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Activated charcoal for dogs

The essentials

  • Yes, dogs can have activated charcoal — Activated charcoal is safe for dogs when administered properly in response to the ingestion of toxins.
  • Keep activated charcoal on hand — It’s just one item you should stock in your pet’s first aid kit in the event of an emergency.
  • It can be given at the vet’s office or even at home — Before administering activated charcoal to your pet, always make sure it’s approved by a veterinarian.

Dogs are curious creatures, often sniffing and eating everything in sight. It’s no wonder they get into all sorts of surprises — from investigating yesterday’s trash to sniffing around the new cleaning solution. Other times, your dog may end up consuming something toxic. This is where activated charcoal for dogs comes in. Charcoal binds to the toxic substance, decreasing the risk of your dog becoming poisoned. Activated charcoal is best administered by your pet’s veterinary clinic or under its supervision.

🚨 If you suspect that your dog ingested something toxic, contact the Animal Poison Control line immediately at (888) 426-4435

Activated charcoal details

  • Medication type — Gastrointestinal tract adsorbent
  • Form — Charcoal powder, liquid, or slurry
  • Availability — Medicinal grade activated charcoal
  • Life stage — Can be administered at all stages
  • Our recommended brand — ToxiBan, which comes in Toxiban without Sorbitol and ToxiBan with Sorbitol
  • Cost — Available as a prescription and non-prescription drug, it costs between $20 to $30 on average.
  • Common names — Activated carbon, adsorbent charcoal, activated carbon, and carbon black
  • Available dosages — Dependent upon your dog’s weight
  • Expiration range — Extensive shelf life if stored under correct conditions

What is activated charcoal for dogs?

Activated charcoal is a medication for dogs that have consumed toxic content. Dogs can have activated charcoal in liquid, powder, or a combined slurry. We strongly discourage charcoal pills, capsules, or tablets since they don’t open well on the gastrointestinal tract.

We recommend ToxiBan. There are two types, one with sorbitol and one without. Only administer the sorbitol-containing version one time. If repeated doses are needed, go with ToxiBan without Sorbitol.

Side effects of activated charcoal for dogs

Not all dogs will have side effects, and many side effects of activated charcoal are mild, including black feces, vomiting, eye irritations, and constipation. Activated charcoal can cause severe symptoms if misused, and some may have life-threatening implications.

Dogs with specific conditions should avoid treatment with activated charcoal. In most cases, this means those animals with gastrointestinal hemorrhaging and bowel impaction. Additionally, dogs suffering from dehydration shouldn’t use the medication. Severe symptoms range from hypernatremia to 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. This decreases the absorption of oral medications. Leave three hours or more before taking any medications following charcoal treatment.

How does activated charcoal work?

Activated charcoal is made by heating natural carbon resources, like wood and coconut shells, at 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 well, too. Activated charcoal can reduce toxins by 80% in just three hours.

Not all poisons bind to the pores as some are too small, making activated charcoal effective on only specific toxins. Activated charcoal is used in conjunction with cathartic sorbitol, which uses 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.

What does activated charcoal look like?

Activated charcoal is a black powder that has a very fine texture and has no odor. In a veterinary office, oral supplements are the most common form of the medicine. They may be a brand where the activated charcoal has already been made into a thick, black liquid. Some veterinary offices may also mix the powder up into a liquid.

Cost of activated charcoal for dogs

The cost of activated charcoal varies depending on the amount needed. Dosages are calculated by your dog’s weight. You may also be able to purchase extra to keep on hand in case your dog swallows a toxin at home. Prices can range anywhere from around $7-$30.

How to store activated charcoal

Activated charcoal should be stored in an airtight container. Keep it away from direct sunlight, moisture, and heat. Proper storage will help ensure your activated charcoal has a long lifespan.

Activated charcoal dosages for dogs 

Activated charcoal dosage for dogs depends on weight. A study in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care recommends 1 to 5 grams of activated charcoal for each kilogram of weight of your dog. It takes about 2-4 hours for something to clear the stomach, and the effectiveness of AC decreases over time as exposure increases, so act quickly if you think your dog has ingested something poisonous.

Your veterinarian may recommend repeating doses of activated charcoal every 6-12 hours for a few days, depending on the toxic substance in question.

How to give your dog activated charcoal

While vets are mostly the ones administering this, you can give your dog charcoal orally via a syringe, but 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 it, they can consume the charcoal on their own. To encourage eating, ASPCA suggests serving dog food on top of the activated charcoal in a dog bowl.

When to give your dog activated charcoal

Consult your vet or Animal Poison Control during any potential poisoning event, as they will know if your pet is properly hydrated to receive the activated charcoal. The charcoal pulls body water into the gastrointestinal tract, so if your pet is already dehydrated, this could make a bad situation even worse. If the toxin was ingested within 2-4 hours, there’s a possibility your veterinarian may opt to induce vomiting instead. In many cases, it’s better to get the poison out than let it run its course.

Clinical signs of poisoning in dogs

How toxins are impacted by activated charcoal

Experts agree that the most effective use of activated charcoal in dogs is for poisoning. But this is only effective to a degree, as activated charcoal doesn’t protect against all toxins.

Toxins that bind to activated charcoal

If your dog has ingested any of the following, activated charcoal would be effective in decontaminating your pet.

  • Acetaminophen
  • Anticoagulant rodenticides – Also known as rat poison, these include bromethalin
  • Aspirin – Also known as salicylates
  • Chocolate
  • Ibuprofen
  • Marijuana
  • Narcotics
  • Organophosphate/carbamate insecticides
  • Prescription drugs – These include Digoxin among others
  • Pyrethrins/pyrethroids – Chemicals often found in insecticides
  • Strychnine

Toxins that do not bind to activated charcoal

If your dog has ingested any of the following, activated charcoal would be not effective in decontaminating your pet. In some cases, it might even make things worse, especially if your pet is dehydrated.

  • Alcohols – They’re found in rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, mouthwash, fragrances, vanilla extract, facial toner, and windshield wiper fluid.
  • Heavy metals –They can be found in cosmetics, batteries, electronics, and fireworks (arsenic, copper, iron, lead, lithium).
  • Inorganic toxins – These are found in furniture polish, multi-purpose cleaners, bleach, detergent, tooth-whitening products, fertilizers, and nail glue removers (ammonia, borates, bromide, fluoride, chlorate, cyanide, iodide, nitrates, nitrites, phosphorus, sodium chloride).
  • Petroleum distillates – They’re found in gasoline, kerosene, xylene, transmission fluid, lip gloss, and pesticides.
  • Miscellaneous chemicals – These include caustic alkalis, metaldehyde, mineral acids, nitrates, paraquat, ethylene glycol, and xylitol.

Unfortunately, activated charcoal isn’t always effective. And in some circumstances, the supplement shouldn’t be administered at all. Keep an eye on your dog’s symptoms for the following red flags:

  • Vomiting or seizures. Avoid giving your dog activated charcoal if your dog is actively vomiting, experiencing seizures, or showing other signs of toxicity.
  • Neurological issues. Dogs with neurological issues cannot have the supplement.
  • Trouble 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.

Frequently asked questions

Can I give my dog activated charcoal for chocolate?

Activated charcoal may help if your dog has consumed chocolate. A typical dose of charcoal would be 1 to 5 grams of activated charcoal for each kilogram of weight of your dog (1 kg equals 2.2 lbs). It’s best to check with your vet before administering activated charcoal.

Can activated charcoal cause diarrhea in dogs?

It is possible that activated charcoal can cause diarrhea in dogs, but not all dogs will have this side effect or any side effects at all. Side effects of activated charcoal can also be mild and may include black feces, vomiting, eye irritations, diarrhea, and constipation. Activated charcoal can cause severe symptoms if misused.

Does activated charcoal make dogs vomit?

It is possible that activated charcoal could cause vomiting in dogs, but not all dogs will have this side effect or any at all. Side effects of activated charcoal can also be mild and may include black feces, vomiting, eye irritations, diarrhea, and constipation. Activated charcoal can cause severe symptoms if misused.

Can you give a dog too much activated charcoal?

Do not give your dog more than the recommended dosage of activated charcoal. A typical dose of activated charcoal would be 1 to 5 grams of activated charcoal for each kilogram of your dog’s weight (1 kg is 2.2 lbs), but it’s best to check with your vet before administering. Side effects may be severe or life-threatening if misused.

How much does activated charcoal cost?

Activated charcoal is pretty cost-effective for pet owners. Available as a prescription and non-prescription drug, it costs between $20 to $30 on average. Depending on the number of doses required, the cost could rise with the extra doses needed for the treatment. The addition of veterinary medicine prescribed in treatment will also increase the cost.

How do I store activated charcoal?

Stored under the proper conditions, activated charcoal has a long shelf life. Store activated charcoal in its original container or another tightly sealed container in a temperature-controlled location free from all moisture.