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What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a medication often used in dogs to treat intoxication. The goal of activated charcoal is to absorb the toxin that the dog has ingested to lessen its adverse effects. Activated charcoal is a commonly used treatment and is often the first line of treatment for certain intoxications. This treatment can be administered by your primary care veterinarian or an ER veterinarian for emergencies that occur after hours.

Activated Charcoal Procedure in Dogs

Administration of activated charcoal depends on the severity of your dog’s clinical signs. If your dog is exhibiting no clinical signs or symptoms, activated charcoal is added to water for your dog to drink. For dogs with moderate to severe symptoms, activated charcoal is given through an orogastric tube with a cuffed endotracheal tube in place to prevent aspiration. If the toxin is known, and known to be processed in the liver, treatment with activated charcoal may need to be repeated every 4-8 hours for several days. Ideally, activated charcoal is administered within an hour of toxin ingestion, however, there may be benefits to activated charcoal even outside of this time frame. 

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Efficacy of Activated Charcoal in Dogs

Activated charcoal is an effective adsorbent of many toxins and can significantly decrease the amount of toxin released into the bloodstream. Activated charcoal is most effective when administered within an hour of exposure to toxins. Treatment with activated charcoal is permanent, as once the toxin is bound to the charcoal it does not get released. Alternate treatment in the case of toxin ingestion include gastric emptying/lavage, cathartics, and dilution with milk or water in combination with a stomach coating agent. These alternative treatments may be used alone or in combination with activated charcoal. The efficacy of the other treatments depends on the toxin that you are trying to treat. For example, gastric emptying (via inducing vomiting) would be counter indicated in the case of a corrosive toxin due to the damage of the esophagus that would occur. 

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Activated Charcoal Recovery in Dogs

Recovery from the toxin could occur within hours or take several days depending on the toxin ingested. Your veterinarian may schedule a follow up visit for cases of toxin ingestion that have damaged the liver or kidneys or caused an anemia. There is no ongoing maintenance for activated charcoal administration. 

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Cost of Activated Charcoal in Dogs

Activated charcoal is a relatively cost-efficient treatment and is not an expensive agent itself (costing between $5-$20). However, treatment of the various toxins that activated charcoal can treat may involve other medications and procedures, making the overall cost of toxin treatment more expensive. Treatment of toxin ingestion involving activated charcoal can range from $500-$3,000, depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms and the cost of living in your area. 

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Dog Activated Charcoal Considerations

The main risks of activated charcoal treatment are aspiration and vomiting. Activated charcoal has also been associated with increased sodium blood levels in small dogs. The benefit of activated charcoal is that it works for a wide variety of toxins and can be beneficial as a treatment even before the cause of toxicity is known. Activated charcoal does not work for every toxin, however, and is contraindicated for the following toxins: alcohol, ferrous sulfate, caustic alkalis, nitrates, petroleum distillates or mineral acids. 

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Activated Charcoal Prevention in Dogs

Prevention of intoxication that warrants activated charcoal treatment involves preventing your dog from having access to substances that are toxic to them. Foods such as chocolate should be kept out of your dog’s reach. Medicines should be properly sealed with their child safety caps and stored in a cabinet away from your dog. If you are using rat poison, ensure that it is stored in a place that your dog cannot access it, or purchase enclosed rat traps that have the poison accessible to rats but not larger animals. Understanding what substances may be harmful to your dog is essential to make sure that you are keeping them out of harm’s way. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about household items, plants, and foods that may be toxic to your dog.

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Activated Charcoal Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chihuahua

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My 2 chihuahua mix (10lbs) ate 5 chocolate squares (0.35oz EA) that also contained caffeine (150mg EA) approximately 5-6 hrs ago. They have both vomited multiple times. One CHI seems fine the other is now breathing a bit loudly, and has a very distended tummy. He is also very restless and seems to be in some pain. Is there anything I can give him (maybe charcoal) to help him to feel better?

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello I recommend that you take your pets in to a veterinarian for an exam. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs and it is best if they receive care in a veterinary hospital rather than at home. Good luck.

Aug. 3, 2020

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Parsons jack russell (minature)

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Eaten Bird Fat Ball Containing Black Rapeseed

My 7yr old naughty jack has just found a fat ball left out for the birds which they must have knocked off the bird table. It contained black Rapeseed - which a google search said would be toxic. Within 20mins I have given a dose of activated charcoal which I had in store - should I take him for a stomach pump or will this work?

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, so sorry to hear about your dog. Activate charcoal is commonly used to treat these toxicities. This usually causes GI issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. As long as your dog is acting normal and eating he will be just fine. If you notice anything off with him, it would be best for your vet to check him out.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Lab mix

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

I had taken my dog to the emergency hospital, for eating dark chocolate. They had given him a charcoal treatment. He was sleeping constantly after coming home but now hes back to his more energetic self and has diarrhea. Im not sure if i should be worried since it was only a little but i know its one of the things to watch for. Should i take him back to the hospital?

July 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. That can be a normal sign after charcoal, and you can try feeding him a bland diet of boiled white chicken and boiled white rice for a few days to see if that clears it up. If he continues to have diarrhea, he should see your veterinarian, but that may help. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 27, 2020

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German Shepherd

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea, Vomiting, Blood In Stool

I need help and closure, I took my dog to vet she was vomiting, bloody diarrhea, coughing, lethargy, and skin issues, she said it was ok to give it to her 2 times a day for two weeks we did and things got worse. I had to rush her to emergency vet. this was the only drug she was on. should they have known she was over dosed

July 24, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello I'm so sorry to hear about your pup. Apoquel is a good drug for skin issues. If it was causing her to be sick, then the medication should be discontinued at this time. Her symptoms could be due to other reasons such as an infection. Hopefully she is feeling better now.

July 24, 2020

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Lab

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

None

My dog may have licked a bar of rat poison with the active ingredient of Diphacinone. He is an 80lb black lab.

July 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If he literally licked the bar, it is unlikely that there is enough toxin in his system to affect him and he should be okay. If he actually ate any of it, then you should seek help from your veterinarian. If you are not sure, it would be better to be safe than sorry, but if he did really just lick it, then he should be okay. I hope all goes well for him.

July 22, 2020

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Peanut

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Dachshund

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

None

My 2 year old 12lb dachshund ate 2 of my 220 Aleve pills while I was getting a glass of water. It’s been 9hrs since he ingested the pills. He isn’t showing any kind of problematic symptoms or discomfort. Still eating, drinking and urinating just fine. Either way I gave him some hydrogen peroxide as soon as I realized what he did. He hasn’t thrown up. I also have been giving him some activated charcoal with gatorade every 4hrs. I am terrified because I read the side effects of Aleve in a dog system can be fatal. I don’t know if I am in the clear or not. He is acting normal as of right now but I don’t know if that will change in the next 24hrs-48hrs. HELP!

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Wilmington

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chug

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Shivering

My dog may have gotten into some moldy cream cheese from the trash last night but if he did it wasn’t much. He weighs 20 lbs and has a history of digestive problems. Last night he began throwing up and he has 6 more times since. It usually happens after he eats or drinks water. He also was shivering really hard for about 30 seconds at one point I am not sure if it is related. Could activated charcoal be useful to him? If not, what can be other than rushing him to the vet?

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Rocco

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Poodle mix

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Listed Above

My 9 year old poodle mix is ingesting cigarette butts that he picks up on the sidewalks. We cannot find a way to stop this because he is so quick to get them and he has swallowed them before we can get them out of his mouth. Within an hour or so, he becomes uncoordinated and walks as if he is intoxicated, has head tremors, is disorientated, and his pupils shrink. This can last hours in the more severe cases.

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Lili

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Jack Russell Terrier

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7 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

NO PHONE CALL PLEASE!!!My 7 year old JRT female approx 15 lbs got about 10 laps of coffee (with cream and sugar not "creamer" and not artificial sweetener) - she really had to work at getting at the cup as it was out of reach - had to climb up on a chair to get at it. She vomited almost immediately. I am on the way to the store to get some activated charcoal. It is Sunday and the "emergency vet" in my area is definitely NOT a good place to take any animal not only they can't keep vets - revolving door and those leaving have bad stories to tell - but also hyperinflated charges. As in REALLY hyperinflated charges. Do you think it would be safe to wait for my regular vet clinic to open Monday (they open early around 7:30) I will give activated charcoal in the meantime.

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Cash

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Mini Aussiedoodle

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7 Months

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Fair severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Tired
Lack Of Appetite

My 7 month old puppy who weighs about 8 lbs ingested a small but unknown amount of raisins last night (hubby accidentally ripped a package of them as we were cooking). We couldn't get him to vomit at home so took him to a 24 hour vet. They induced vomiting and up came 6 raisins. Though we couldn't be sure he didn't eat more, it seemed unlikely as there was nothing left in his stomach. As a precaution we had them administer the charcoal. He seems mostly fine this morning but hasn't had much of an appetite and did bring up a very small amount of what he did eat about 10 min after ingesting it. Should I be worried? Is the lack of strong appetite this morning and the small amount of vomit to be expected when a puppy has undergone this treatment? It was all within the last 8-9 hours. Thanks!

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