Mulch not only protects the roots of your plants, but it also helps to prevent soil erosion and the growth of unwanted weeds in your garden. Unfortunately, not all materials used to make mulch are safe to use around our four-legged friends. When selecting the type of mulch you want to put in your garden, choose materials that are nontoxic and safe for your pets as well as your plants.
Wood mulch, including pine, cedar and walnut hardwood, makes a generally pet-safe choice that is also attractive in your garden. In fact, cedar shavings are used in pet bedding, although they can occasionally cause skin irritations if your dog or cat rolls around on it. Both hard and soft woods are biodegradable, breaking down over time, and the oils of woods such as cedar help to deter garden insects and pet parasites. Wood mulch also absorbs odors if your pet decides to eliminate on it.
Recycled newspaper makes an environmentally friendly mulch choice, as well as a pet-safe one. Newspaper shreds contain no toxic chemicals that could hurt either your plants or pets, even if ingested. Although newspapers in the past used ink containing heavy metals, modern black-and-white newspapers use soy-based or petroleum-based ink that is nontoxic, according to the West Virginia University Extension Service. The paper-based mulch is also soft under the paws of rambunctious pets.
Rubber mulch, also referred to as rubber crumb, is made from recycled tires and considered nontoxic to pets, plants and people, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. This type of mulch is soft, doesn't attract animals to it and is commonly used in dog parks because of its pet-friendly properties. Because it doesn't biodegrade, it is also a more permanent solution for your garden and comes in a variety of hues, which can add a pop of color to your yard. Maintenance is simple, requiring the occasional rinse with your water hose, which also washes away odors if your pet eliminates on the mulch.
Potentially Toxic Mulch
Avoid using mulch made from cocoa bean shells, which are a byproduct of chocolate production. Although this mulch smells good and looks attractive, it can attract curious pets over to it because of its sweet smell and taste. Dogs or cats that ingest cocoa mulch can experience vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased heart rate and even seizures.
Grass, leaves and other plant clippings can make pet-safe mulch but only if they were not treated with pesticides or herbicides. Rocks are also pet-safe if they are smooth, so that they don't have jagged edges that can harm paws. Unfortunately, if your pet suffers from pica and has a penchant for eating nonfood items like mulch, any type of mulch could make the pet sick when ingested, especially in large amounts. For example, rocks, wood or rubber can cause gastrointestinal blockages when ingested. Wood also contains resins that can cause gastrointestinal upset or nervous system depression when eaten in large amounts, warns the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For pets with pica, use large, decorative stones as mulch because they won't fit in your furry companion's mouth.