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Activated Charcoal for Dogs: How and When to Use It

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Medication details

  • Medication type: Gastrointestinal adsorbent
  • Form: Liquid, Capsule, Tablet, Powder
  • Prescription required? Yes
  • FDA approved? No
  • Life stage: All
  • Brand names: ToxiBan, MedChar, ActiDose, CharcoCaps
  • Common names: Activated Charcoal, Activated Carbon, Carbon Black
  • Available dosages: Many different dosages available depending on the product.
  • Expiration range: Variable depending on the formulation. Most products have a very long shelf life if properly stored.

Veterinarians commonly prescribe activated charcoal as an emergency treatment in dogs who have ingested a potential toxin. When administered quickly after exposure, activated charcoal can prevent your dog from developing symptoms of poisoning. 

However, activated charcoal is not effective for every type of toxin and it is important to be aware of its limitations. If your dog has ingested a foreign substance, you should always consult your veterinarian or poison control before trying to administer treatment at home. 

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is made by burning wood at high temperatures to produce charcoal. The product is then “activated”–a process that creates extra holes and crevices in the charcoal to increase its surface area, thereby increasing its ability to bind to other compounds. 

The resulting product is administered by mouth to bind to toxins in a dog’s stomach and gastrointestinal tract. 

Activated charcoal is available in both over-the-counter and prescription formulations, but most OTC products are not effective.

What Does Activated Charcoal Look Like?

Activated charcoal comes in many different forms. In veterinary medicine, oral solutions are most common. These can either be purchased as a bottle of thick, black liquid, or it can be made in the veterinary clinic by mixing activated charcoal powder with water. The liquid is then fed to the patient with a small amount of food or it can be administered via an oral syringe.

How Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Veterinary technician observing dog

Activated charcoal has an exceptionally large surface area, allowing it to bind to many different compounds. When administered orally, activated charcoal binds to compounds in a dog’s digestive tract and prevents them from absorbing into the bloodstream. 

This is especially useful in cases of poisoning. Once the toxin binds to the charcoal, your dog will harmlessly expel it through his feces. Some activated charcoal products also contain a cathartic agent such as sorbitol, which speeds the passage of the charcoal through the digestive tract to ensure dogs expel the toxins quickly.

Unfortunately, activated charcoal does not remove all toxins. Some compounds, like ethanol and xylitol, are too small to bind to the activated charcoal. 

The timing of the toxin ingestion is also important. If too much time has passed, your dog’s bloodstream has likely already absorbed the toxin. In those cases, activated charcoal will not be effective. 

Your veterinarian will decide whether or not to administer activated charcoal based on the type of toxin, when your dog ingested it, your dog’s symptoms, and any other health conditions.

What is Activated Charcoal Used For in Dogs?

Dachshund dog digging through garbage

Activated charcoal decontaminates your dog’s gastrointestinal tract following the ingestion of a toxin. Depending on the type of toxin and how much time has passed since your dog ingested the substance, your veterinarian may recommend first inducing vomiting to remove as much of the substance from the stomach as possible. 

Once ingested, activated charcoal then binds to any remaining toxin to prevent systemic absorbption. In some cases, multiple doses of activated charcoal over several hours may be necessary.

Veterinarians commonly prescribe activated charcoal for dogs to remove toxins like:

  • Prescription or OTC medications
  • Rodenticides
  • Marijuana
  • Narcotics
  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen
  • Organophosphate or carbamate insecticides
  • Pyrethrins
  • Strychnine

However, veterinarians do not recommend activated charcoal for every dog or every case of poisoning. Not every toxin will bind to activated charcoal, and in some cases the presence of charcoal in a dog’s gastrointestinal tract can limit your veterinarian’s ability to administer other treatments. For this reason, do not to give your dog activated charcoal at home unless your veterinarian directs you to do so

Most Common Side Effects

Activated charcoal can cause serious or potentially life-threatening side effects, especially with improper administration. Veterinarians do not recommend these products for some patients, such as those experiencing dehydration, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, or signs of bowel obstruction. 

Only administer activated charcoal under the supervision of your veterinarian. Potential side effects of activated charcoal in dogs include:

  • Hypernatremia (excessively high sodium in the blood)
  • Aspiration, leading to pneumonia and other respiratory problems
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Black feces
  • Eye irritation

Your veterinarian may also recommend additional treatments to manage the side effects of activated charcoal, such as:

  • IV fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Medications for nausea and vomiting, such as Cerenia
  • Probiotic supplements, such as Purina Pro Plan Fortiflora, to help restore normal intestinal microbiota

Reactions With Other Drugs and Medications

Activated charcoal binds to many common medications and may reduce their efficacy. Let your veterinarian know if your dog has taken any oral medications in the past 24 hours. 

Your veterinarian may recommend altering your dog’s medication dosing schedule to ensure the activated charcoal does not react with it.

Activated Charcoal Dosages for Dogs

Veterinarian with senior Jack Russell

Activated charcoal is typically dosed based on your dog’s weight, and dosages may vary depending on the product. Careful dosing is especially important if the product contains cathartic agents such as sorbitol, because this can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if administered incorrectly. 

Some toxins may require multiple administrations of activated charcoal for best results. Consult your veterinarian or poison control prior to administering any activated charcoal to your dog.


Activated charcoal is a relatively inexpensive product. Veterinary-specific oral suspensions of activated charcoal cost about $20-$30 per bottle. However, you may need multiple bottles for large dogs or in a severe case. 

Your vet may also prescribe other medications to address the toxicity and manage the side effects of activated charcoal, which may increase the overall cost of treatment.

Should your dog ingest something that is dangerous or toxic, a pet insurance policy can help cover testing and treatment costs. A policy such as Lemonade may help cover things like emergency care, ingestion of vomiting, surgery, and even hospitalization.

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    Storage Instructions

    You can store most forms of activated charcoal at room temperature. Always store activated charcoal away from light, heat, and moisture. Be sure to check the packaging for any additional storage instructions from the manufacturer.

    Activated Charcoal for Dogs FAQs

    Can dogs have activated charcoal?

    Activated charcoal is used as a gastrointestinal decontaminant for dogs following the ingestion of a toxin. Depending on the type of toxin and how much time has passed since your dog ingested the substance, your veterinarian may recommend first inducing vomiting to remove as much of the substance from the stomach as possible. 

    Where can you get activated charcoal for dogs?

    You can purchase activated charcoal for dogs over the counter at most pet care stores and online retailers like Amazon. However, you should never give your dog activated charcoal unless prescribed by your veterinarian.

    How much activated charcoal should you give your dog?

    How much activated charcoal your veterinarian will recommend for your dog depends on your dog’s weight and the product prescribed. The typical dosage is 1 to 3 grams of charcoal per 1 kilogram of bodyweight once. Your vet may recommend repeated doses at a lower dosage in some cases.

    However, you should always follow the explicit instructions of your veterinarian. Careful dosing is critical, as some products contain cathartic agents like sorbitol, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if administered incorrectly.

    How do you give your dog activated charcoal?

    Activated charcoal for dogs is administered orally. Depending on the product, it may come in pill form or as a powder, which can be mixed in with your dog’s food. Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions for proper dosage and administration for your dog.