Mulching and application of fertilizers and pesticides are common activities at this time of the year. Ingestion of these products can be life-threatening for pets.


Mulching yard plants is popular especially this time of the year. Dogs will often investigate the mulch after it is first distributed in the landscape. Frequently dogs will attempt to ingest a mouthful of mulch.

Large amounts of mulch in the mouth of a dog is particularly dangerous, as mulch is very fibrous and coarse with little water content and is not easily swallowed. Sometimes the mulch gets stuck in the back of the dog’s throat, and the dog is unable to breathe.

This is a life-threatening situation, and checking the dog’s throat is warranted if you see your dog struggling. If the mulch is swallowed successfully, sometimes the plant parts are in a physical form that puncture the stomach or esophagus (especially with pine-needle mulch), resulting in serious gastrointestinal problems and even death. Also, since this is very fibrous material, mulch may clump in the intestine and cause a blockage.

Probably the most dangerous mulch product, however is the cocoa shell mulch — very popular due to its landscape color and durability. Cocoa shells are the outer shell of the cocoa bean (source for chocolate that we all know and like to eat). Chocolate contains two compounds (theobromine and caffeine) that cause severe and life-threatening effects in dogs when ingested – vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, tremors and seizures. Ingestion of this type of mulch can be a life-threatening medical emergency.

Fertilizers and Pesticides:

Many exposures to these materials occur when the home owner is actively working or applying these materials. Needless to say, do not store any of these materials where a pet can access them.

First, when applying either fertilizer or pesticides, make sure that no pet water or food bowls or pet toys are present in the area of application, as ingestion is the most common form of exposure.

Second, when mixing, diluting, measuring, or filling application devices (example – fertilizer spreaders), immediately make sure that no excess product is left in any accessible area to your pet (example – small pile of fertilizer left on the sidewalk or driveway). Pets often ingest the remainder.

Clinical signs in dogs resulting from fertilizer ingestion are vomiting, diarrhea, salivation and lethargy, but sometimes, tremors, rash or muzzle swelling does occur. These effects can be observed between minutes to hours after ingestion. The severity of the signs often depend on how much was ingested. Typically if only fertilizer was ingested, the exposure is not life-threatening.

If any pesticides are present, the exposure can be life-threatening, so monitor your pet while calling your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline (888-426-4435) with the label information. Ingestion of different products may result in different types of emergency recommendations.

If the animal is taken to a veterinarian for treatment, remember to take a list of all ingredients with you. Appropriate correct emergency treatment requires knowing exactly what the exposure was.