If you are a gardener, you may be familiar with the term "compost" and may even have some at your home.  Compost is made from organic materials such as vegetables, fruits, grass clippings, and leaves. When those things break down, they create heat that kills most of the organisms in them. This makes compost safer than using fertilizer, which can contain chemicals that are harmful to pets.

Every summer, we receive questions from clients regarding safe gardening practices with their pets. Particularly, clients are concerned about gardening compost and what happens if their dog eats it.

Composting is an environmentally friendly way to recycle kitchen waste and other compostable items. While compost is great for your garden, it is very harmful to your dog!

Dogs are attracted to the smell of compost and if you're not careful, your dog may ingest the material and become incredibly sick. The material provides a choking hazard with bones and other large materials, and there are also dangerous toxins in compost that can cause severe illness.

Decaying food material contains many types of mold and the mold spores produce mycotoxins. Therefore, consuming mold will cause mycotoxin ingestion and your pet will show signs of tremors and imbalance. Other notable signs could include vomiting/diarrhea, fever, and excitability. These symptoms can last for many days if not treated.

Diagnosing compost toxicity in dogs

Diagnosis is based on clinical exam findings and owner history. There are no practical tests for compost and mycotoxin ingestion, so you need to rely on an astute veterinarian to make the diagnosis. Once properly diagnosed, your veterinarian can start implementing the necessary treatments and therapies.

What is the treatment for compost toxicity in dogs?

Treatment should be implemented ASAP. Your veterinarian will induce vomiting if ingestion has occurred a short time ago and there is no vomiting as a symptom. In addition, activated charcoal should be administered to help bind and absorb the toxins within the gastrointestinal system. Intravenous fluids are also beneficial to support the body and prevent dehydration.

Fortunately, prevention is easy. Make sure you keep a closed, air-tight bin for your kitchen compost and make it out of reach from your pets. If you have a backyard compost bin, be very careful to prevent access to your pets and always supervise them while they are around. If you happen to see your dog eat compost, call your veterinarian right away for advice -- do not wait for symptoms to show.

We hope this helps and please contact your veterinarian with any further questions or concerns.