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Activated Charcoal for Dogs: Effectiveness, Procedure, Conditions

If the veterinarian has prescribed activated charcoal for your dog, it likely has diarrhea, stomach problems, or has ingested poison, and you want to know more about this medication. In this short guide, we will take an in-depth look at this medication to help you understand how it works and what it will do for your dog.

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What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a special form of carbon with small, microscopic holes over the surface, creating more surface area that makes it highly absorbent. A single gram of activated charcoal has more than 32,000 square feet of surface area. As the name suggests, scientists derive it from charcoal, and it may undergo other treatments to make it more absorbent.

Other uses for activated charcoal.

Besides having several uses in the medical field, activated charcoal can store gasses like hydrogen and methane. It can also help purify air, metals, and water. It’s how companies can remove caffeine to produce decaffeinated coffee, and it can also whiten teeth. Activated charcoal is also a primary ingredient in respirators, and many farmers use it as a pesticide.

When is the best time to administer activated charcoal?

If your pet has ingested any one of several poisons like paint thinner, rat poison, grapes, or chocolate, administering activated charcoal as soon as possible can help prevent the toxins from being absorbed into the body. It’s especially helpful when you cannot induce vomiting, but you must administer several doses, and you should immediately contact the veterinarian.

vet checking up on german shepherd
Image credit: Freepik

How does activated charcoal work?

The activated charcoal’s large surface area is extremely rough and negatively charged. It grabs and holds positively charged microscopic toxins and doesn’t let the body absorb them. Instead, the charcoal passes through the system with the toxins and exits in the feces. You’ll know when the treatment runs its course because the manure will be black.

How much activated charcoal is needed?

Veterinarians usually dispense activated charcoal depending on the dog’s weight, and you should contact your vet to get the proper dose before you need it. However, there are some rules of thumb.

  • Puppies under one-year-old will need about one gram per kilogram of body weight every 4 to 6 hours as needed.
  • Dogs over one year old will need 25 to 50 grams every 4 to 6 hours as needed.

When you are supplying charcoal for other reasons or general health, you may need far less. If the dog is taking another type of medication, the activated charcoal may absorb that as well, preventing the dog from getting the medicine it needs.

When should I avoid giving my dog activated charcoal?

If your dog consumes an acidic poison, you should avoid giving your dog activated charcoal because it could prevent doctors from getting a clear picture of the esophagus to check for damage. Several other poisons will need a different treatment, including arsenic, cyanide, alcohol, lithium, and methanol, among others. If your pet consumes one of these poisons, you will need to call the veterinarian immediately.

How do I administer activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is available in many forms. The best way is to purchase it in powder form, but that might be tough to get your dog to eat. Most experts recommend filling a syringe with water and charcoal and injecting it into the back of the throat of your dog. You can also purchase it in tablets and in already mixed fluids that might taste better, but it may be harder to determine how much to give your pet in this form. You can also get doggy treats made with a substance very similar to activated charcoal called bone charcoal. However, these treats are typically used to help clean teeth and freshen breath and may not be suitable to prevent the poison from entering the bloodstream.

Activated charcoal powder
Image Credit: WILLPOWER STUDIOS, Flickr

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If your pet has ingested poison, we recommend taking them to the vet immediately. If you don’t have experience administering activated charcoal, you shouldn’t try it in an emergency. Gain the expertise you need beforehand, so you will be ready when an accident happens. If your pet is not in immediate danger, you can talk with your vet to learn the right amount of activated carbon to give your dog. You can get ready by purchasing a supply of activated carbon from brands like vetDtox, and a means to administer it to your dog.  Brands like Frienda and other sell syringes you can use.  A company called UAA makes a universal antidote gel prepacked in a syringe that removes the need for mixing and is ready to use.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this guide and have learned a little more about this helpful medication that can help save your pet’s life. Please share this guide to the effectiveness of activated charcoal on Facebook and Twitter so it can help educate other pet owners.

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Featured Image Credit: Paul Simpson, Flickr