Also known as activated charcoal, charcoal tablets for dogs are tablets made of finely ground charcoal for the purpose of absorbing and binding toxins in the digestive tract. Charcoal tablets may therefore come handy in cases where dogs have recently ingested toxins or have been administered poisons or were accidentally given a drug overdose. It's therefore a good idea to add charcoal in your dog's first aid kit, along with other important necessities. Knowing in advance when and how to use charcoal tablets for dogs is a plus, so that in the case of an emergency, you know exactly what to do. It's important to note that while charcoal is not an antidote, it can de-potentiate, and therefore, decrease the effects of certain toxins.
How it Works
How does charcoal for dogs work? After your dog ingests a toxin, the charcoal will bind to it (courtesy of its large surface area) and therefore make it less likely to be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.
The toxin will therefore then be expelled along with the charcoal in the dog's feces.
In order to work well, it's important to administer the charcoal as early as possible, as the more it is delayed, the higher the chances for absorption of the toxin.
If your dog just recently ingested something toxic, consult with your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline. There are chances that, depending on which toxin was ingested, if no more than two hours have passed you may be on time to induce vomiting using hydrogen peroxide.
For instance, if your dog just ingested rat poison, your vet may tell you to induce vomiting at once, and after the dog has emptied all stomach contents, the activated charcoal can be given. However, that's not all. A dog who ingested rat poison should also be provided with vitamin K-1 as an added precaution, advises veterinarian Dr. Kara.
While charcoal may help prevent absorption of toxins, it's important to note that it's not an antidote, and therefore, if your dog ingested a toxin, it's important to consult with your vet as your dog may need additional treatment along with supportive care.
"Activated charcoal is only helpful if given within about 6 hours." Dr. Fiona
Not a Cure-All
For what toxins is the use of charcoal tablets for dogs suggested? As mentioned, activated charcoal will not work with all toxins. Charcoal may be effective for dogs who have ingested antifreeze, organophosphates, acetaminophen, digoxin, pyrethrins, arsenic and mercury compounds, salicylates, several pesticides and blister beetles.
Charcoal may also help reduce absorption of topical products absorbed through dogs licking the fur such as insecticidal dips and crude oil from oil spills.
Charcoal should NOT be used for dogs who have ingested caustic substances such as petroleum distillates. Charcoal also will NOT work in dogs who have ingested ethanol, ethylene xylitol, glycol, heavy meatls such as ferrous sulfate, iron, zinc or lithium, nitrates, sodium chloride, corrosive agents, hydrocarbons and chlorates.
Finally, charcoal should NOT be given to dogs who have ingested products containing high levels of salt such as homemade play dough, paint balls or table salt, considering the potential risk for charcoal to increase the levels of sodium in the dog's blood.
A Guide to Formulations
Activated charcoal comes in various formulations. The charcoal may be available in powder, granules, and tablets, but most of these need to mixed with water in a slurry so that it works faster. Being that most charcoal formulations in tablets come in dosages of 260 to 280 milligrams, dosing for treating toxicities can get quite complicated, often requiring the administration of many tablets. Alternatively, one may ask the pharmacist for the the stronger form in grams. A much better option than charcoal tablets for dogs though may be Toxiban suspension.
Toxiban suspension is activated charcoal for dogs that is already in liquid form. It also has a formulation with added sorbitol. The added sorbitol in this case acts as a purgative (cathartic), quickly moving the stomach contents along the dog's digestive tract, so the toxins can be expelled quickly and the dog absorbs less of them. The sweet taste is a plus as it makes it more appealing to dogs.
Charcoal Dosage for Dogs
And what about dosages? According to The Veterinary Support Personnel Network the dosage for activated charcoal is 1-3 gm/kg body weight. It's important to note that this dosage is in grams and it's based on kilograms and not pounds. So you will have to do some calculations to figure out the correct dosage if you use are in a country that uses pounds.
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According to the book "The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat" the dosagein pounds is 0.5-2 grams per pound. Again this is in grams, and not milligrams. Most charcoal formulations for humans in tablets come in dosages of 260 to 280 milligrams, so several tablets would be needed.
Fortunately, most products designed for dogs have directions on the label; however, because there are so many variances such as types of toxins and absorption rates, it's highly recommended that you consult with the vet to determine if giving charcoal is an option for your dog and how much and how often to give. Even after you give charcoal, follow up with your vet as you dog may need further supportive care.
" The recommended dose of activated charcoal for all species of animals is 1-3 gm/kg body weight."~Veterinary Support Personnel Network
Skip These Options
"Can I use regular crushed charcoal for my dog?" Many dog owners may wonder whether regular charcoal, as the one used for grilling can be used in lieu of activated charcoal. The answer is a big, loud "No!" Regular charcoal is not crafted to be ingested!
Any large pieces swallowed may cause the dog to develop an intestinal blockage. Also, charcoal often is coated with lighter fluid which means adding further toxins, warns veterinarian Dr. Z.
And what about giving a dog burnt toast instead? Burnt toast has little to do with activated charcoal. All it is, is charred bread made out of fats, carbs and proteins. Activated charcoal instead is purposely burnt in such a way as to attain special absorption powers. Veterinarian Dr. Fiona explains that burnt toast therefore should not be used as a replacement for activated charcoal.
Any Side Effects?
Charcoal tablets, Toxiban or other charcoal formulations for dogs may not cause many side effects; however, as with almost every thing in life, there is no such thing that is entirely safe or free of side effects.
For instance, one must be careful in avoiding choking or aspiration when administering the liquid formulation. It should not be administered to dogs who are unconscious or have trouble swallowing. If a dog appearsagitated or is shaking, a vet should be seen at once as the toxin has likely already been absorbed.
Also, it's important to keep in mind that charcoal should be given at least about three hours away from other medications as charcoal may prevent its proper absorption. This can therefore be an issue with dogs who need important medications around the clock such as heart medications or insulin dosages. Consult with your vet for recommendations.
It's also important to note that the use of charcoal may cause the presence of any signs of damage to the dog's digestive tract to become difficult to see should the dog need to undergo an endoscopy or surgery.
Charcoal may cause constipation, and some formulations, (Toxiban with sorbitol) may cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, elevation of sodium contents in blood, and possibly, low blood pressure. In high doses, it can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can be problematic in dogs with kidney issues or diabetes. It's worthy also noting that usage of charcoal may cause a dog's feces to turn black.
If the veterinarian deems that inducing vomiting with three percent hydrogen peroxide is necessary, charcoal should be given after the vomiting has occurred, not prior. In some cases, depending on what toxin the dog ingested, repeated dosages may be needed.
Consult with your vet on exact directions, considering that when giving several doses for long-acting toxins, only the first dose should contain a purgative, warns Dr. Justine Lee, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care.
Did you know? According to the book "The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat" dairy products and mineral oil decrease the effectiveness of the charcoal.
To Sum it Up
As seen, the use of activated charcoal, possibly along with sorbitol, can be effective in preventing dogs from absorbing dangerous toxins. It's sure worthy of keeping it in a dog's first aid kit. If your dog ingested a toxin, consult with your vet for directions on dosages, length of administration and follow -up treatments that may be necessary. Don't waste precious time searching for home remedies such as milk, vegetable oil or burnt toast! Timing is of the essence when it comes to toxin ingestion. Always keep your vet's office number handy or the Pet Poison Helping phone number which can be reached at-855-764-7661 at any time of the day. A $49 per incident fee applies.
DVM360: When and how to use activated charcoal
Lee JA. Decontamination and detoxification of the poisoned patient. In: Osweiler GD, Hovda LR, Brutlag AG, et al., eds. Five-minute veterinary consult clinical companion: small animal toxicology. 1st ed. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011;5-19.