Activated Charcoal for Dogs: Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

Activated charcoal is a substance commonly used to treat poisoning or accidental ingestion of toxins in dogs. Also known as activated carbon, it is a fine, black powder made from coconut shells, peat, coal, or wood. When a dog ingests a harmful substance, activated charcoal can be administered to absorb the toxins in the stomach and intestines before they enter the bloodstream. The surface area of activated charcoal is incredibly large due to its porous nature, which allows it to bind a wide variety of toxins effectively. Once bound, these toxins can be safely excreted from the body through feces.

Activated charcoal can be used on its own or in combination with a cathartic — a medication that works like a laxative — to accelerate the passage of the charcoal-bound toxin through the gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing the likelihood of reabsorption.


Here’s what you should know about activated charcoal’s uses, dosage, and side effects for dogs.

Uses of activated charcoal for dogs

Activated charcoal is primarily used in emergency situations to treat poisoning or toxin ingestion. These include:

  • Ingestion of human medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be dangerous for dogs.
  • Chemical poisoning: Household chemicals such as cleaning products or rodenticides.
  • Toxic foods: Foods that are harmful to dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, or certain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
  • Plants: Certain houseplants or outdoor plants that are toxic to dogs.

It is important to note that activated charcoal is not effective against all types of toxins. Some of the substances that cannot be bound by activated charcoal include:

  • Heavy metals, such as iron and lead
  • Certain acids and alkalis, like hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide
  • Petroleum products, including gasoline and kerosene
  • Ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze)

In terms of how to use activated charcoal, keep in mind that it must only be administered by a vet due to the potential risks and complications involved. Activated charcoal can be life-threatening if inhaled by your dog, and in some situations, a nasogastric tube might be necessary for proper administration. Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination before administering the medication to your pet. As such, activated charcoal is inadvisable in cases of:

In such scenarios where activated charcoal is not appropriate, your vet will opt for alternative treatments like gastric lavage, cathartics, or other detoxifying agents.

Dosage of activated charcoal for dogs

The following is a guideline for the typical use of the drug in dogs and must not replace your vet’s advice for your individual pet.

The dosage of activated charcoal can vary depending on the size of your dog and the severity of the poisoning. Typically, the recommended dosage ranges from 0.5 to 1.5 grams per pound of a dog’s body weight. Veterinarians usually administer it orally in the form of a slurry — a mixture of activated charcoal powder and water. This ensures that it coats the gastrointestinal tract thoroughly. Activated charcoal tablets and capsules are also available but are generally ineffective and not commonly used in veterinary practice.

Activated charcoal is most effective when administered within an hour of ingesting a toxin but can still provide benefits if given up to four hours later. Moreover, giving a small amount of food alongside the medication can make it more palatable and easier to administer. In some cases, repeated doses of activated charcoal are necessary to fully eliminate toxins. However, if a cathartic is used in combination with the charcoal, it is only given once to prevent further dehydration and hypernatremia.

Side effects of activated charcoal for dogs

Owners bringing their dog to veterinarian for administering activated charcoal.
(Photo Credit: shironosov | Getty Images)

Like any medication, activated charcoal can have side effects. While it is generally considered safe when used appropriately, it’s essential to be aware of potential adverse effects such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Aspiration pneumonia (if administered improperly)

Activated charcoal can stain your dog’s fur and will temporarily turn their stool jet-black for up to 24 to 48 hours after administration. While this is a normal side effect, contact your veterinarian if black stools persist beyond this period, as it may indicate gastric ulceration or a stomach bleed.

It is also crucial to note that activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of certain oral medications. If your dog is on daily medication, consult your veterinarian to determine if any adjustments are necessary. Typically, you may need to give your pet’s medication at least two to four hours after administering the charcoal. Alternatively, your veterinarian might recommend temporarily switching to intravenous (IV) administration.

If you suspect your dog has consumed a harmful substance, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Time is of the essence in such situations, and professional guidance can ensure the best possible outcome for your pet. If a veterinarian is out of reach, contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for help.

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