Composting is becoming an increasingly popular part of life for people all over the world, as more and more look for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, and also as the interest in gardening rises.
However, with any new venture, there are questions to answer and things to learn.
If you have a compost heap and pets, you might have concerns – especially if you have a dog that likes to get his nose into everything and explore any unusual odor.
If your dog is an explorer, it may be best not to let him too close to your compost heap.
So if you’re asking are compost fumes toxic to dogs? (A complete guide), we’ve got the answers!
The short answer is no, compost fumes are not toxic to dogs, but composting can be dangerous to them in other ways; let’s look at what hazards are posed and how you can avoid them.
Can Compost Fumes Be Toxic?
Compost fumes are not usually toxic to any animals, because they are just a release of gasses from food and plant matter, and they won’t usually be concentrated enough to do any harm to your pet anyway.
You don’t need to worry about the odor of your compost bin harming your four-legged friend.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just let your dog loose on the compost heap without worrying about it at all.
There are other potential dangers that you ought to be aware of, including mold spores, and the potential for the dog to consume things that he shouldn’t.
Just because the fumes aren’t dangerous doesn’t mean a compost heap is a safe place for your dog to adventure!
The Dangers Of Mold Spores
Mold spores can be toxic to any animal, and you don’t want your dog ingesting them.
Many are harmless, but many aren’t, so if you notice that your compost heap is becoming home to unknown fungi, you may need to address the issue.
Spores are difficult to control, as they spread very readily at the slightest disturbance. Even if your dog is not near the compost heap, it may accidentally ingest mold spores that are carried by the wind.
Although they probably won’t hurt your dog, it’s good to be aware of the danger and pay attention.
What Should I Do?
One easy way to deal with spores is to have a lidded compost bin.
This will trap the spores and prevent them from spreading through the garden, and pretty much neutralize the issue without any work.
However, many people have uncovered compost heaps, and then it gets a little trickier to control.
You can try turning the compost heap to disrupt the fungi and get rid of the spores.
Choose a very still day to minimize how far the spores will spread. Wear a facemask and eye protection, and gloves.
Turn the heap and wet it to trap the spores, or consider covering it with cardboard for a few days to prevent them from spreading so easily.
Alternatively, spread your compost out and let it dry; fungi do not do well in arid conditions, and most need moisture to survive.
Leaving your compost exposed to the sun for a few days should help to clear up any issues you have with fungi.
Always wash your hands and face thoroughly after dealing with compost, and wear clothing that will protect your skin.
Try to keep your dog out of the garden for a couple of days after you’ve dealt with any fungal spores, and then supervise when you next allow him into the garden to watch how he behaves.
Keep him away from affected areas if possible.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that fungi only tend to be visible above ground for a short period of time, so they should disappear fairly quickly even if you don’t take action.
Keeping your dog out of the garden for a while may be enough to address the issue.
The Dangers Of Compost Consumption
If your dog is taking an interest in actually eating things you’ve added to your compost heap, you need to step in.
You do not want your dog eating moldy food – even if he thinks it’s delicious – as this could pose some serious health risks.
It is not at all like letting your dog have the odd scrap from your plate at dinner.
The biggest danger posed by eating compost is a particular kind of fungus called tremorgenic mycotoxin, which is found in compost that contains kitchen scraps.
If you only compost garden waste, you don’t need to worry about this (but your dog is unlikely to be interested in eating leaves, anyway).
This kind of fungus is extremely dangerous for dogs to consume, and can be fatal. Its symptoms include hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, fluid in the lungs, comas, and death.
If you suspect your dog has eaten even a small quantity of kitchen scrap-based compost, speak to your veterinarian immediately.
The dog will need to be treated. Don’t wait for symptoms to emerge, but take swift action.
What Should I Do?
Do not let a dog explore a compost heap that contains kitchen food scraps. You should keep this compost in a sealed bin if possible, and fence off the area.
If you can’t keep it in a bin, make sure your dog cannot access the space and that they are discouraged from going over there.
Put slabs under the compost so your dog can’t dig in if he’s particularly determined, and add a fence or other obstacles.
Call your dog away whenever he goes into that part of the garden, and don’t leave him unsupervised outside.
You can also make the compost less appealing for dogs by not including any fish, meat, or dairy that might be particularly interesting to them.
Keep it to fruit and vegetable peelings mostly, and bury any other kinds of food deep in the heap or put them in a lidded container.
If your dog is persistent about getting into the compost, it’s time to get a properly secured container so that you don’t have to keep an eye on him every time he is in the yard.
This should give you peace of mind and keep your four-legged friend safe.
While this type of fungus is a danger, it’s fairly easy to prevent problems as long as you are careful, so don’t let it put you off composting!
Other Potential Ingestion Hazards
You also don’t want your dog eating compost for other reasons; if your compost heap contains any bones, they will present a choking hazard.
Other types of mold and bacteria could make your dog sick, though perhaps less seriously so.
You may also face upset stomachs and discomfort if your dog eats rotting food.
What Should I Do?
Again, you can solve this by not letting your dog get to the compost heap, or by keeping the compost in a sealed container.
What About Manure?
If you’ve recently spread manure on your garden, do you need to be concerned if your dog is taking an interest in that? He’s quite likely to, after all.
Manure doesn’t pose the same dangers as compost, but you should still not let your dog eat it in large quantities or it could be harmful.
Horse manure, for example, often contains residual chemicals from the horses being wormed, and these are not designed for dogs to consume.
They are unlikely to do harm in small amounts, but it would be better not to let your dog eat them if possible.
What Should I Do?
It’s harder to keep your dog away if you’ve just added manure to your flowerbeds. The best thing to do would be to supervise your dog and see how he responds to the manure.
If he’s taking an interest, let him sniff around and see if he tries to eat it.
If he does, try to deter him by calling him away or telling him “no.” Most dogs will give up at this point, but some are very determined.
If you can’t get your dog to leave the manure alone, you may have to keep him out of the yard for a while, until the manure has settled in and stopped smelling interesting.
What Else Can I Do?
As well as containing your compost in a sealed bin and avoiding adding meat or dairy, consider training your dog to stay away from the compost heap.
If your dog is intelligent, he should pick up on this fairly quickly, and this may be enough to keep him safe.
However, don’t take risks; supervise your dog and make sure he can’t access the compost if he forgets his training.
In short, a dog is not in danger of compost fumes, but dogs should not be allowed to forage in compost in any circumstances.
They may ingest harmful substances and could even consume something fatal.
Keep them away from the compost area, and take further measures such as sealed bins and good training to deter particularly determined canines from their interest in your compost heap.