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dogs and meds

A guide to activated charcoal for dogs

This supplement protects dogs if they ingest something toxic // Learn when + how to administer it to your pet

Updated July 21, 2020

Created By

Marissa DePino,
activated charcoal

📷 by WILLIAM ISMAEL

⚠️ If you suspect that your dog ingested something toxic, notify Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435 

Activated Charcoal Details

Medication type: Gastrointestinal adsorbent

Form: Powder, Liquid, Capsule, Granule, Tablet

Availability: OTC, prescription

FDA approved? Yes

Life stage: Administered at all stages

Popular Brands: VetDtox, CharcoCaps, ToxiBan

Common names: Activated Carbon, Adsorbent Charcoal, Activated Carbon, Carbon Black

Available dosages: Dependent upon weight

Expiration range: Long shelf life if stored under the correct conditions.

Always talk to your vet before introducing a new supplement to your dog’s diet. Activated charcoal is best administered by your pet’s veterinary clinic. Or under their supervision. If your dog’s vet is unable to be present, consult with the vet’s office over the phone before giving the supplement.

Dogs are curious creatures, sniffing, and eating everything in sight. So it’s no wonder that they get into all sorts of surprises. From investigating what’s in yesterday’s trash to the new cleaning solution. Their adventures may be gross but are often harmless.

Though on occasion, your dog may find themselves from harmless to toxic. This is where activated charcoal comes in. It binds up to the toxic substance, decreasing the risk of your dog becoming poisoned.

How does activated charcoal work?

Activated charcoal is a treatment administered to dogs that have consumed toxins. The charcoal is a black, thick substance that comes in liquid, powder, or tablet form. It’s made from heating natural carbon resources, like wood and coconut shells, at high temperatures of 600 to 900 degrees Celsius to make black charcoal.

The ‘activation’ process increases the surface area by removing molecules and creating cracks and crevices known as pores to encourage toxin binding. This allows the activated charcoal to absorb the toxins via these pores in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. And it works really well too. Activated Charcoal can reduce toxins by 80 percent in just 180 minutes.

Not all poisons bind to the pores as some are too small, making activated charcoal effective on only specific toxins. Activated charcoal is also accompanied by the cathartic sorbitol. Sorbitol works through the process of osmosis to help move the toxins out of the system. The treatment detoxifies your dog’s system, flushing out the activated charcoal with the toxins as feces.

Clinical signs of poisoning in dogs:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • seizures
  • blood in the stool
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • bruising
  • nosebleeds

The health benefits of activated charcoal

Experts agree that the most effective use of activated charcoal is for poisoning. But this is only effective to a degree. Activated charcoal doesn’t protect against all toxins. Plus, there’s a time restraint involved. Utilizing activated charcoal after two or more hours since toxin ingestion provides little to no benefit according.

How do I know if my dog can have it?

Often, activated charcoal is recommended to help decontaminate your pet. But like most treatments, there are limitations when it comes to its efficiency and usage. One constraint is that activated charcoal only protects against certain toxins. While for others it’s useless against. Before administering activated charcoal to your pet, make sure it’s approved by your dog’s vet. Here are toxins absorbed by activated charcoal:

  • strychnine
  • narcotics
  • ibuprofen
  • chocolate
  • pyrethrins
  • marijuana
  • aspirin
  • prescriptions
  • bromethalin
  • rodenticides
  • acetaminophen

Your vet may also decide that induced vomiting is necessary. This helps clear out some of the toxins before activated charcoal gets rid of the rest.

Effective: Toxins that bind to activated charcoal

  • Acetaminophen
  • Anticoagulant rodenticides
  • Digoxin
  • Nonpolar compounds
  • Organophosphate/carbamate insecticides
  • Pyrethrins/Pyrethroids
  • Salicylates
  • Strychnine

Not Effective: Toxins that do not bind to activated charcoal

Alcohols
Found in rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, mouthwash, fragrances, vanilla extract, facial toner, windshield wiper fluid

Heavy metals
Found in cosmetics, batteries, electronics, fireworks

(arsenic, copper, iron, lead, lithium)

Inorganic toxins
Found in furniture polish, multi-purpose cleaners, bleach, detergent, tooth whitening products, fertilizers, nail glue removers

(ammonia, borates, bromide, fluoride, chlorate, cyanide, iodide, nitrates, nitrites, phosphorus, sodium chloride)

Petroleum distillates
Found in gasoline, kerosene, xylene, transmission fluid, lip gloss, pesticides

Miscellaneous chemicals
Caustic Alkalis, Metaldehyde, Mineral acids, Nitrates, Paraquat, Xylitol, Ethylene glycol

Activated charcoal isn’t always effective. And in some circumstances, the supplement shouldn’t be administered. Keep an eye on your dog’s symptoms for the following red flags. Avoid giving your dog activated charcoal if your dog is vomiting, seizuring, or showing signs of toxicity. This also comes down to behavior, dogs acting neurological can’t have the supplement. Additionally, pay attention to your dogs swallowing. If your dog is having difficulty swallowing normally, they could aspirate. This is life-threatening. As your pet could inhale the activated charcoal into their lungs causing pneumonia.

Side effects of activated charcoal for dogs 

Not all dogs will have side effects. And many side effects to activated charcoal are mild. This includes black feces, vomiting, eye irritations, diarrhea, and constipation. Activated charcoal can cause severe symptoms if misused that could have life-threatening implications.

Dogs with specific conditions should avoid treatment. In most cases, this means those animals with gastrointestinal hemorrhaging and bowel impaction. Additionally, dogs suffering from dehydration shouldn’t use the supplement. Severe symptoms range from hypernatremia, aspiration, and gastrointestinal blockages.

Potential reactions with other drugs and medications

Due to the nature and purpose of activated charcoal to remove and bind to toxins, it can also push out recently taken medications at the same time as the toxins. PetCoach notes that this decreases the absorption of oral medications. Leave three hours or more between taking any medications after charcoal treatment.

Giving your dog activated charcoal

Most people and vets administer activated charcoal orally via a syringe. Though sometimes a stomach tube may be necessary if your pet isn’t agreeable or able to swallow. Administer the supplement slowly. Offer your dog small parts of the dosage at a time, and remember to allow enough time for them to ingest.

If your dog’s interested in eating, they can consume the charcoal on their own. To encourage eating, ASPCA suggests serving dog or baby food on top of the activated charcoal in a dog bowl.

What’s the proper dosage?

The recommended dose depends on your dog’s body weight. A study in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care recommends that for each kilogram of weight of your dog, one to five grams should be given. Of course, for the dosage amount, it’s always best to confirm with your vet before administering the activated charcoal to your dog.

When do I administer it?

To make the dosage most effective give it to your dog as quickly as possible, then call your vet. Your vet may recommend repeat doses of activated charcoal every 6-12 hours for a few days, depending on the toxic substance in question.

Always consult with your vet before administering activated charcoal. They may require induced vomiting first. And, as mentioned above, we always want to make sure your pet isn’t actively vomiting or at risk of vomiting after giving them activated charcoal.

What’s the average cost?

Activated charcoal is pretty cost-effective. Available as both an OTC medication and prescription drug, it costs between $5 to $30 on average.

👉To prepare for emergency care, keep it on hand. Here’s our essential list with everything you need to build your pet’s first aid kit

After the base cost, this comes down to the number of doses required. The price could rise with the extra doses needed for the treatment. The addition of medicines prescribed in treatment will also increase the cost.

How do I store it?

Stored under the proper conditions, activated charcoal has a long shelf life. So make sure to keep it in a room temperature controlled location free from all moisture. To handle this, leave the activated charcoal in its original container. Or use a tight-sealed holder of your own for a safe storage solution. For further storage instructions, confer with the packaging label.