Mulch For Dogs – Safety, Precautions, Best Types & FAQs

Mulch For Dogs – Safety, Precautions, Best Types & FAQs

As an avid gardener and dutiful pet parent, you may be wondering if there is any mulch for dogs. While no mulch is completely safe for dogs, there are some that must be avoided and some that are safer than others. By learning which mulches are safest for your pooch, the two of you can both enjoy your landscaping efforts together without any extra stress.

The best dog mulch is organic, free from pesticides, and free from metals. However, the best mulch for your furry friend will vary depending on their eating and toileting habits too. For example, if your dog eats rocks, a stone mulch is less suitable for your garden. Here, we discuss which mulches are safe and which are not.

What is Mulch?

A mulch is any layer of material on top of the soil. You might use a mulch to conserve moisture in the soil, improve soil fertility and health, reduce weed growth, and to enhance the visual aesthetic of the area. Mulches are typically organic to allow essential nutrients to leech into the soil. You can use many different materials as mulches and the best choice depends on a number of factors. Their usage depends on availability, cost, appearance, effects on the soil, and perhaps most important of all, their safety for use with pets.

It’s not just people who enjoy mulch – mulches offer new scents and textures for curious dogs to explore and can retain warmth when your pet sits outside. Many pet parents also use mulch to keep potentially toxic weeds at bay in their garden. Unfortunately, some types of mulch are not safe for dogs. They are toxic or damaging to the gastrointestinal tract when eaten.

Types of Mulch Safe for Dogs

Not all mulches are safe for dogs. For example, cocoa mulch contains theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. Similarly, pine needle mulch contains small needles that may damage your dog’s stomach. Mulches with large chunks of material can cause obstructions in the gastrointestinal tract. So what options remain? Fortunately, there are many mulches that are safe for dogs. These include rubber mulch, stone mulch, cedar mulch, and cypress mulch.


Not only is rubber mulch environmentally friendly, but it is safe for your pooch as well. It is made by recycling rubber tires, which saves them from landfills. This makes rubber mulch a greener option for your garden. Plus, unless your dog has a penchant for munching on your garden mulch, they should have no problem with it if you use a metal-free mulch. Rubber mulch also prevents weed growth which eliminates the need for toxic weed killers. Also, it does not hold water and rinsing can keep it clean and sanitary. Although rubber may sound like a risk for dogs, rubber mulch is used in dog parks across the USA. In fact, Freedom Bark Park in Indiana uses rubber mulch and won “America’s Best Dog Park” in 2009.

Stone and Rock

Perhaps one of the most aesthetically appealing choices, stone mulches consist of a layer of stones on top of your garden soil. A stone mulch consists of decorative gravel ranging from pea-size to golf ball size and can be any color too. Rock mulch allows for easy drainage and lasts longer than organic mulch. On the downside, rocks do not offer nutrients to the soil or plants in your garden. This leads us to the most important part: is it safe for your dog? If your dog does not eat rocks, stone mulch is safe as long as it does not contain sharp pieces. However, if your dog has pica, or is known to munch on the occasional rock, this type of mulch is not the best option.

Untreated Wood

Untreated wood mulches are made using natural substances and are not treated with pesticides. Of course, the best part of this is that your dog is not at risk of poisoning from any pesticides. But, while this may seem like the best option for dogs, untreated wood mulches might attract termites and other pests into your yard. This is especially a concern if you intend to place your mulch close to untreated wooden structures. Wood mulch may also retain water which can expose your pooch to other risks. When your dog drinks standing water they are at risk of catching leptospirosis. To prevent these issues, we recommend keeping your untreated wood mulch less than three inches deep as this amount is too shallow to promote water retention.

untreated wood mulch
Make sure to use mulch with natural substances.


Cedar mulch is, as the name suggests, made with the chipped or shredded wood of cedar trees. Most gardeners know that cedar is renowned for deterring moths, cockroaches, termites, rodents, and snakes with its strong earthy smell and natural insecticidal action. But is it safe for your furry friend? The consensus is not entirely clear. Cedar can cause contact dermatitis and respiratory infections in some cases if your dog is allergic to cedar. Cedar is also linked to mastitis in nursing dogs due to its ability to harbor Klebsiella bacteria. However, not all dogs are allergic to cedarwood, and your dog may not be affected. Also, be aware that white cedar (Melia azedarach) is toxic to dogs and must be avoided in your garden. If you choose to use cedar mulch, closely monitor your dog’s reaction, and be prepared to remove the mulch quickly if they show signs of allergies.


As its name suggests, cypress mulch is made from the shavings or chippings of cypress trees. Like most garden mulches, cypress mulch is effective at preventing weed growth. It also holds moisture well and protects roots from extreme temperatures. As cypress mulch degrades, it releases both nutrients and acidic chemicals, which are best for plants that benefit from acidic conditions. And, perhaps most importantly, cypress mulch is safe for your furry friend! Unfortunately, cypress mulch is not currently sustainable. A scientific panel found that 70 to 80 percent of Louisiana’s cypress forests will not regenerate if they are cut down, even when the forests are re-planted with more trees.

Mulches Dogs Should Avoid

Not all mulches are suitable for your pooch, so it’s important to research which types might put your pet at risk. Among the most dangerous mulches for dogs are cocoa bean mulch and pine needle mulch. While the former mulch is toxic to dogs, the latter mulch can cause internal damage to dogs. And, depending on your dog’s chewing habits, mulches that would normally be safe may be unsafe for your dog. For example, dogs with pica should interact with stone mulch as they are likely to eat the small rocks.


Cocoa mulch, also called cocoa bean mulch, is made up of cocoa bean shells. When cocoa beans are roasted, the shell separates and becomes sterilized, leaving it with a sweet smell and attractive appearance. Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen and phosphate and adds beneficial nutrients to your garden soil. Unfortunately, cocoa mulch is not safe for dogs. Cocoa mulch contains varying amounts of two toxic compounds: caffeine and theobromine. The sweet smell of cocoa mulch is attractive to dogs as well, which may encourage them to eat it. If your dog eats cocoa mulch you must seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The signs of cocoa mulch toxicity are very similar to chocolate toxicity as both contain similar toxic compounds.

cocoa mulch
Cocoa mulch is also known as cocoa bean mulch.

Pine Needle

Affordable, light, and easy to use, pine needle mulch has a multitude of benefits for an acidic garden. Pine needle mulch also breaks down slower than other mulches, meaning that its benefits carry on for longer. Unfortunately, pine needles are not safe for dogs. A dog that has ingested pine needles may vomit them back up or suffer from diarrhea. A greater concern is the development of blockages in the gastrointestinal tract. If your pooch eats pine needles, check in with your vet to be safe. A dog who regularly eats pine needle mulch may need surgery to remove blockages from their digestive system.

Mulch for Dogs – FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about mulch for dogs? Feel free to browse our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about the safety of your dog, always ask your vet for advice.

How can I keep my dog from eating mulch?

The best way to keep your dog from eating mulch is to give them other outlets for their energy. As such, if your dog eats mulch, there may be a behavioral or physiological reason for it that must be addressed. Your dog may eat mulch as a form of stress relief, boredom relief, or due to a nutritional deficiency. Consider each potential cause and take measures to rule them out. If your dog shows signs of stress, consider if they might be struggling with anxiety that you could consult a behaviorist about. Similarly, if your dog shows signs of boredom, try offering new toys, stimulating dog toys, and new experiences to keep them mentally stimulated. Lastly, if your dog regularly eats non-food items, a vet may diagnose them with pica.

Is it okay for dogs to ingest wood chip mulch?

It is not okay for your dog to regularly eat wood chip mulch. An organic, non-treated wood chip mulch will not cause significant harm to your pet if a small amount is eaten, but if your dog has a sensitive stomach, plain mulch may cause some gastrointestinal upset. It is best to monitor your dog for the next day to look for any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. In larger amounts, wood chip mulch can splinter in the gastrointestinal tract or form large, painful blockages in the stomach that may require surgery to fix. With this risk in mind, you should not let your dog eat mulch, and you must make sure to correct and redirect the behavior whenever you notice it.

What should I do if my dog ingests something sharp?

If your dog eats something sharp it is best to check in with your vet for advice. Depending on what your dog has eaten, they may or may not need help from a vet to pass the object. If your vet advises you to stay home you must carefully monitor how much you feed your dog compared to how much they go to the toilet. A lack of bowel passages can indicate a severe blockage.

You must also be aware of the signs that your dog needs emergency treatment and be ready to act fast. These warning signs include repetitive vomiting, vomiting blood, blood in the stool, a distended abdomen, pain when touching the abdomen, biting at the flanks, fever, depression, and dehydration. If your dog shows any of these signs, make sure that you get to your nearest emergency vet right away.

What if my dog ingests cocoa bean mulch?

Your dog needs to see a vet if they ingest cocoa bean mulch as the more dangerous signs of toxicity cannot be treated at home. Like chocolate, cocoa bean mulch is a source of theobromine and caffeine, both substances that are toxic to dogs. The signs of toxicity are progressive, typically beginning with vomiting and diarrhea and progressing to trembling, tachycardia, and seizures. Your vet may induce vomiting in your dog if it is safe to do so. To treat mild seizures, diazepam or methocarbamol may be given, and for severe seizures, your vet may give your pet barbiturates. Potentially dangerous arrhythmias are controlled using either propranolol, metoprolol, lidocaine, or atropine. Once your dog is stabilized, your vet might focus on keeping them warm and correcting any electrolyte imbalances.

Ingestion of cocoa bean mulch is not a common problem in dogs, but it does happen. In 2004 and 2005 there were 16 reports of exposure to cocoa bean mulch, reports the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center. Along with this, there are some anecdotal reports of dogs dying of toxicosis after ingesting cocoa bean mulch. There are no official statistics to suggest how many pet deaths have been caused by cocoa bean mulch.

Is dog urine good for mulch?

Undiluted dog urine is not good for mulch, nor is it good for your garden soil. This is because dog urine is rich in urea nitrogen and alkaline salts, which are waste products of the dog’s digestive system. In large amounts, the nitrogen expelled in dog urine dries out your plants and causes leaf burn, whilst also promoting disease in your garden plants. Also, dog urine salts can change the pH of your garden soil, making it more alkaline and damaging the roots of your plants. After your dog goes to the toilet on mulch, it is advisable to douse the area with water from a hose. A good rinse of the area within eight hours of your dog going to the toilet dilutes the urine enough to prevent plant damage.

When it comes to landscaping, you want to find the best mulch for dogs as well as one that fits your garden’s needs. The safest mulches for dogs are those that are organic, free from pesticides, and free from metals. Mulches such as cocoa bean mulch and pine needle mulch are unsafe for dogs. When choosing your mulch, be sure to check for each of these things before making your purchase. And, even if your mulch is safe for dogs, be sure to correct them when they eat it! Eating mulch of any kind leads to gastrointestinal upsets like diarrhea and vomiting, especially when eaten in excess.