My Dog Ate Charcoal- Should I Be Alarmed? 5-Step Recovery

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 There are many different types of charcoal available for human use, such as charcoal briquettes, natural charcoal and activated charcoal.  

But what would happen if a dog ate charcoal?

With activated and natural charcoal, do not be worried if your dog eats a small chunk as they actually have many beneficial uses, such as aiding digestion and helping to clean teeth.

In fact, activated charcoal can sometimes save a dog’s life in emergency situations!

Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, are something that you need to be cautious about.

Charcoal briquettes are standard pieces of charcoal that are commonly used as fuel for the weekend barbeque. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as in the form of a rock or hexagonal log.

Numerous issues can arise if charcoal briquettes are eaten. This can range from relatively minor digestive ailments such as a sore stomach and indigestion, to more serious conditions like intestinal blockage.

If your dog has eaten charcoal intended as fuel, your dog will need to follow the specific recovery process below in order to purge the charcoal successfully.

If at any point your dog displays a major shift in behavior such as becoming lethargic or losing its appetite, the best thing to do would be to take it to the vet for inspection.

Are Charcoal Briquettes Toxic To Dogs?

Charcoal briquettes are generally not toxic to dogs and ingesting small pieces of charcoal will not be life-threatening. Like candle wax, most of the time the pieces will pass harmlessly through the dog and be excreted in its poop.

However, charcoal can still cause stomach issues due to the chemicals present. These issues can include vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms like loss of appetite and nausea.

The bigger problem is when your dog swallows larger pieces of charcoal.

Large pieces of charcoal can become stuck in a dog’s airways and cause choking. Even if it is successfully swallowed, it can become lodged in the dog’s digestive tract and cause intestinal blockage.

Blockage is more likely to occur in smaller dogs. It will require immediate attention and you will need to take your dog to the vet as quickly as you can.

If the charcoal is stuck in their stomach for too long it can stop the flow of blood to the bowels and begin to deteriorate the digestive organs.

A pyloric obstruction can also occur, where the pyloric sphincter becomes obstructed by the foreign chunks of charcoal. This will cause the dog to become restless and likely to vomit.

In serious cases, emergency surgery may be needed to remove the charcoal from the GI tract.

What if my dog ate charcoal with lighter fluid?

Charcoal briquettes that have been layered with lighter fluid or grease are toxic and bring another dimension of danger to your dog.

Ingesting lighter fluid can cause kidney failure in dogs due to the hydrocarbons present in the substance.

A major sign of kidney damage is if your dog starts to drink more liquids and urinates more frequently than usual. It may also display an obvious lack of coordination and have tremors and breathing difficulties.

Kidney damage in dogs can be checked using blood tests and urine analysis, and then treated with IV therapy. If it has swallowed lighter fluid, you should immediately contact your vet for more advice.

Swallowing grease on the other hand can lead to pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas resulting from stress (e.g. new environment, visiting family members or friends) or diet (e.g. table scraps or any fatty foods). Grease falls into the second category.

There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. Symptoms of pancreatitis can include fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and weight loss, fever, dehydration, diarrhea and vomiting.

Again, consult with your vet to find out what would be the best treatment for pancreatitis in this particular case.

What Do I Do If My Dog Ate Charcoal?

What to do if dog ate charcoal pieces

When your dog has eaten charcoal, you need to monitor it closely. Here are a 5 steps that you can follow:

1.Provide your dog with sufficient water

Water will help to remove the toxins and other charcoal-derived substances from the dog’s body.

Make sure that you provide a large bowl of clean, fresh water and encourage your dog to drink as much as possible so that it can flush the charcoal toxins out.

Here are 5 easy ways that you can get your dog to drink plenty of water.

2.Start a 24-hour diet consisting of primarily bland foods like plain chicken and white rice.

A bland food diet will help to lessen the stomach issues caused by the fluid-coated charcoal. Avoid any greasy foods and flavored treats for the time being.

It may actually be a good idea to have your dog fast for around 12 hours first to allow their stomach to rest first. When 12 hours have passed, you can then start the bland food diet.

3.Monitor the dog and watch for symptoms of stomach problems like vomiting and diarrhea.

You may need to keep your dog on a leash and monitor them until you are 100% sure that the charcoal is not causing any further issues.

If your dog vomits, check to see if the charcoal has been thrown up as well.

If your dog has diarrhea, check their feces to see if the charcoal has been excreted. Their feces are likely to be a different (black) color over the next few days. This is normal so don’t be too alarmed.

4.Give your dog canine-approved acid suppressants

You may be tempted to give your dog over-the-counter antacids to help its stomach feel better, but according to UTCVM assistant professor Katie Tolbert, DVM, PhD, DACVIM acid suppressants are more appropriate.

This is because antacids aren’t as effective as acid suppressants in decreasing gastric acid for a long period of time.

The most common options to use are omeprazole and famotidine (also known as Pepcid-AC). Both are generally safe for use in dogs at the following dosages:

Famotidine (Pepcid-AC) – 10mg every 12 hours.

Omeprazole – 20mg once a day.

5.Contact your vet

Whenever accidents like this happen, it’s always important to keep your vet’s phone number at the ready.

Over the next few days, if your dog does not eat, drink, has diarrhea, becomes constipated, no longer has bowel movements, develops a swollen belly, or becomes lethargic- it’s time to call the vet.

Your vet will be able to provide advice regarding things like ways that you make your dog feel better, or whether you need to bring it in for a checkup.

You should also contact your vet if you do not know the exact amount of charcoal your dog has consumed or whether they are suffering from charcoal poisoning.

The vet has your dog’s best interests in mind, so don’t hesitate to contact them at any time to ensure that there is no further damage to your dog.

Why Would My Dog Eat Charcoal?

Dog sniffing in the grass

Dogs are not naturally attracted to charcoal. However, there are a few possible reasons as to why they would eat the material.

Dogs may attempt to eat, lick or chew on charcoal due to their exploratory nature. This is especially the case if they haven’t encountered it before, as they have no ingrained knowledge of what they can and cannot eat.

Another reason a dog would eat charcoal could be that the charcoal has the scent or flavor of food. This is especially true with charcoal that has been used for grilling and cooking juicy slabs of meat.

If fat and juices drip down onto charcoal, it can make it smell particularly appetizing. A hungry dog could then easily mistake food-tainted charcoal as food and try to chow it down.

If you’ve noticed a tendency in your dog to want to eat everything it finds, it could be down to a condition called pica.

Pica makes dogs crave inedible substances, such as acorns, duct tape, candle wax, and in this case, charcoal. Though it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly causes pica, it has been linked to vitamin deficiencies, parasites, hormonal imbalances and obsessive compulsive tendencies.

Finally, your dog could be chewing and eating charcoal simply out of pure boredom. If it has been left on its own for a long period of time, it may just be trying to liven things up by chewing on objects that it hasn’t played with before.

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Eating Charcoal Again?

The most foolproof way to prevent your dog from eating charcoal again is of course to keep the charcoal out of its reach. Dogs are naturally curious and if you leave it out for it to find, it will find it and and it will eat it.

When you are busy grilling or using the barbecue, don’t allow your dog to come close to the action. This will prevent it from snagging a piece of charcoal and sneaking off to eat it when you aren’t watching.

When you are finished using the equipment and charcoal, place it in a high cupboard or shelf where your dog won’t be able to access it. Dispose of any used or half-burnt charcoal by wrapping it in tin foil and throwing it in the garbage bin.

You can also try to prevent your dog from eating charcoal again by actively training it to “leave” on command or to control its impulses. However, dogs are animals after all and even the most well-trained dog cannot be guaranteed to always follow its training without fail.

If your dog is chewing on charcoal because it is teething or bored, a good solution would be to buy it a suitable chew toy.

Will Activated Charcoal Hurt A Dog?

Consuming activated charcoal will not harm a dog.

Activated charcoal is a fine powder that can be orally administered to help animals that have swallowed harmful substances.

When given in time, activated charcoal can remove toxins before they are absorbed into the bloodstream. This prevents organs from suffering damage that might otherwise have been caused. Instead, poisonous particles will be passed through excretion.

Activated charcoal works by absorbing toxins through the fine pores on its expandable surface area. It is capable of absorbing a huge amount of molecules relative to its size, and works like a magnet through a process called covalent bonding.

Activated charcoal can be also safely used in dogs that have relatively minor digestive ailments such as an upset stomach, diarrhea or indigestion. It is good to always have some ready to use at home in case your dog accidentally ingests something toxic or a double dose of certain medications such as Heartgard.

However, it is not a cure-all for every poison. The effectiveness of activated charcoal is heavily dependent on dosage timing as well as the chemical that was ingested.

For an even more detailed look at activated charcoal, read our full breakdown of why activated charcoal is good for dogs.

In Conclusion

If your dog ate charcoal, how harmful it can be is directly tied to the size and type of charcoal that was eaten.

Small pieces of standard charcoal will be mostly harmless to a dog. Being non-toxic, they will simply pass through your dog along with any food that it ate. At most, your dog may experience mild stomach discomfort or constipation.

Bigger chunks of charcoal may be more problematic as they can become stuck in the throat or stomach of the dog. Both situations can be fatal if not treated quickly.

Charcoal that has a layer of lighter fluid or grease on them can also cause issues as these substances are toxic to dogs and can result in kidney damage or pancreatitis.

Activated charcoal is not harmful at all to a dog, and is actually beneficial in many ways. It is useful both for everyday life as well as in emergencies.

If a dog eats a large amount of standard charcoal, you can help it to recover by providing plenty of water, putting it on a bland diet, giving it acid suppressants, monitoring it constantly and calling the vet if necessary.

However, it is still better to prevent than to treat, and the easiest and best way to do this is simply just to put the charcoal away where your dog can’t get its paws on it.

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