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Cocoa Mulch Toxic to Dogs Warning Email

Outline
Email forward warns that Cocoa Mulch can be harmful to dogs.



Brief Analysis
It is true that Cocoa Mulch can contain substances that can harm dogs if ingested in sufficient quantities. Dogs that consume cocoa mulch can develop methylxanthine toxicosis, a condition that can result in symptoms similar to canine chocolate poisoning. However, deaths from cocoa mulch poisoning appear to be quite uncommon.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.




Last updated: 16th April 2010
First published: 2nd June 2006
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer


Example (Submitted 2010)
Subject: Fw: cocoa shell mulch

Please tell every dog or cat owner you know. Even if you don't have a pet, please pass this to those who do.

Over the weekend, the doting owner of two young lab mixes purchased Cocoa Mulch from Target to use in their garden. The dogs loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away from their garden. Their dog (Calypso) decided the mulch smelled good enough to eat and devoured a large helping. She vomited a few times which was typical when she eats something new but wasn't acting lethargic in any way. The next day, Mom woke up and took Calypso out for her morning walk . Half way through the walk, she had a seizure and died instantly.

Although the mulch had NO warnings printed on the label, upon further investigation on the company's web site, this product is HIGHLY toxic to dogs and cats.

Cocoa Mulch is manufactured by Hershey's, and they claim that "It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won't eat it."

Cocoa Mulch, which is sold by Home Depot, Foreman's Garden Supply and other Garden supply stores contains a lethal ingredient called 'Theobromine'. It is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells like chocolate and it really attracts dogs. They will ingest this stuff and die. Several deaths already occurred in the last 2-3 weeks.

Theobromine is in all chocolate, especially dark or baker's chocolate which is toxic to dogs. Cocoa bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog that ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.

**PLEASE PASS THIS ON**


Example (Submitted 2006)
Please read and be cautious while gardening. Also pass it on to your pet lover friends.

URGENT info for pet owners......

Yesterday, one of our clients experienced a tragedy and wanted me to pass a special message along to all of my dog loving friends and family. I was hoping you could forward this to your contact list.

My client was the doting owner of two young lab/golden retriever mixes. Over the weekend, they purchased Cocoa Mulch from Target to use in their garden. They loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away from their garden. They set the bag in their yard. Their dog Calypso, decided that the mulch smelled good enough to eat so she broke into it and devoured a large helping. She vomited a few times which was typical of her when she would get into something she shouldn't?t have gotten in to. She was not acting lethargic in any way. The next day, Mom woke up and took Calypso out for her morning walk. Half way through the walk, she had a seizure and died instantly. Although the mulch had NO warnings printed on the label, upon further investigation on the company's website, this product is HIGHLY toxic to dogs. Denise (Calypso's mom) wanted me to pass this information along so no one had to experience the same tragedy she went through.

In Loving Memory of Calypso.

Cocoa Mulch is manufactured by Hershey's, and they claim that "It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won't eat it."




Detailed Analysis
This email forward warns that Cocoa Mulch can be harmful to dogs and relates the story of a dog named Calypso who died after eating the product. The warning first began circulating back in 2006 and has since spawned several versions. The warnings have also been posted to many blogs, online forums and social networking websites.

©iStockphoto.com/Chris Price

Dog in Garden
It is true that Cocoa Mulch can be toxic to dogs
It is true that Cocoa Mulch can contain substances that can harm dogs if ingested in sufficient quantities. Cocoa Mulch is made from the shell of the cocoa bean and is a by-product of chocolate production. Since the mulch is organic in nature, works well, looks good and can give the garden a pleasant chocolaty smell, it is popular with home gardeners. However, cocoa mulch can contain theobromine and caffeine, which are chemicals called methylxanthines that can be harmful to dogs. Dogs that consume cocoa mulch can develop methylxanthine toxicosis, a condition that can result in symptoms similar to canine chocolate poisoning. According to an American Veterinary Medical Association article:
Vomiting and muscle tremors were the most common signs of toxicosis that occurred following ingestion. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the severity of clinical signs increased when larger amounts were ingested. Other signs were tachycardia, hyperactivity, and diarrhea.
One report, published in a 1984 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, notes:
A dog, which ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells, developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.
That said, deaths from cocoa mulch poisoning appear to be quite uncommon. Information in the AVMA article notes that there were no 2006 reports of lethal toxicosis due to cocoa mulch ingestion as of late April and, of the 16 mulch related reports fielded in 2004 and 2005, none were fatal. And an article about cocoa mulch published on the ASPCA website notes:
Dogs who consume enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors or other more serious neurological signs could occur. To date, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has not received any cases involving animal deaths due to cocoa mulch ingestion.
While the claim that coca mulch can cause canine illness is factual, the particular incident described in the message is unsubstantiated. It seems that the authors of these types of warning messages often have an unfortunate tendency to embellish the core information with anecdotal stories of questionable veracity, perhaps in a misguided attempt to add a human element to their claims. The message does not provide any method of verifying if Calypso did actually die as a result of consuming cocoa mulch or even if she was a real dog. The previously mentioned AVMA article questions the truth of the claims in the message:
The story being circulated about a young dog named Calypso ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch may be true, Dr. Hansen said, but the cause of the dog's death is "highly suspect." The statement that she vomited a few times is consistent with such poisoning, but not the absence of other clinical signs until the next day, when the dog is said to have had a single seizure during her morning walk and died instantly.

"A big problem from the perspective of a toxicologist and a veterinary clinician is that if you have poisoning from methylxanthines, you get a progression of signs vomiting, diarrhea, more vomiting, trembling, the heart rate kicks up, then it may progress to seizures if the dose is exceptionally high, with death being uncommon," Dr. Hansen said. "A necropsy would have likely shown that Calypso had an underlying condition that caused her death."
Also, it should be noted that the level of methylxanthines is not the same in all cocoa mulches. The AVMA article notes that current processing technology may result in lower chemical residues. There are a number of companies that distribute the product. One, Florida Cocoa Mulch, claims to have sold millions of bags of cocoa mulch and never had a single report about a dog getting seriously ill from eating the product. However, it seems that several of the companies that previously distributed the product have now ceased to do so. The warning message claims that large US chocolate and sugar confectionery company, Hershey's distributes cocoa mulch. While the company did sell the product in the past, it no longer does so and has published the following information on its website:
The Hershey Company does not manufacture or market cocoa mulch. However, we periodically receive questions concerning cocoa mulch and pets.

Cocoa mulch consists of cocoa bean shells. Although not a food or a food ingredient, cocoa mulch, like chocolate products, contains naturally occurring theobromine and caffeine. As previously mentioned, animals like dogs are often sensitive to the theobromine, which can lead to toxicity and even death in some animals.

Dogs and other animals are often attracted by the pleasant aroma from cocoa shell mulch. Because it can be harmful to animals if ingested, think carefully about where you choose to apply the mulch and supervise your pets. These steps can effectively eliminate the possibility of animal consumption in a quantity sufficient to cause adverse affects. If your pet has eaten cocoa shell mulch, immediately contact your veterinarian.
Although the truth of Calypso's story may be somewhat questionable, dog owners should certainly take heed of the message's warning. If you have a dog, especially one that is not fussy about what it eats (not an uncommon characteristic among our canine friends), it would be wise to avoid the use of cocoa mulch, or at least keep a close eye on Rover's garden forays.

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References
Danger to dogs from cocoa bean mulch put in perspective
Cacao bean shell poisoning in a dog.
Pets and Cocoa Mulch Facts
ASPCA - Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch

Last updated: 16th April 2010
First published: 2nd June 2006
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer