Mulch can be a highly useful, aesthetically pleasing, weed deterring, and cheap way of polishing up parts of your yard. Unfortunately, your dog may also see a lot of good qualities in mulch that lead to it becoming fido’s new favorite snack. Eating mulch can potentially be very harmful to your dog. In this article we’ll help you find ways to protect your pooch and maintain the beauty of your yard.
For those who are not familiar with it, mulch is made of shredded wood or other substances such as rubber or cocoa shells. It is used to suppress weeds, help soil retain its moisture, help soil stay cool, and some mulches can add nutrients and texture to soil as it ages and breaks down. It can also add a nice visual element to a garden. Since wood mulch is made from one of a dog’s favorite things to chew, it is not shocking that a dog may show interest in wood.
The Risks and Signs of Consuming Mulch
Consuming mulch leaves dogs vulnerable to a number of health risks. If you see your dog consume wood chips, consult a vet immediately even before seeing symptoms. If you don’t see your dog consume mulch but you see some of the symptoms listed below, also consult your vet.
A big concern with chewing mulch is that as your dog chews it, small pieces may cut their gums or even become lodged in the gums. This can lead to pain and infection and can be costly to remove.
With the variety of sizes and shapes usually found in mulch, it is very easy for there to be some pieces that could cause a dog to choke on them. This is especially true of rubber mulch which does not break down as easily as wood mulch.
Similar to the gum concerns, but far more worrying is that after eating mulch, the fibrous material could obstruct your dog’s digestive tract or that splinters could injure or block the digestive tract. This can lead to infection and/or a need for surgery. Symptoms of a digestion obstruction include not wanting to eat, not being able to go to the bathroom, bloating, and vomiting.
Herbicides and other chemicals
Many mulches are treated with chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides that can make your dog sick. When planning your garden, look for mulches that do not contain these chemicals and that are labeled as pet safe. Symptoms of herbicide and pesticide poisoning in dogs include vomiting, shaking, panting, and diarrhea.
Since mulch is very good at maintaining moisture in soil, it follows that it is sometimes a good environment for mold to form. Mold is especially common in cocoa shell mulch. Mold can be very harmful to your dog if consumed. Symptoms of tremorgenic mycotoxins poisoning include seizures, tremors, and vomiting.
Many mulches are technically made from a dog-safe material and your only concerns as to your dog’s safety would be in them encountering some of the previous risks we have discussed. However, there are also mulches that are made from materials that are by themselves toxic to dogs such as mulch made from crushed cocoa shells. Just like feeding a dog chocolate is toxic to them, mulch made from other parts of the cocoa tree is toxic to dogs due to the caffeine and theobromine present. This is why if you are using mulch in your yard it is important to look into the type you are using before you buy it. Symptoms to look out for with cocoa poisoning include increased heart beat, abdominal bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.
Why is My Dog Eating Mulch?
The place to start for solving this problem is determining why Fido is interested in the mulch in the first place. This will help you figure out which solution is best to use to solve the problem. Also keep in mind that the cause could be multi-pronged so if one cause does not fit, consider if there are two or more causes.
Chewing is just something dogs do naturally and they especially love to chew sticks so why would they not want to eat a mulch made of sticks. This does not mean that they won’t change their behavior with proper training or other deterrents but it is good to keep in mind that your dog is not doing this because they are bad. They are just doing what dogs do.
If you have a puppy you know that they want to taste everything that they can get their mouth on. This is how they learn about the world and unfortunately also how they learn about your garden. As you train your puppy in how to be a big dog, make sure to include avoiding mulch in their education.
On the flip side, older dogs can attempt to alleviate tooth pain by chewing on things such as mulch. Provide them with a replacement chew toy and consult your vet to see if there are any dental issues that need to be addressed.
Dogs are very responsive to changes in their environment and they will often inspect new people and objects until they know that this change is not a threat. For this reason you may let your dog sniff and inspect the new mulch but make sure to supervise them while they do this and stop them if they indicate that they want to eat it.
Often dogs will get into mischief if they are bored or want attention. The best way to combat this is to play with your dog and tire them out so that they don’t have the energy to destroy your garden. Also, provide toys that are interesting and stimulating to your dog.
Often when a dog engages in destructive behavior, they may be stressed out or missing a person or dog. Consider if there are any stressors present in your dog’s life or if any big changes happened right before your dog started eating mulch and see if there are any ways you can help your dog feel calmer. This is also a good thing to consult a vet about.
Something in the mulch
If your dog has never bothered with the mulch before and seems to be suddenly expressing an interest, it may be worth checking to see if anything has changed in or near the mulch. This can include an animal deciding to live near where the mulch is located, a dead animal in the mulch, something else in the mulch that could be of interest to your dog. If this is the case, you may want to remove whatever is in the mulch and add a smell-based deterrent over the area.
A somewhat less likely reason your dog may be eating mulch is if they’re lacking nutrients of some kind. You can consider this option if none of the other reasons make sense or if you see other things that indicate that this could be a cause such as eating other odd things or not eating their dog food.
Consult a Vet
It is always a good idea to consult with your vet about anything that could impact your dog’s health. This is especially useful if you think your dog’s interest in mulch could be fueled by a health issue. Pica is a condition that can afflict dogs and humans alike. It is marked by a desire to eat non-edible items and it can indicate underlying health issues. If you know your dog has consumed mulch, do not wait for symptoms to appear before consulting with the vet. Make sure that you have fast access to information on what specific brand and type of mulch your dog consumed so that you can tell the vet. Ingesting mulch can be very bad for your dog but if you intervene with a vet’s help very fast, the odds are good that your dog will recover.
Ways to Keep the Dog from Eating Mulch
Try some of these methods of dissuading your dog from eating your mulch. Every dog is different so what works with one of your furry friends may not work with another one so do not hesitate to try a few methods to find the ones that work for you.
If none of these techniques work and your pooch is still eating mulch, it may be worth using a different substance that serves a similar purpose such as pebbles, straw, groundcover, or pine needles. All of these contribute to weed management and soil moisture maintenance while also being less appealing to a chew-happy dog.
Train your dog to stay away from the mulch
Training is the first step you should take when trying to keep your dog from eating mulch whether your dog is a puppy or an older dog. A common command is “leave it” when it comes to dogs eating things they should not. Keep an eye on your dog while they play outside and if they try to eat the mulch, say “leave it” or a similar command of your choosing and remove the mulch from their mouth.
If the dog is not figuring out what you want and is still trying to eat the mulch despite your commands, it may be a good idea to practice the command with some objects that are not the mulch. You may also consider training your dog to stay away from the mulch in the first place, rather than only giving them commands once they have the mulch in their mouth. As with any kind of training with your dog, consistency is key so you must make sure to do this any time they try to eat mulch so that they understand that this is a behavior you do not like.
Supervise your dog
This overlaps heavily with training but it is important to supervise your dog if they are playing near mulch even if you have trained them. Sometimes your presence will be enough to keep them engaged away from mulch.
Create a small physical barrier
If your dog is resistant to being trained to stay away from mulch, it may be necessary to create a physical barrier between the area your dog plays in and the mulch. This can be a small fence, large plants, or some large stones.
Let the dog play somewhere that is not near the mulch
If creating a small physical barrier does not work, it is worth considering having your dog play in another area that is separated from the mulch. This, of course, is dependent on having access to multiple places your dog can play.
Distract your dog
Provide your dog with toys or something else that they enjoy to distract them from the mulch. Simply playing with your dog outside when they would otherwise be eating mulch can go a big way. This can also include bringing a distraction on walks if their love of mulch extends to trying to eat it from your neighbors’ yards.
Use deterrents to drive your dog away from the mulch
Your dog’s nose is their main way of figuring out what’s going on so if you can redirect their nose’s interest in the mulch, you can redirect your dog. You can do this with scented deterrents that you can find at your local pet store.
You can also make your own at home. Cayenne pepper is a go-to remedy when it comes to dissuading animals in general from your yard. Just take one part cayenne pepper to ten parts water and spray.
You can also use vinegar or lemon juice. Vinegar should be diluted with water at 1 part vinegar and 5 parts water while citrus can be used undiluted.
You can also use ammonia but this can be harmful to your dog in large quantities. With whatever scented deterrents you use, focus your application on the areas that seem most attractive to your dog.