We all know dogs will eat anything, and usually get away with just a stomach ache if something disagrees with them. But take it from us as a matter of great importance – one thing you do not want your dog to eat is compost.
Compost is poisonous for dogs and can make them very ill or kill them. As compost breaks down it produces mycotoxins from mold spores, which are highly toxic if eaten. Mycotoxin poisoning can cause severe illness in your dog, and even death, so keep your compost heap enclosed and out of reach.
Let’s discover why compost is bad for dogs, what the symptoms of compost poisoning are – and also consider what you should do if your dog has eaten compost. We’ll then look at safe composting and best practice compost spreading in order to protect your dog.
Why is Compost Bad For Dogs?
Compost is a marvelous way of recycling your food waste, as it’s good for both your garden and the environment. However, compost is not so good for your dog, and we’ll take a closer look at why this is the case.
As compost breaks down, it produces mycotoxins. These come from mold spores, and are highly toxic if eaten. Mycotoxin poisoning can cause severe illness in your pet, and even death.
Even worse, there isn’t an antidote for mycotoxin poisoning. The dog may survive with prompt treatment from a veterinarian (such as induced vomiting); however, this nasty poison can cause secondary complications which can also be fatal.
We’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news with this one, but there’s no nice way to say this. Compost is extremely bad for dogs, and as both gardeners and pet owners, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our pooches can’t feast on our compost heaps.
Can Organic & Store Bought Compost Hurt Dogs?
Commercially bought compost is also poisonous to dogs. A bag of store-bought compost or fertilizer probably isn’t as exciting to your dog as a huge pile of compost, however, it’s not worth making this assumption.
Keep any bags of compost under lock and key, and limit their access to flower beds and pots after you’ve used it for your plants. We’ll talk more about safe composting methods later.
“Organic” products sound safer, but actually they’re not. They often contain natural ingredients such as bone meal, fish meal, and feather meal. These sound disgusting to us humans, but trust us, your dog will think these smell amazing. Unfortunately, this delicious-smelling product could make your dog very poorly indeed.
Symptoms of Compost Poisoning in Dogs
After 30 minutes of eating compost, and typically within three hours, the poor dog will become very sick.
There are likely to be the typical signs of food poisoning (vomiting and diarrhea), but these are just two of the symptoms. Another symptom of mycotoxin poisoning is a raised temperature (hyperthermia), so the dog may be panting.
Other signs could be drooling and the dog appearing agitated and excitable. The symptoms we’ve mentioned could last for days if left unchecked. Worryingly, these could progress to more serious signs like tremors and imbalance, and the dog could even experience seizures – very frightening for both dog and owner.
Because there is no straightforward antidote to compost poisoning, the only safe thing to do is to get the dog to the veterinary surgery, immediately.
What To Do if Your Dog Has Eaten Compost
If you suspect your dog has eaten compost, you need to act fast. Get the dog to the veterinarian as soon as you can. If you notice your dog is eating compost, contact your vet immediately, and don’t wait for the symptoms to show. The sooner you act, the greater the chance of recovery.
Once at the vets’ your dog will probably be admitted into the “hospital” section for immediate treatment. There is no antidote, but there are plenty of treatments that can help.
The priority is to get those toxins out of the dog’s system. If your dog isn’t already vomiting, this will be induced. The dog could be given charcoal to bind any remaining toxins, or they could be flushed out with IV fluids.
The symptoms will be treated to make your dog feel more comfortable. Cold water or alcohol baths will bring down a fever, and there’s medication and muscle relaxants to control spasms.
All being well, if you’ve acted quickly your dog should recover within 48 hours. But, the poor animal isn’t out of the woods yet. Seizures and tremors will continue for a few days, and the vet will want to keep an eye out for secondary complications arising. These can be fatal, and include clotting problems and aspiration pneumonia.
How Do You Keep Dogs Out of Compost?
As you can see, prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to compost poisoning. The problem is, dogs are natural scavengers, and compost smells fascinating to them. How can you keep your dog out of the compost?
The obvious solution is not to have a compost pile at all, and to store any commercial compost in a locked shed. Make sure your dog can’t get out of your yard to investigate the neighbors’ compost heaps.
But of course, many of us gardeners like to recycle our food waste, and home-made compost is great for our plants. The solution is to compost in a sealed container rather than an open pile. You can buy sealed compost bins with lids, which will keep even the most inquisitive dog out.
To be extra sure, you can keep your bins in a fenced compound in your yard (if you have the space).
Is Garden Soil Bad For Dogs?
It’s not so much the soil that’s bad for dogs – it’s what we gardeners mix into it. We’ve talked about home-made, organic, and shop-bought composts already, and established that all these are toxic. So, when we add these to our flower beds or vegetable patches, we’re making the earth poisonous for our pets.
Many of us also add mulch made from cocoa shells to the soil. It looks and smells nice, and it’s great for the garden. This is also toxic to canines, as the husks contain theobromine, the chemical that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs. Manure can be poisonous too (due to the presence of ammonia and potential internal parasites), and we all know how much dogs are attracted to poop…
And add to this mix other toxic garden products like weed killer, bug killer, and slug bait, and your typical well-tended yard is a soup of toxins. How can we combine tending to our gardens and keeping our pets safe?
How To Compost Safely For Dogs
Special compost bins, locked sheds, and fences can keep your dog out of the compost store. But what happens after you’ve spread the compost on the beds? After all, you can’t stop a dog from digging in the dirt.
The best compromise is just to use compost where it’s really needed, such as on your vegetable beds. You’ll have to fashion a barrier around this bed to keep your dog off it – and to be honest, you don’t want them to dig up your prize vegetables, anyway. The type of barrier you need (picket fence, prickly plants) depends on the size and temperament of your pet.
Keep your dog indoors while you’re actually mixing in the compost, so they can’t have a sneaky lick at it. Wash your wheelbarrow and tools afterwards, and make sure your hands are clean before you pet your dog. Your cat is very unlikely to eat compost, but it’s still best to keep all pets indoors while you’re using any fertilizers.
If you’ve prioritized the areas that need compost, simply don’t add any to other parts of your garden, or don’t use it at all. You can manage without toxic garden products, and there are a few alternatives to compost and fertilizers. Try shredded pine or cedar bark instead of cocoa husks, and seaweed is a great natural fertilizer that won’t harm your dog.
Compost contains mold spore mycotoxins which are poisonous for dogs and can either make them very ill or kill them. So keep your hungry hound out of harm’s way by ensuring your compost heap is enclosed and covered.
When you spread compost on the garden, make sure you keep your dog inside whilst doing this. Only use it sparingly and dig the compost in so the smell isn’t so alluring.
If you see your dog eating compost – or you’ve learnt to recognize the signs of compost poisoning listed above and your dog is exhibiting these – then take your pet to the emergency vet immediately.
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >