You may have seen packets of charcoal when wandering around the pet store, and thought to yourself, “Why is charcoal good for dogs?”
Not all charcoal is suitable for dogs- there is a big difference between standard BBQ charcoal and activated charcoal. If your dog has eaten standard charcoal, he could be feeling unwell and may need a visit to the vet.
Activated charcoal is beneficial for a dog that has recently ingested toxic substances. It can ensure that the poison isn’t absorbed by the body and is instead safely passed through excretion. This occurs through lowering of the concentration of the toxin in the dog’s bloodstream.
It 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.
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Activated charcoal or carbon is a substance that is originally composed of natural, organic materials such as wood, peat or sawdust. It is commercially available in tablet, powder, or liquid form, like this product here.
Heating natural material at temperatures of over 600-1200°C ‘activates’ it by ridding its surface of any existing molecules. This creates empty bonding sites and a network of fine pores in the material, making the charcoal extremely absorbent throughout its expansive surface area.
Activated charcoal adsorbs toxins through these fine pores on its expandable surface area. It is able to do so very effectively due to just how big its surface area is relative to its weight. Studies have shown that activated charcoal has the capability to reduce toxin absorption by up to 80 percent in just 3 hours!
When it is used to treat dogs it works like a magnet, causing poisonous particles to be bound to the charcoal in the upper GI tract and stomach, through a process called covalent bonding. It then passes through the intestines without being absorbed by the body and is excreted safely in the feces.
According to Vetfolio, activated charcoal has the ability to adsorb a variety of chemicals through different binding forces, such as dipole or Van der Waals. However, its effectiveness is still limited by the nature and chemistry of the toxic molecules in question.
For example, factors such as solubility, pH level and ionization of the toxicant the dog has ingested are all influential in determining how well the activated charcoal will work.
Once toxic particles are bound to activated charcoal, they are not released into the bloodstream or metabolized by the liver again for a significant period of time. This is because activated charcoal works reversibly- molecules are adsorbed rapidly and desorb slowly over time.
Due to this process, it is important to make sure that charcoal with bound toxins is excreted as quickly as possible to prevent reabsorption. This can be achieved through cathartics or laxatives, though they are not suitable for every situation.
Activated carbon can be used to treat your dog for anything ranging from an upset stomach or diarrhea, to accidental ingestion of toxic food or chemicals. It can be very effective and even life-saving in emergencies.
Even when you don’t know exactly what your dog has eaten, activated charcoal can still be beneficial as a first-response option. However, how well it works is still largely dependent on a few factors such as time since ingestion, lethality of the dose of toxin, and whether the toxin can be chemically bound.
In cases of toxin ingestion, activated charcoal will be most effective if it is given as soon as possible. This is because a larger amount of poison may yet be unabsorbed by the dog’s body.
It has been shown that when activated charcoal is given within one hour after ingestion, it is able to cause a reduction of toxins by up to 75%. Administration is still advised even if the first hour has passed as absorption is continual and the charcoal may limit further damage.
This is why it is so vital to always have some activated charcoal like Toxiban on hand for when an emergency arises. Under the right circumstances, the sooner that you can administer it to your dog the less danger it will be in. While it is always best to seek veterinary attention immediately, that is not always possible.
Activated carbon is not suitable for every type of poison or situation. In some cases it will be completely ineffective or even make your dog’s condition worsen.
- When your dog has ingested
- Strychnine (pest baits)
- Bromethalin (rat/mouse baits)
- Pyrethrin (bug bombs)
- Ibuprofen (painkillers)
- Acetaminophen (cold medicines)
Activated charcoal binds well with the above substances. If treated quickly, your dog has a good chance of recovering well after accidental ingestion.
- When your dog has ingested
- Caustic materials (drain cleaners and detergents)
- Ethanol (nail polish remover)
- Methanol (alcohol, antifreeze)
- Heavy metals (thermometers)
- Cyanide (peach and apricot pits)
- Sodium chloride (bleach)
- Potassium hydroxide (liquid soap)
- Xylitol (chewing gum)
- Petroleum products (paint thinner)
- When your dog is showing clinical signs such as
- vomiting or seizures- as they could breathe the charcoal into their lungs and develop aspiration pneumonia
- When your dog has a stomach blockage
- Activated charcoal needs to be expelled quickly when it is bound with toxins. Otherwise, it could again be released into the dog’s body.
- When your dog has an upcoming surgery
- As it is a black substance, charcoal can potentially obstruct the field of view during medical procedures.
As you can see, there is an extensive list of chemicals that activated charcoal is not effective for. There are also certain situations where activated charcoal may make things worse. Always phone your vet first before deciding on a treatment plan yourself.
Recovery periods after using activated charcoal to treat your dog range can range from a few hours to a few days. This is dependent on the amount and concentration of toxin that was ingested.
There are many ways in which you can give activated charcoal to your dog. It is inexpensive and readily available to be bought as a powder, tablet, or capsule.
If your dog is currently suffering from a non-urgent upset or bloated stomach, or has particularly bad breath, you can try making and feeding him activated charcoal baked into biscuits. This method is particularly good for a dog with flatulence or constipation- just be aware that his droppings may be black too.
In an emergency where your dog has ingested a toxic substance, giving him cookies would not be the most efficient approach. If it is not yet exhibiting any clinical symptoms, add activated charcoal to his drinking water and try to encourage it to drink.
Otherwise, using a syringe would also be an option. Fill the syringe with activated charcoal mixed with water or broth, tilt your dog’s head upwards, and maneuver the syringe into the corner of its mouth rather than from the top.
By making it swallow the solution directly, the activated charcoal will begin picking up toxins as it moves through its body. Make sure to perform this gently as choking on the charcoal-infused liquid could lead to aspiration pneumonia.
After giving your dog activated charcoal, the next step is always to take it to your vet immediately. Once there, your dog will be accessed for poisoning and additional treatment such as cathartics may be administered.
Dosage recommendations vary, but according to the ASPCA a generally effective dose is 1 to 5 grams of activated charcoal for every kilogram of the dog’s weight. If your dog has eaten food prior to toxin ingestion, an even higher dose may be needed.
If your dog has swallowed a large amount of poison, or medication with slow-release features, you may be advised to give it additional doses of activated charcoal at hourly intervals to ensure that the charcoal absorbs all the toxins properly.
There are a few side effects associated with activated charcoal usage, though most are mild.
Minor side effects can include:
- Black stool, and
More serious side effects that can occur are hypernatremia, aspiration pneumonia, and contraindication with existing medication.
Hypernatremia is potentially fatal and is caused by overly high levels of sodium in a dog’s blood brought on by excess water loss. Symptoms of hypernatremia include tremoring, panting, decreased mental capacity, and coma.
Due to the nature of the treatment, water loss and dehydration are distinct possibilities to occur. Not only does activated charcoal draw liquid away from the body, but its use by vets is often coupled with the use of cathartics to facilitate rapid excretion.
Aspiration pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs which occurs when foreign bodies are inhaled by the dog. This can happen during oral administration of the activated charcoal. Signs of pneumonia include coughing, rapid breathing, inability to exercise, and blue mucus.
Finally, since activated carbon binds with many chemicals, it also has the capability of absorbing and pushing out recent medications taken by your dog. It is advised by PetCoach to leave at least three hours between giving medications and activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal can be good for dogs in a variety of situations.
When your dog has diarrhea, bad breath or flatulence, activated charcoal provides an easy and cost-effective solution when mixed into its food or water.
Activated charcoal can also save your dog’s life if it has ingested a toxic substance. The chemistry of activated charcoal allows it to effectively draw in poisonous molecules that would otherwise be dangerous to the dog’s health.
However, it is not a cure for everything and like most treatments comes with potentially serious side effects. It is always recommended to consult a vet prior to treatment for the best course of action.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.