My Dog Ate Charcoal! Here’s What to Do (Our Vet Answers)

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There are lots of strange things dogs occasionally eat, and unfortunately, charcoal is one of them – it’s actually surprisingly common for dogs to eat charcoal. Usually, dogs eat charcoal because it’s been used for cooking – those delicious meat juices tempt dogs to eat even the strangest things!

Sometimes, dogs might eat charcoal not to get a taste of the meat juices, but because of a condition called ‘Pica’, which causes animals to eat non-food substances. Dogs that regularly eat non-edible objects should be examined by a veterinarian and their pica investigated.

Is charcoal poisonous to dogs?

You’ll probably be pleased to hear that charcoal is not known to be poisonous to dogs. However, that doesn’t make it safe.

Hot charcoal can cause burns to the gums, mouth, tongue and esophagus, which is extremely painful for your dog. In addition, many modern charcoals contain fire accelerants such as lighter fluid which could be toxic and even fatal for dogs.

Lastly, charcoal is made from partially-burned wood, and is therefore, undigestible. Small pieces of charcoal may move through your dog’s gut, but larger pieces are apt to get stuck, which can be an emergency.

dog ate charcoal
Credit: Yuliia Gornostaieva

My dog ate charcoal – what should I do?

1. Prevent your dog (or any other pets) from accessing and eating more charcoal.

This usually means removing your pet from the area and cleaning up any spillages.

2. Give your dog some water.

Do not feed your dog until you have talked to the vet and made a decision about what to do next, but water is fine.

3. Decide how much your dog has eaten.

Were they just licking it or did they chew on a large bit? Could any have gone down whole? Working out how much has gone in is tricky, but it’s important information.

4. If your dog ate some chunks of charcoal, it’s time to call the nearest open vet for advice.

Be sure to tell them the breed, age and weight of your dog, and the amount of charcoal you think they ate. You should also tell them the type of charcoal, whether natural or briquettes, and whether there’s anything else your dog could have eaten. Your vet will then be able to discuss the different options for monitoring and treatment with you. If your dog definitely didn’t eat any charcoal, and instead, they were just licking the juices, and there was no petrol or lighter fluid used, they’ll likely be fine.

5. You should keep a close eye on your dog for 48 hours and look for signs of upset stomach such as vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, inappetence, and constipation.

You should also watch for charcoal being passed in the faeces as this is a sign that it has passed through safely. However, if anything in your dog’s history causes your vet concern, they’ll suggest some different options for you.

dog eating charcoal
Credit: Agarianna76, Shutterstock

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What will the vet do if my dog ate charcoal?

Your vet will discuss the different options with you, so that you can make the best decision for your pet. Your vet may recommend you bring your pet in to make them vomit – but this can cause problems, such as the charcoal getting stuck in the esophagus on the way back up, or inhalation of petroleum products.

Vomiting is not a risk-free process and should only be done under veterinary guidance. They may also recommend a watch-and-wait approach, keeping a close eye on your pet and taking them in if they show any signs of problems. If your dog starts to show symptoms of a blockage, x-rays and even surgery are often required.

What signs might I see if my pet has eaten charcoal?

Signs range from none to severe, depending on how much and what sort of charcoal was eaten:
  • Dogs that have licked natural charcoal will usually show no signs at all, although large amounts of fats and oils on the charcoal may upset the stomach or cause pancreatitis.
  • Dogs that have eaten small amounts of charcoal may get away with no symptoms, or a slightly upset stomach.
  • Dogs that have eaten enough charcoal to cause a blockage can get extremely sick – they vomit every time they try to eat or drink, and stop passing faeces.
  • Dogs that have eaten charcoal treated with petroleum products such as lighter fluid may get skin irritation, sores in the mouth, difficulty breathing, weight loss, weakness, vomiting and head tremors. The risk of the more severe petroleum poisoning signs is much higher if dogs inhale the petroleum whilst eating it or vomiting – another reason that vomiting should only be tried under veterinary guidance.

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Is activated charcoal the same as charcoal?

Many people assume that because activated charcoal is given to pets that have eaten something toxic, charcoal is safe. In fact, some people even recommend feeding your dog charcoal if they’ve eaten something poisonous. But charcoal and activated charcoal are different.

Activated charcoal is made from charcoal that has been further processed – it is treated with oxygen to remove impurities and open up the pores, making it highly absorbent. Activated charcoal binds toxins because it has so many pores and such a huge surface area for absorbing toxins. Removing the impurities makes it much safer.

Charcoal, on the other hand, is wood that hasn’t burnt properly, and is much more likely to contain impurities. It’s also not got the required pores to work effectively at binding toxins. Although charcoal isn’t toxic to dogs, feeding it purposefully is not a good idea and should be avoided.


Featured image credit: Grillette, Pixabay