Activated Carbon for Dogs: Uses and Dosage

Activated carbon is an organic compound used to treat certain intoxications in humans and dogs alike. Learn about its medical properties with us.
Activated Carbon for Dogs: Uses and Dosage

Last update: 01 February, 2022

Activated carbon is a medication that’s used, mainly, to treat intoxications produced orally. In humans, people claim it can cause renal improvement and the reduction of gastrointestinal tract problems, although these properties aren’t completely confirmed. Activated carbon for dogs can be very useful if they have food poisoning, but its uses beyond this are a little more difficult to verify. If you want to know everything about this compound, read on.

What is activated carbon for dogs?

Activated carbon is a compound derived from charcoal, a solid, fragile and porous fuel with a high content of the chemical element carbon (98%). The difference between the two variants is mainly that the active form has been treated to have small pores of low volume, which increase the surface area of adsorption and the ability to perform chemical reactions.

Activation is achieved by processing the charcoal at high temperatures. This compound comes in the form of powders, granular (GAC), as extruded activated carbon (EAC), as coarser “beads” (BAC), or coated with polymers. Each of these variants is useful on different fronts, from the agricultural industry to human medicine.

In the pet world, activated carbon usually comes in the form of a blackish, viscous fluid. The compound may come from the factory in this form, or you can also obtain it by mixing powders with water in the recommended concentrations. In some regions, it’s also found in tablet form for oral intake.

The uses of activated charcoal in pets are restricted to the medical field.

Activated carbon.

Uses of activated carbon for dogs

As mentioned above, activated charcoal has a very large surface area. As it’s very porous, large porosity, it has a greater range of action to bind with other chemical compounds. Let’s see how this property is applied in canine veterinary medicine.

Oral intoxications

As studies in the Pubmed portal indicate, activated charcoal is the most widely used compound for gastric decontamination in high-income countries. Its enormous surface area makes it excellent for binding chemicals. By “capturing” harmful elements in the intestine, it reduces the possible effects of poisoning.

In humans, it’s estimated that 50 to 100 grams (2 to 4 oz) of activated charcoal are able to reduce the absorption of certain chemical compounds by 74% if ingested within 5 minutes. The effect decreases to 50% when the compound is taken half an hour later and to 20% after 3 hours. Thus, its efficacy is highly dependent on the time of dosing.

This also applies in dogs. The longer the time, the more likely it is that the animal will have metabolized the toxins. Only the veterinarian will decide whether activated carbon is suitable in each individual case.

In dogs, activated carbon can reduce the toxin load in the intestinal tract by 80% in 180 minutes.

Toxins that activated carbon fights

Unfortunately, activated carbon for dogs isn’t useful in all poisonings. Here’s a list of the elements that this compound can neutralize and those that it can’t:

  1. Activated carbon is useful for narcotic poisoning, ibuprofen, chocolate, pyrethrins, marijuana, aspirin, bromethalin, rodenticides, acetaminophen, organophosphates, carbamates and other compounds.
  2. Activated carbon isn’t useful for poisoning by strong acids or bases, iron, lithium, arsenic, methanol, ethanol and other compounds.

Unfortunately, activated carbon isn’t useful for poisoning due to direct consumption of substances with alcohol, such as hand sanitizers, fragrances, alcoholic beverages, and cosmetics. Neither is it useful against compounds containing inorganic toxins, such as bleach, detergents, acetone, fertilizers, or all-purpose cleaners.

How to administer it?

As mentioned above, activated carbon usually comes in liquid form or in tablets for oral intake. If you suspect that your dog has suffered poisoning, the first thing to do is to go to a veterinarian, regardless of whether the dog shows symptoms or not. Don’t attempt to administer activated carbon on your own unless instructed to do so by a vet.

In the veterinary clinic, asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic dogs are given the compound orally, mixed with water, or in tablet form. The standard rule is 1 to 3 grams per kilogram of the animal’s weight, so the dosage depends very much on the patient’s breed. It may be necessary to administer half of the original dose every 4-8 hours in some cases.

If the dog isn’t able to swallow, activated carbon should be administered through an endotracheal tube.

As mentioned above, this compound isn’t useful in all cases of poisoning. If your dog consumes a whole bottle of hand gel or half a liter of bleach, activated charcoal won’t help, as they’re composed of substances with alcohol or non-organic toxins.

In these cases, the veterinarian will resort to trying to induce vomiting, gastric lavage, and other treatment. On the other hand, if the dog has trouble swallowing and breathing, it could swallow the activated charcoal incorrectly and it could lodge in the lungs. This condition will put the dog’s life at serious risk and for this reason it isn’t recommended to administer the carbon at home.

Side effects

Unfortunately – and like any pharmacological substance – this compound can have several side effects in dogs. Among them, we can highlight the following:

  1. Hypernatremia: This condition is an excess of sodium in the dog’s body.
  2. Aspiration: Aspiration of activated carbon into the lungs can cause pneumonia and other serious conditions. For this reason, animals that can’t swallow it should be intubated as a matter of urgency.
  3. Gastric symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal obstruction, and constipation.
  4. Black feces.
  5. Eye irritation.
An ill dog.

Final notes

At present, activated carbon in the veterinary field is only used to treat intoxications by certain compounds. It has been suggested that it may be useful in treating kidney disease and other gastrointestinal problems, but these uses haven’t been fully tested.

Also, keep in mind that this compound isn’t useful for all poisonings. If you see any worrying symptoms in your dog, go to your veterinarian as soon as possible, as only they’ll know how to determine the exact treatment and dosage in each scenario.

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