Is Activated Charcoal Safe for Dogs?
We love our dogs dearly, but they aren’t always the sharpest knives in the drawer—they have rock-solid stomachs and regularly eat things that intrigue and horrify our human sensibilities. Most of the time, the malodorous substances they eat out of the gutter are relatively harmless. We’re grossed out when our canine companions try to eat bugs, feline feces, and the contents of our compost heap, but we generally don’t have to worry for our safety. Sometimes, though, our dogs gobble up substances that we know to be toxic and even life-threatening. It’s all too easy for our pets to tear into the Tylenol left inside of a purse or backpack.
But what are we supposed to do after our dogs eat something poisonous? Do we have to rush them to the vet, or can we try to treat poisoning at home? Can my dog take activated charcoal?
Before answering this question, a disclaimer: if you have reason to believe that your dog is suffering from some form of poisoning, the best thing you can do is take them to be examined by a veterinarian. Activated charcoal can help reduce the amount of the poison that your dog’s body absorbs, but it may not be enough to treat various forms of toxicity. Some dogs experiencing certain forms of toxicity may require supportive care in order to survive. If your dog is already showing symptoms of poisoning, do not try to treat them at home. They need professional care.
That said, the answer is yes, you can give your dog activated charcoal. This safe, effective, life-saving drug is a good one to keep in your medicine cabinet if you have pets or small children at home. Activated charcoal is one of the few drugs that most pet owners can feel free to use on their canines with a minimal fear of poisoning them or making the situation worse—and, even better, the FDA has approved it for veterinary use.
Activated charcoal can help prevent toxicity if your dog has ingested something poisonous in the past hour and is currently asymptomatic. It does this not by negating the effects of the toxin, but by preventing your dog’s body from absorbing the toxin at all. This is because activated charcoal is a very porous substance; toxins in the stomach and intestines stick to the charcoal instead of being absorbed into the blood.
This drug is usually administered orally with a syringe, but it can also be administered as a tablet or a powder mixed into a small amount of food.
If you can’t get your dog to take the activated charcoal, defer to your veterinarian’s expertise rather than battling with them for an hour. When it comes to preventing poisoning, timing is crucial. The longer it takes to administer the drug, the more of the toxic substance your pet will be able to absorb. If it has already been over an hour since your dog ate the toxic substance, go to the vet.
Dosing depends on your dog’s size. A dog who weighs under five pounds will require half a tablet, whereas a dog who is over 100 pounds will need four or five whole tablets. It is wise to consult your veterinarian for dosing advice if you plan to administer activated charcoal on your own. If you do not feel confident in your ability to properly administer this or any drug, it may be wise to seek professional help. If your dog has ingested something poisonous, their life is on the line—there is no room for ineptitude.
Things to Consider
It is important to stress that activated charcoal is not an antidote for any poison. If your dog has already absorbed a toxic amount of the harmful substance, activated charcoal will not help them. Activated charcoal should only be fed to dogs who have recently ingested a harmful substance and are not currently experiencing symptoms of poisoning.
This drug is not always effective, either. If your dog has ingested a toxin that is corrosive in nature, like alcohol, cyanide, or ethanol, they will require treatment that only your veterinarian can provide.
Never give activated charcoal to a dog who is suffering from labored breathing, vomiting, or reduced consciousness. All of these symptoms can increase your dog’s chances of aspirating the drug, which can result in fatal inflammation of their airways. Dogs who are going to undergo a surgery or an endoscopy should not take activated charcoal, either—this drug can impair your vet’s ability to get a good look at the interior of your dog’s digestive system. Lastly, dogs who are experiencing salt poisoning should not take activated charcoal because it may worsen hypernatremia.
In conclusion, activated charcoal is safe to give dogs if they have recently consumed a poisonous substance and are not experiencing any symptoms. It is not, however, a substance for veterinary care. If you have reason to believe that your dog’s life is in danger, they need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.