by Erin Marissa Russell
Some mulches just aren’t a good match for gardens where dogs will play. Sometimes a mulch alternative is toxic to dogs if consumed, and in other cases it’s just too inviting and won’t last. We’ll give you the rundown of which mulch alternatives work well with dogs, and we’ll also explain why other options didn’t make our list.
Do Use These Mulch Alternatives with Dogs
Cedar is the most popular type of mulch alternative for gardeners who have dogs. It is shredded finely enough to not be attractive to chewers. If it does happen to be swallowed in small amounts, it can be digested. And it even repels fleas and other undesirable insects.
As long as the fibers and pieces are thin and small enough, coconut coir mulches are an excellent choice for use around pets. They’re not toxic, and the small pieces shouldn’t present any risk of bowel obstruction if a piece happens to get swallowed. However, you don’t want your dog ingesting large amounts of any non-food material, so if your pet is chewing on the coconut mulch or eating it, you’ll need to find another option.
Coconut coir is good at retaining moisture and it also provides great drainage. It also has a neutral pH level. It will help with keeping weeds and slugs at bay, too.
As long as your grass clippings have never been treated with pesticides or herbicides, they are safe to use in areas where dogs will play. Let grass clippings dry out before spreading them in your garden as a mulch alternative.
Just keep in mind that the warning against grass treated with pesticides or herbicides is quite serious. Consuming grass that has ever been treated with pesticides or herbicides can be dangerous or fatal for dogs, and some pesticides can cause bladder cancer in dogs.
Shredded newspaper keeps moisture in the soil where plants can use it. In warm weather, it will help keep the ground cool, while when it is cold, it will warm the soil up a bit. Newspaper even helps keep weeds out of your garden. Moisten the newspaper before you spread it in the garden so that it will stay in place.
Newspaper is not the most beautiful mulch alternative out there, but it’s an excellent choice if you have a dog that’s an aggressive chewer. It isn’t an attractive option for most dogs, but even if your dog happens to consume it, it won’t harm your pet.
Shredded leaves make a good mulch, as long as they are from a tree that is not toxic to your pet. Before you use shredded leaves in your garden, do a quick Google search to make sure that the tree they come from is not one that’s toxic if consumed by pets. As long as you get the all-clear, you can safely use nontoxic leaves around your dog.
You can even collect fallen leaves from your yard, making shredded leaves a really affordable mulch alternative. Leaves must be dried out before you add them to your garden as mulch. The leaves will decompose quickly in the garden, releasing plenty of nutrition into the soil for your plants.
To prevent the spread of plant disease in your garden, make sure that the leaves you use as mulch do not touch the plants. Leave a margin of a couple of inches of empty space between your plants and the leaf mulch.
Rubber mulch is made from recycled tires, so most dogs won’t be attracted to the smell or flavor. However, you know your dog best. Some dogs are just prone to chewing, and if yours is a chewer, rubber mulch may be problematic.
The pieces are small enough for some dogs to consume them whole, and other dogs may be able to break off a piece by chewing that they can swallow. If swallowed, rubber mulch is dangerous because it can cause a bowel obstruction.
You may wish to use a small amount of rubber mulch at first and supervise your dog heavily to determine whether they’ll be attracted to it. As we said at the outset, most dogs aren’t—so use your best judgment about whether rubber mulch makes the safe list with your particular dog.
Rubber mulch looks just the same as a wood mulch in the garden. However, it’s much more durable and long-lasting than wood mulches, and it won’t require replacing as frequently as a wood mulch would.
Stone or Rock Mulch
Mulches made out of rocks or stones don’t really have a flavor or aroma at all, so most dogs won’t be tempted to chew on them. However, if your dog is prone to chewing on rocks or stones, don’t use these mulches in your garden, since your pet could break a tooth or swallow the stones if they are small enough.
In most cases, however, stone or rock mulch is a safe mulch alternative to use if you have dogs. Stone and rock mulches do a good job of keeping moisture in the soil. However, they don’t decompose fast enough to provide any added nutrition. For this reason, you may wish to use a fertilizer in conjunction with stone or rock mulches.
These mulches also have a tendency to heat up in the sun. If they touch your plants’ foliage, the plants can be damaged or scorched. There’s a simple solution to this problem, though. Just leave an empty margin of a couple of inches between your plants and the stones or rocks.
Straw or Hay
These aren’t the most commonly used option as a mulch alternative, but they work well, especially around pets. Because of their texture, straw and hay mulches aren’t attractive to most dogs. If your dog does consume some straw or hay, it is digestible.
Straw and hay mulches do a great job of keeping moisture in the soil and keeping weeds at bay. As an organic mulch material that decomposes rather quickly, straw and hay also add vital nutrients to the soil as they break down. However, this means that straw and hay mulches do need to be replaced a bit more frequently than some other mulch alternatives.
Straw and hay are affordable and easy to install, particularly over large areas. Some gardeners don’t like the look of straw and hay mulches, so they add another layer of a prettier mulch down over the top of them.
Untreated, Nontoxic Bark Mulches
As long as bark mulches are made of untreated wood and are a nontoxic wood, they are safe to use around most dogs. (As we’ve said before, if your dog is prone to chewing, this mulch may present a problem.) Oak, cherry, and trumpet vine cedar are examples of toxic wood. On the safe list are crabapple, dogwood, and Douglas fir.
There are so many different types of wood used in bark mulch that you may need to do a bit of Googling to determine whether the bark mulch you’re considering is toxic to dogs or not. Consult the packaging to find out whether the wood is treated (or dyed) or untreated. The same goes for sawdust, wood chips, or any wood-based mulch.
Bark is an excellent mulch alternative because it tends to break down quickly, filling the soil with nutrients. However, this also means you’ll need to replace bark mulch more often than you will more durable mulch alternatives. Bark naturally repels water, so it works best in parts of the garden that are not currently planted.
Don’t Use These Mulch Alternatives with Dogs
Cocoa Bean Mulch
Cocoa bean mulch is also called cocoa shell mulch or cocoa hull mulch. It’s made from the outer shell of the cocoa bean, which is somewhat similar to a pistachio shell. Cocoa mulch has a naturally sweet aroma and taste that can attract dogs, but like chocolate, cocoa mulch is toxic for dogs because of the theobromine it contains. If you have dogs that will spend any time in your garden, don’t use cocoa mulch.
Mulch with Large Pieces
If your dog is a real chewer or eats foreign materials, you may want to consider avoiding mulches (even safe mulches) that are made up of large pieces. If consumed, large pieces of mulch can cause bowel obstructions, which can be dangerous.
Pine Needle Mulch
Don’t use mulches made of pine needles if you have dogs. Some dogs will chew on or consume the needles, and once the needles make it to the stomach, they can damage the stomach lining.
Treated or Toxic Wood Mulches
Any type of mulch made from wood or bark should be checked to make sure it is not treated (or dyed). This information can be found on the packaging. Then do a bit of quick research to make sure the type of wood used is not toxic to your pet. Check for these two bits of information before you decide to use a new type of wood or bark mulch in your garden.
Any time you’ve installed a new type of mulch in your garden, pay extra attention to your pet and check for allergic reactions. Look for skin rashes or wheezing. An allergic reaction can occur even with mulches that are on the safe list if your dog has the allergy.
Whichever mulch alternative you choose, it’s best to watch your pet carefully just after the mulch has been installed. If you see your dog chewing on the mulch or if the dog is spending a lot of time investigating the mulch, you may wish to pull it out and replace it with another type of mulch. You may wish to introduce new mulch alternatives to your garden a little at a time so that if they do need to be removed, it won’t be too much extra work.
If your dog is really interested in chewing and you aren’t having any luck choosing a mulch alternative, we do have two last tips. Some gardeners have had success installing metal mesh over their mulch to keep dogs out and keep the mulch in place. If you don’t want to cover your mulch with a metal mesh, there’s one more option. Try creating a homemade spray of garlic water or straight apple cider vinegar. These scents are repellent to dogs, so spray them on the mulch if you’re having trouble keeping your dog away from it.
You know your pet best, and with the information here, you’re armed with the knowledge you need to choose the best mulch alternative for your garden and your dog.