Is Mulch Safe For Dogs?

Is mulch safe for dogs? Photo of dog laying on a pile of mulch.

Is mulch safe for dogs? Although bark mulch is useful in the garden to retain moisture and keep things looking tidy, it can also cause problems if your dog starts to get too interested in it. Chewing on bark often results in gums full of splinters, but eating garden mulch can cause more serious health effects in dogs, with sometimes fatal results. 

Mulches sometimes contain molds, fungi, and toxic dyes or chemicals that cause lethargy, vomiting, and potentially death in dogs. Mulch that is made of cocoa fiber can literally poison dogs, since it contains many of the same compounds that chocolate does. Large pieces of mulch, if ingested, can puncture your dog’s digestive system.

We did some research in order to help you understand why your dog is attracted to mulch, ways to keep Fido away from it, and some alternatives to traditional wood chip mulch that will be less attractive to him.

Why do dogs eat mulch?

Dogs eat mulch for the same reasons that they chew on sticks or their toys or maybe even your slippers–it satisfies their instinctual need to gnaw on something, and it entertains them when they feel bored.

Mulch is also a reservoir of interesting smells and textures that dogs enjoy, all of which attract their attention and make it more likely that they will investigate.

This is especially true of mulches that are made up of larger pieces, like patio bark, which are the perfect size for a dog to pick up and chew down into nothing. Unfortunately, bark is also very splintery, and very likely to be home to pesticide residue or toxic mold.

So what works better: to keep dogs away from your mulched beds, or to use something other than bark and hope they aren’t as interested?

How to keep dogs out of mulch

The most effective way to keep any animal out of an area is to put up a fence. 

For small dogs this can be as simple as placing low ornamental fencing around the edge of your mulched garden beds. But for larger or more determined dogs, you may need to use a taller or more sturdy fence to keep them from getting at the mulch.

If fencing is not an option for you or your dog, you can also try repellents to make dogs avoid it entirely. 

Try using a hot pepper spray, which is organic, non-toxic, and creates a spicy burn in your dog’s mouth. This will need to be reapplied after rain, and possibly more often, if your mulched beds are near your lawn and receive moisture from the sprinklers. But you can use hot pepper spray as a deterrent when you first put down mulch, in order to convince your dog that it’s not worth his time going forward.

General-purpose animal repellents or coyote urine can also drive dogs away, but some dogs are actually attracted by these novel scents, so do a patch test on a small area of mulch before you spray down your whole yard.

Another way to solve the problem of your dog eating mulch is to switch to a different kind of mulch entirely. There are several kinds that are more dog-friendly than traditional bark chips.

Dog-friendly alternatives

Although bark mulch is not safe for dogs and comes with a host of problems, as listed above, these alternatives allow you to experience the benefits of mulch without worrying about its potential risks to your dog’s health.

Cedar mulch comes in the form of small shavings from processed cedar trees. This means that its pieces are quite small and unlikely to be attractive for chewing. Cedar is also naturally reddish and has a faint, pleasant aroma, making it an overall attractive addition to the garden. This is a great alternative when looking for a mulch that is safe for dogs.

Straw mulch is less common than bark or cedar, but is equally as effective at moisture retention and preventing soil erosion–plus it isn’t very chewy, so your dog won’t be interested! An organic source like this one is free of harmful pesticide residue, is easy to apply, and covers up to 500 square feet.

Rubber mulch is common in playgrounds, but it can be used in landscapes too. It is splinter-free and only needs to be replaced once in ten years. It is also generally ignored by dogs. It’s important to note that rubber mulch won’t provide the same soil-building benefits as tree-based organic mulches, but it does provide a low-maintenance mulch alternative that your dog won’t spend time gnawing on.

Landscape rock is an excellent mulch alternative that is literally un-chewable. If your pup just won’t stop gnawing on whatever you try to use as mulch, consider replacing it with a thin layer of pebbles instead.t our

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