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Yard Hazards for Greyhounds
By Judy Kody Paulsen
(Excerpt from Summer 2006 issue of GCNM News)

It seems like every time I turn around, I’m getting an “Urgent” email about something that’s detrimental to animals or people. Many times, these warnings are blown out of proportion or are flat-out fabrications. But one recent warning proves to be legitimate.

Since May 2003, the Internet intermittently is peppered with warnings spread via email regarding a mulch used in gardens: Cocoa Mulch. Figuring I’d have heard something from other sources if this were truly a health threat for animals, I filed it away as something to revisit in coming months/years. Again the email appeared in June 2006, so I decided to see what I could find out. A visit to a website called Snopes.com, produced valuable information. Unlike warnings circulating in the past regarding Swiffer Wet Jets and Febreze odor eliminator causing deaths in pets, the stories about Cocoa Mulch appear to be factual.

Snopes.com is a clever site designed to inform visitors about various newsworthy stories circulating in the media. Their site description states, “We don't expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic, which is why our site's name indicates that it contains reference pages. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we've used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves.”

Cocoa Mulch is a product available at several retailers who sell garden supplies. It contains an ingredient called theobromine, which can be lethal to dogs and cats. The mulch consists of cocoa bean shells, a source of theobromine and also caffeine. The fresh mulch possesses a sweet chocolate fragrance which can be very appealing to animals, especially dogs.

Information found on Snopes.com refers to findings of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) which confirms the potentially deadly effects of theobromine and caffeine on dogs:

“Cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines. In dogs, low doses of methylxanthine can cause mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain); higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.

Eaten by a 50-pound dog, about 2 ounces of cocoa bean mulch may cause gastrointestinal upset; about 4.5 ounces, increased heart rate; about 5.3 ounces, seizures; and over 9 ounces, death. (In contrast, a 50-pound dog can eat up to about 7.5 ounces of milk chocolate without gastrointestinal upset and up to about a pound of milk chocolate without increased heart rate.)"

According to tables examined by Snopes.com staff, cocoa mulch contains 300-1200 mg of theobromine per ounce, making cocoa mulch one of the strongest concentrations of theobromine your pet will encounter in any chocolate product.

The debate goes on, however, and is addressed by Hershey’s (manufacturer of Cocoa Mulch) in a statement that says, “…studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees, however, 98% of all dogs won’t eat it.” The accuracy of this statement is questionable.

Anyone who has had greyhounds knows they’ll eat just about anything. These dogs don’t have very discriminating taste buds. As far as they’re concerned, if it smells good, it must be edible! Gastrointestinal upset is, by far, the most common symptom which prompts calls to GCNM from concerned adopters.

The diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Disorder is frighteningly common among greyhounds presenting to veterinarians with a history of intermittent bouts of gas, diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. The more likely cause of mild/moderate/severe gastro-intestinal distress is from ingesting something that isn‘t tolerated well by the sensitive greyhound‘s stomach.

Eating too much of anything can cause gastric upset in animals (and people!) and result in diarrhea and occasionally, vomiting. Introduce toxins into the equation and you have a recipe for possible disaster and expensive trips to the vet’s office.

The bottom line is, just because you don’t think it would make your animals sick, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Keep your yard and home free of anything your animals show interest in eating. Fruit fallen from trees, birdseed, birdbath water, fish ponds, animal feces (particularly bird droppings) – all can be harmful to your pets. Trees and bushes can drop berries or seeds that may also be toxic to your pets. Don’t assume that because you wouldn’t eat them, your animals wouldn’t. Remember, greyhounds will eat almost anything!

It’s safe to say that if you have Cocoa Mulch anyplace that is accessible by your pets, the stuff needs to be removed. Be wise, protect your pets – keep an eye out for anything on the ground that might go into your greyhound’s mouth. Treat them as you would an infant – don’t leave anything out that could go into their mouths, unless it’s designed to be eaten by them.


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