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.

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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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

Activated Charcoal Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Juno
miniature dachshund
1 1/2 years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My son dropped a grape (which I understand to be highly toxic for dogs) on the floor and Juno, our 15 pound dachshund/vacuum cleaner, gobbled it up before my son could take it from her. We immediately took her to the vet, where within 30-45 minutes of ingestion, she was made to throw up. Because she had chewed the grape and not swallowed it whole, they were unsure of how much toxin she may have absorbed. They gave her activated charcoal (which she willingly ate when mixed with something appealing) and some IV fluids subcutaneously. Baseline kidney function tests were run and came back normal. This all occurred so quickly that we never saw any deviation from her normal behavior -- even after all the procedures. The vet said the most aggressive course of treatment would be to hospitalize her for 72 hours in which she would be given IV fluids, but when I asked her what she would do if it were her dog, she reiterated that she thought that particular course of treatment was very aggressive. We took Juno home and have been giving her ice cubes (again, gobbling them up), as a way of forcing fluids. The vet said to come back in 24 hours to retest her kidney functioning to determine if she had absorbed any toxins and would experience any impairment/damage to her kidneys. Is there any value in giving her activated charcoal again? Is there any other course of treatment? My concern is that I wasn't to avoid any long-term kidney damage.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations
The problem is that the toxin is absorbed into the bloodstream and unlike theobromine or some rodenticides it doesn’t undergo enterohepatic recirculation so there would be no value in giving activated charcoal after four or five hours. Inducing vomiting within two hours and after giving activated charcoal is the best initial course of treatment followed by aggressive fluid therapy and testing of kidney function to determine if there is any damage. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Lola
Labrador Retriever
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Redness

My dog is showing alot of signs of having an allergy to mold. I know for sure she is allergic to fleas. I've just recently read how great activated charcoal is in removing toxins, including mold, from the body. My question is can this be true for dogs as well, and would it be safe to give to mine?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations
Activated charcoal to remove toxins from the body is very misused; once something is in the bloodstream, activated charcoal cannot take it out unless the toxin undergoes enterohepatic recirculation like theobromine in chocolate or some types of rodent poison. Whilst activated charcoal wont really do much harm, it wont do any good either; I would try to address the mold problem instead. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Kenta
American Eskimo
4 1/2
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

4 1/2 yo American Eskimo in otherwise good health. This morning someone apparently threw something into my fenced yard; he was in yard less than 5 minutes while I made his breakfast; immediately after eating he began vomiting.I saw & smelled what seemed to be chocolate in the vomitus & took him immediately to the vet, with a sample of the vomitus. Vet gave him charcoal, an injection of anti-nausea med, & subQ fluids. 2 1/2 hours later he's still vomiting small amounts of mostly water (plus small amounts of charcoal at times) & is drinking a lot of water (much more than usual). His behavior is more like normal (no longer trembling, is perkier & less droopy). Does charcoal cause thirst?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations
The increased thirst is most likely related to the chocolate, but it is important to continue to administer activated charcoal every eight to twelve hours since it undergoes enterohepatic recirculation and any symptomatic dog should continue to receive activated charcoal until all symptoms are gone; vomiting should also be continued to be controlled. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate

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Solē
Heeler pit bull black mouth cur
1 Year
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Poison

My dog went missing, and he was returned to us the next day. That night he was very thirsty, didn't eat, and slept, he did throw up to what seemed like dirty water, and maybe blood?. The next day he still didn't eat, he couldn't walk, and was still throwing up and his nose was bleeding. I took him to the vet, ran blood work. His kidney and liver enzymes were very high. He said it was rat poison or antifreeze. ( more leaning towards antifreeze) we asked him if there was anything to flush his system like charcoal pills , the vet told us that at this point of time it is to late only option is to do a night of IV fluids, with vitamin K. The next day I got a call from the vet , he didn't seem to be doing any better , they rechecked his labs and his enzymes were high than before and their machine couldn't read it, he suggested to put him down . When we got to the vet , we where roomed and Solē came walking to us . The vet also told us that he ate drank water and peed which he's never done that since he's come home with out throwing it up . The vet said he's never seen a dog with bad labs and still be alive. He said we could do a day of fluids again and see what happens . Several hours passes by and the vet called, he said fluids doesn't seem to be helping and he doesn't want to do another blood test . Solē hasn't improved and whether he stays or goes home we will have the same outcome . So we brought him home, counting with the vitamin k and giving him water , we also gave him pork fat for protein . He hasn't thrown up once. He's walking outside to use bathroom, and responding to us much more. Today we feed him given him water, still getting up to use the bathroom , slept a lot, but does interact with us a little when he's up . He tries to make dodo, but hasn't past a full stool it's very dark and pretty gooey . Doesn't have a foul smell. He also got up and walked around... I'm trying to find another vet that will take him to do IV fluids , but it's hard where I live. I would like to give him charcoal pills to try flush whatever toxins may be left , but the vet said it's not worth it .!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations
There are only a few poisons which activated charcoal will help with after a few hours because those toxins undergo enterohepatic recirculation but generally after four or five hours post ingestion activated charcoal is unrewarding. At this stage, supportive and symptomatic therapy is the only course of action as we do not know the specific poison or toxin ingested; was a urine sample taken to look for crystals in the urine to confirm ethylene glycol toxicity (antifreeze)? Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/toxicology/ethylene-glycol-toxicity/overview-of-ethylene-glycol-toxicity www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/antifreeze-poisoning-vodka-antidote/

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Cooper
Labrador Retriever
12 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

Medication Used

Tramadol

My dog had some broccoli. I made sure it wasn't more than 10% in his bowl but I just saw him eat it out of his brothers. He may have been doing that for the last couple days. He has diarrhea now for about 10 hours. It's now all liquid. He gets colitis easily. There was a tiny drop of blood the last time. Otherwise, he is eating well (we can't withhold all food due to his meds but switched him to white rice and chicken with chicken bone broth to keep him hydrated). We just spent 15k w don't have on removing oral melanoma, so I can't run him to the vet like I normally would. It is goes past 24 hours I definitely would to get him hydrated and on flagyl which clears up his colitis. Does the diarrhea alone mean he could be having a fatal reaction? Should me withdrawing the broccoli and putting him on rice and pumpkin help or does he need a treatment at the vet to get this to stop once it starts?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations

As you know broccoli is healthy to feed to dogs, but it may cause gastrointestinal irritation if feed at doses over 10% of daily food intake and can be serious if feed at over 25% of daily food intake. You made a good move by switching his food to chicken and rice with broth and this will be less irritating to his stomach and he would require hydration. I would watch him over the next few days, but if you start to notice more symptoms or the blood remains in the faeces, a visit to your Veterinarian may be needed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

How about a corn cob? Our pup ate one a couple days ago and has vomited 3 times today along with being somewhat lethargic. We know corn is not a large concern but are worried about the whole cob both about the potential blockage and any kind of toxicity there may be. Any suggestions?

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Bentley
Cockapoo
4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

My pup ate a Rx insomnia medication. He had around 42mg of Lunesta yesterday while I was at work. We spent the night at the ER vet where they induced vomiting and then gave him activated charcoal and some other meds We left the vet about 14 hours ago and he's still throwing up charcoal. He will eat but isn't really interested in drinking. How long should it take for the charcoal to get out of his body and stop puking?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations

There is little information about the ingestion of Lunesta (eszopiclone) in dogs and there is little information of side effects or the level of toxicity of ingestion. If you have any concerns, I would recommend you contact the Pet Poison Helpline as they have more information and are able to help you more with this poisoning event (see link below). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/lunesta/

 

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Ju ju, toby, nelly
Boxer
3,1,4
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

None

Medication Used

Charcoal and hydrogen peroxide

I have 3 dogs two little ones that are like 10 pounds a piece and one boxer is probably like 40 pounds. we had just bought a box of rat poison the that contained 16 blocks came home one day and they had eaten six of the blocks not sure who ate how much but we know they all 8 it's cuz all their teeth were green. I mixed some hydrogen peroxide and ice cream the boxer ate a good amount the two little ones only had tiny bit then I gave each of them a activated charcoal pill it has been 30 minutes at least and none of them are puking what do I do now. also is anything that happens next going to be painful for them

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations

The type of poison (anticoagulant or neurotoxin), quantity consumed and time frame; with rat poisoning, a visit to your Veterinarian is a must for gastric lavage and supportive care. Administration of hydrogen peroxide is a good first aid step, but ice cream isn’t the best method of administration as some ice creams may have artificial sweeteners which are also toxic for dogs. Please visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Rem
Shih Tzu
1 Year
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Stumbles

My dog has had some weed very little but enough where she has a little side effects, I wanted to give her some activated charcoal? Don't think she needs to go to the vet but I just want to make her feel better any suggestions

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations

Induce vomiting with 3% hydrogen peroxide and then administer activated charcoal, but if there are severe symptoms you should visit your Veterinarian for supportive and symptomatic care. Symptoms of poisoning with weed, can lead to severe neurological signs and may require Veterinary care. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Drake
Labrador Retriever
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Fluid in abdomen
Cirrhosis of the liver

My dog was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. I was told it could be a couple of weeks or a couple of days. It's been a little over two weeks since. I have him on milk thistle tables daily. The vet said he could start having seizures and the toxins would eventually make their way to his brain. I was wondering if it would hurt to start giving him activated charcoal to absorb some of the toxins?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1481 Recommendations

Activated charcoal is used to absorb toxins or poisons in the gastrointestinal tract, there is no scientific evidence showing that activated charcoal removes toxins from the blood; the charcoal doesn’t live the gastrointestinal tract. In saying that, giving activated charcoal will do no harm at all and may be giving without fear of side effects. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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