogs

The mulches below have been found to be dangerous to dogs. If consumed they can be poisonous, cause an allergic reaction, or even cause dangerous gastrointestinal obstructions.

cocoa mulch

Cocoa Mulch

This is an incredibly popular mulch made from cocoa shells. It is a by-product of chocolate production and is popular for its colour and sweet smell. But because it is made from chocolate by-products, it represents the same risk to dogs as chocolate does. Cocoa mulch contains theobromine, a toxin that is incredibly dangerous to dogs. Unfortunately, dogs love the smell of cocoa mulch as much as we do and are eager to take a munch from the garden bed. Ingesting too much cocoa mulch can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, muscle tremors, elevated heart rate, seizures, and even death.

pine needle mulch

Pine Needle Mulch

Pine needle mulch looks stunning and breaks down to acidify the surrounding soil – which is great for plants that benefit from a more acidic soil. While it looks beautiful, pine needle mulch is considered incredibly harmful to dogs. If swallowed, pine needle mulch can severely damage your dog’s stomach lining. It can also get painfully stuck in paw pads.

rubber mulch

Rubber Mulch

Some home gardeners use rubber mulch as it is generally considered safe for pets. However, there are still concerns surrounding the use of rubber as mulch. Firstly, there are concerns about the residual chemicals in the rubber that could make your dog sick if they chew on it – after all, most of their toys are made of rubber. Secondly, dogs are at a high risk of gastrointestinal obstructions if they chew on and swallow chunks of rubber mulch out of restlessness.

Safe Mulch for Dogs

So is there a safe mulch to use around dogs? When it comes to gardening, don’t just choose a type of mulch because it can adapt to the kind of plants you have in your garden, or adapts to the humidity where you live. You have to consider your four legged friend. Below are mulches considered safe for dogs.

stone mulch safe for dogs

Stone and Rock Mulch

Almost every gardening store – like Aumann’s Garden Supplies – sells stone or rock mulch. As dogs and cats are not prone to eating stones or rocks, this is considered the safest form of mulch for your garden. This material is also heavy enough not to move, regardless of the weather, and they look great alongside concrete or stone outdoor fixtures.

bark mulch safe for dogs

Bark Mulch

Some bark mulches are considered safe mulch for dogs. Crabapple, dogwood, Dougless fir, and countless other tree barks pose no risk to you or your dog. These mulches have a natural resistance to being compacted and spread by the weather and can be found at most gardening shops. They come in a wide manner of colours and textures to suit the look of your garden and surrounds.

sawdust mulch

Sawdust and Wood Chips

Much like the bark mulch above, wood chip and sawdust mulch can be safe for pets, depending on the tree it comes form. Sawdust rarely comes from one kind of tree but is safe for animals. Below are the wood chip mulches considered safe for dogs:

Untreated Wood Mulch

It is best to avoid wood mulches that have been dyed. These added chemical are not good for your garden, the environment, or for your dog.

Cypress Mulch

A very common mulch used in landscaping. Cypress mulch looks fantastic and is non-toxic to dogs.

Cedar Mulch

A popular choice for dog owners. Cedar mulch is pet-friendly because it is finely shredded. If your dog, for some reason, ingests the fibres, they can be easily digested. And cedar has natural bug repellent properties, perfect for your garden!

black plastic mulch

Can I Just Use Black Plastic Sheeting Instead of Mulch?

Many gardeners use plastic sheets as a type of mulch. It can also be used as an added layer below other kinds of mulch to balance out the aesthetics and functionality of your garden. Plastic sheeting obviously forms a solid layer, which means it very efficiently stems the growth of weeds and helps retain soil moisture. However, it also makes it more difficult for water to get water into the soil. As a result, most gardeners find they need to use a heavy layer of mulch on top of the plastic sheeting, effectively meaning you still have the same mulch issues as above.

Generally, most dogs will ignore plastic sheeting, but if a dog is bored enough, they might still chew, dig and pull at it. This not only risks the destruction of your garden but could cause choking issues and gastrointestinal issues for your dog. Plastic is also not biodegradable, making it horrible for the environment.

Before you settle on buying bags and bags of mulch for your garden, it is best to consider how they might affect your dog. Do your research and choose a safe mulch for dogs that is also beneficial to your landscaping. The team at Aumann’s Garden Supplies are always happy to have a chat and help you make the right choice for all your gardening needs. Come in store today and let us help you create a garden you and your dog will adore!