What You Should Know About Compost Toxicity

By: Cyndi Ballard

Home composting continues to grow in popularity with gardeners and green-minded individuals alike. It’s a free and easy way to lower your carbon footprint, not to mention create plentiful produce and beautiful blooms by adding rich nutrients to your garden  soil.

Approximately 30% of what goes into the traditional trash bin, and subsequently the landfill, is compostable material. That includes yard & kitchen waste, like fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, corn cobs, and eggshells.

If not handled properly, all those decomposing table scraps can lead to a smelly temptation many dogs cannot resist. Dogs are not known for their discretion when it comes to dietary choices, but ingesting moldy food can spell disaster for them. Most pet owners are unaware that the very same fungal microorganisms that create the perfect compost pile are also highly toxic for pets.

Aspen, a patient undergoing treatment for compost ingestion. Aspen is in a medical coma to reduce muscle tremors and prevent seizures, and is receiving IV fluids and other supportive medications. We are monitoring his heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and urine output, as well as providing 100% oxygen to breathe.

The organisms are fungal neurotoxins, meaning they primarily affect the animal’s central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Signs of toxicity show up about 30 minutes to 3 hours after ingestion and can persist up to 48 hours. The early signs typically include vomiting, hyperactivity, weakness, muscle tremors and rigidity. Later it can evolve into severe tremors, seizures, hyperthermia and metabolic changes.

The illness can be life-threatening, so if your dog has ingested spoiled food or compost and shows any of these signs, he needs veterinary attention immediately. The treatment aims to stabilize the animal, control the tremors or seizures, and eliminate the toxin from their body.

Aspen after being allowed to wake up from the medical coma. Ready to go home!

But never fear, composting and pets can happily coexist with a few safety measures in place:

1. Avoid letting your dog roam unattended, especially if he is a known dumpster diver.

2. Instead of using a compost heap on the ground, choose a solid compost container and secure it from pets.

3. Each time you add a layer of kitchen scraps to your pile, add some leaves or grass clippings on top to lessen the odors.

4. Avoid adding overly smelly items like meat, bones, fish scraps, dairy, fats and oils. Not only will your neighbors appreciate the effort, but it will lessen the temptation for curious critters of all types.

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