Have you just watched on in horror as your dog swallowed some compost? Aside from it being gross, can this harm them? Is there anything you now need to do in response or be aware of? Well, here is everything you are going to want to know – and put it this way, you’ll be pleased you checked!
So, what should you do first if your dog ate compost? If your dog has eaten compost, you should contact your vet right away. While there is no antidote or cure for compost poisoning, most dogs will fully recover within 24-48 hours with prompt treatment.
Nevertheless, and either way, time is of the essence.
The sooner poisoning is addressed, the easier, less expensive, and safer it is to treat.
But is this true for all compost? Whether home-made or store-bought?
We will get into that in the next section, so keep reading!
Is Garden Compost Harmful To Dogs?
Garden compost is extremely harmful to dogs because it contains toxins that can make your dog severely ill. Compost also has choking hazards because of the large pieces it typically contains.
Can Compost Become Toxic To Dogs?
Compost can become very toxic and therefore dangerous to dogs because of the fungi that grow in the decomposing food or plant material.
The toxic fungi produce what are called tremorgenic mycotoxins. The word ‘tremorgenic’ means that which induces tremors or shaking. Mycotoxins are a kind of poisonous mold.
Even a small amount of compost can lead to mycotoxin poisoning.
Sometimes it only takes your dog sticking his nose or paws into the compost to pick up some bacteria or spores that can then cause serious illness!
Compost is also dangerous to dogs because of the chunks of wood, bone, or other materials. Your dog could choke and not be able to breathe and die within minutes.
Many people also add mulch (made from cocoa shells) to the compost. Mulch smells fantastic, but it’s toxic to your dog. Cocoa shells contain theobromine: the chemical that’s in chocolate that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs.
Manure is another toxic additive in compost because of internal parasites and ammonia.
Some people add coffee grounds to their compost or directly onto the soil. Coffee grounds are also extremely toxic to dogs (and other pets) because of their caffeine content.
What About Store-Bought Compost?
Store-bought compost is just as toxic as home-grown compost. Don’t assume that a commercially produced product will smell any less attractive to your dog or be any less dangerous.
Even ‘organic’ compost sounds safe but is not: natural ingredients such as bone meal, feather meal, and fish meal are highly attractive to dogs. The fungi are still there, though, and will poison your dog in minutes.
Store-bought compost also contains chunks of wood, bone, and other materials that could present a choking hazard.
Why Do Dogs Eat Compost?
Dogs eat compost for three main reasons. They are attracted to the smell (perhaps even something specific mixed in, such as mulch rotting food), they are suffering a nutritional deficiency or they suffer from Pica (a condition where dogs consume non-food items).
Dogs are often attracted to the smell of compost and other forms of dirt.
It could be the smell generally, or something that smells delicious to them, mixed in.
Sometimes dogs eat compost or soil because of a nutritional deficiency or an underlying health issue.
A deficiency in minerals like calcium, iron, and sodium can cause a dog to seek out dirt to compensate. Dogs will also seek out dirt if they’re lacking in healthy bacteria (probiotics.)
Other dogs will eat anything if they suffer from pica (eating non-food items.)
This condition does not affect all dogs, and usually affects them differently too.
Some dogs may only eat one type of item, while others will eat a wide variety.
What To Do Now Your Dog Has Eaten Compost
If your dog has eaten compost, get him to the vet immediately. The sooner you get help for your dog, the more likely he’ll recover.
Get Your Dog To The Vet
If you see your dog eating compost, don’t wait to contact your vet. Call them straight away and get your dog in to see them as a matter of urgency.
You may want to take a quick picture of what your dog has eaten so that the vet can get an idea of the toxins involved (provided you still get out the door quickly.)
It only takes from 30 minutes to three hours for a dog to become very sick after having eaten compost.
Note: Do not try to induce vomiting yourself. Suppose your dog has any loss of muscle control from the toxins. He may inhale his vomit, leading to aspiration pneumonia (vomit, saliva, food, or other substances get into the lungs.) Aspiration pneumonia can lead to fatal complications. Your vet will decide whether inducing vomiting is safe.
Signs Of Compost Poisoning
Here are some possible signs of compost poisoning:
- High temperature
- Foaming at the mouth
- High agitation
More advanced signs of poisoning, which can be very frightening, include:
Once You’re At The Vet
Although there is no antidote, here’s what can happen once you arrive at the vet:
- Your dog will be admitted into the hospital part of the veterinary practice for emergency treatment.
- To try to get the toxins out of your dog’s system, your vet may induce vomiting (if your dog isn’t throwing up already.) Induced vomiting can only work in the early stages, and even then, it can be dangerous
- Sometimes your dog may receive activated charcoal to try and bind with any toxins in his system so that they pass through his digestive tract with minimal damage.
- IV fluids are sometimes administered to help flush out toxins and prevent dehydration.
In addition to the above procedures, your vet may administer a bath with cold water or alcohol to bring down the fever.
Some medications can help relax the muscles and control spasms.
Chances of Recovery
If you’ve acted very fast, your dog may recover within 48 hours.
However, know that any tremors or seizures will continue over the next few days.
Your vet will also want to keep watch for any secondary complications, such as:
- Problems with blood clotting
- Aspiration pneumonia
These complications can, unfortunately, be fatal.
How Do I Keep My Dog Out Of The Compost Pile?
It’s essential to keep your dog out of the compost pile. You can do this with proper storage and boundaries to block your dog’s access to compost.
The clear solution is not to have a compost pile – simply store your compost inside a locked shed where your dog can’t get at it.
Alternatively, you can use a sealed container. Many compost bins are sealed with tight-fitting lids that will keep out any inquisitive animal, including your dog.
To be extra safe, you can put your compost containers inside a fenced area that is off-limits to your dog.
Be Aware Of Other Compost Piles
Your neighbors may have a compost heap, so make sure your dog can’t get into their yard to go exploring!
As more and more people take up backyard composting, vets are seeing more curious dogs whose lives are at risk from having explored the neighbor’s compost pile.
When you are out and about, don’t let your dog rummage through garbage piles.
Although a pile of discarded food isn’t necessarily a compost heap, the fungi are already present.
You don’t want your dog to nose around in discarded food or other waste, ever.
One dog had to be brought to the hospital just after eating moldy bread and vegetables.
Your compost containers may be sealed, but what happens once you want to use compost in your garden?
Only Use Compost Where Needed
Stick to using compost in the smallest possible areas, e.g., your vegetable plots.
You can then put a fenced barrier around the vegetable beds – you don’t want your dog digging up your carrots!
Try putting up a fence, or use spiky plants, depending on the size of your dog and what will be the best deterrent for him.
Keep Your Dog Inside
When you’re mixing the compost into the soil in your beds, keep your dog inside.
You don’t want him ‘helping’ by digging into the dirt and getting compost on his paws.
Clean Up Afterward
Don’t leave traces of compost on your wheelbarrow, spade, or other tools. Wash everything when you’ve finished.
Clean your hands of compost before petting your dog.
Try Compost Alternatives
For the other parts of your garden – or for all of it, if you like – you can use alternatives to compost.
Try shredded cedar or pine bark, or even seaweed, all of which work well.
Avoid Certain Compost Ingredients
As they break down, animal products produce dangerous bacteria such as bacillus and salmonella.
These bacteria are toxic for your dog as well as for you and other family members.
Keep the lid on your compost, and restrict the contents to plant-based matter like leaves, grass clippings, and fruit and vegetable waste.
Several compost components are toxic to dogs, such as cocoa shells and coffee grounds (see above.) Other foods that are known to be toxic to dogs include:
- Macadamia nuts
- Certain garden plants (tulips, hydrangeas, daffodils, and other plants)
While your dog risks illness no matter what’s in your compost pile, you can perhaps reduce the risk of serious complications by avoiding these items.
If your dog has eaten compost, don’t delay – call a vet or the pet poison helpline.
And as quickly as you can.
While your dog may be fortunate enough not to suffer from compost poisoning, you will never know for sure – there is always the chance they could.
And it can even be fatal.
Particularly if left too late.
So the faster a vet can examine your dog (and potentially begin treatment), the less severe and greater the chances your dog will have of a full recovery.
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I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.