How Effective is Activated Charcoal for Dogs?

Have you heard of activated charcoal for dogs? Have you often wondered what it was used for and if, more crucially, it was effective? You can find the answers to these questions in this post.

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Dogs, by their very nature, are incredibly curious animals. One way they check out things in their everyday environment, rather than just looking at them, is sniffing them, licking them and then even popping things into their mouths.

Obviously, that sometimes means they put things in their mouths and bodies that they really shouldn’t. You’d probably stop your dog from eating charcoal, but did you know there are times when activated charcoal for dogs could prove to be a life saver?

While much of the time, this will be the odd Lego brick or something that is not dangerous, there will be times when it is something dangerous. Even the most vigilant dog owners have been caught out in the past with their dogs eating toxins. While many of the cases of intoxication, especially when diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively, have positive results, for some it is not always a happy ending.

It is often a race against time when a dog has ingested something toxic. The goal is generally to get rid of it from their system, and one method that has been used for some time is activated charcoal. You have probably heard about it or read about it. What you may be wondering, though, is it effective? That’s what this next article is going to discuss.

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Why Use Activated Charcoal?

Charcoal has been used for a long time in medicine. However, the most common application of activated charcoal for dogs, nowadays, is a type of medication normally used to treat pooches suffering from intoxication.

The aim of using this medication is that the charcoal will soak up or absorb all the toxin that is making the dog suffer in order to reduce the side effects and symptoms. Activated charcoal is a more common form of treatment than you may think, and it is often used in the first instance in treating specific intoxications.

Benefits of Activated Charcoal

One way to consider whether activated charcoal is right for your dog is to consider its various benefits and downsides. It’s true that you will read many horror stories about how ineffective it is, but there is also a lot of positive things said about this form of detoxication. Some of the main benefits of activated charcoal, therefore, include:

  • It is Lightweight

The last thing you want is something that is very heavy. Especially when you may need to reach for it and use it in a hurry if your dog swallows or ingests something they probably shouldn’t have.

  • Available in Liquid or Powder Form

Like many veterinary medications designed for dogs, activated charcoal is available in both powder and liquid form. This gives you some degree of versatility, as your dog may respond better to being given one over the other. What kind of medication does your canine friend prefer taking usually? Dry or liquid?

  • Surface Area

One of the most appealing properties of activated charcoal that makes it so effective at absorbing toxins is its large surface area. On average, 1 gram of the substance has a surface area of around 100 square meters! (Source)

  • Once Bound it Stays Bound

Once a toxin has been bound to the charcoal, it is not released. Therefore, when it works, activated charcoal is a permanent solution to the problem of intoxication.

  • Milder Alternative Form of Treatment

Other forms of treatment for toxin ingestion include dilution using water or milk combined with a special agent that coats the stomach, cathartics and gastric lavage or emptying. These are not a whole lot of fun for your dog and can leave them feeling miserable. Therefore, if you want a milder, but still an effective alternative, activated charcoal is, generally, a great choice.

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Downsides of Activated Charcoal

No medication or treatment is 100% effective or 100% ineffective, so just as there are benefits to using charcoal, there are also some downsides that need to be taken into consideration too.

  • Too Effective?

Although there are many situations in which activated charcoal can be very efficient and effective in treating dogs with intoxication, there are some situations when this is not the case. For instance, it may be too effective and absorb, not just the harmful toxins, but also important nutrients that your dog needs to remain healthy.

  • Not Effective on All Toxins

As you’d probably imagine, not every toxin that your dog could ingest is going to be absorbable by activated charcoal. Therefore, there are some limitations to its use. For example, if your dog ingests a corrosive type of material like sodium hydroxide, activated charcoal would not absorb it.

Sodium hydroxide is found in drain cleaners and detergents. Another corrosive toxin that activated charcoal is no good against is potassium hydroxide, commonly one of the main ingredients in various liquid soaps.

It is not just corrosive materials such as the above that activated charcoal is no good in the eradication of. For example, chemicals like fertilizer, fluoride, sodium chloride and ethanol are other toxins that can’t be absorbed by activated charcoal. Unfortunately, one of the most toxic ingredients for your dogs, known as binding xylitol will also not be absorbed effectively by activated charcoal. This ingredient is a substitute for sugar found in sugar-free baked goods, candies and gums.

Other toxins activated charcoal is not known to be effective with include:

  • Alcohol
  • Ferrous sulfate
  • Caustic alkalis
  • Nitrates
  • Petroleum distillates
  • Mineral acids

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  • Causes Dehydration and Increase in Blood Sodium Levels

Although it is only in very rare cases, it is still worth noting that activated charcoal has, in the past, been responsible for causing dehydration or even dangerous spikes in blood sodium levels. As such, if your dog experienced these effects from the use of activated charcoal after ingesting some form of poisonous material, it would make their symptoms worse and could not just mean they lose control of their bodily functions, but also death.

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How to Use Activated Charcoal

Although, as you will see below, it can be bought over the counter, it is always best, if possible, that a veterinary practitioner or experienced member of staff administers activated charcoal.

The only time you should really contemplate giving it to your dog yourself is if you know with certainty that a substance has been swallowed and ingested by your dog. Even then, you should only really act if you are given the directions to do so by a member of the emergency staff or your vet while on the way to taking him or her to the animal hospital or vet’s practice.

It is only effective when used before the symptoms of poisoning is noticeable.

Cost of Activated Charcoal

Compared to other forms of medication for dogs, activated charcoal is very cost-effective and does not actually cost too much, considering. It retails at around $5 to $20. The price is increased though as treatment using activated charcoal toxins may involve other procedures and medications too. This can mean that rather than it appearing to be inexpensive, it is rather expensive.

Treatments, therefore, for toxin ingestion utilizing activated charcoal can be in the range of $500 to $3,000. The final cost will depend on how serious your dog’s symptoms were and regional costs for your area.

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Prevention is Better Than Treatment

The main alternative, aside from more surgically-based treatments, is, as you may have guessed, prevention. You can’t always keep an eye on your dog, this is true. However, you can take precautionary measures to limit your dog’s contact with toxic substances.

As chocolate can be especially dangerous for dogs, it is a good idea to keep this stored away in a high place, when it is not being eaten. Medicines, pesticides, cleaning products and anything else that your dog should not be going near, should be kept out of sight and out of mind.

Make sure anything that features a child-safety cap is closed securely. Educating yourself about the kinds of things that are likely to cause complications for your dog is another great way to prevent unfortunate accidents from happening.

Conclusion – Is it Worth it?

At the outset and in the title of this post, we asked the question that many of you have probably wondered, how effective is activated charcoal for dogs? In the course of the post above, we have looked at this subject, taking different factors into consideration.

For example, although activated charcoal can be a very effective treatment for ingestion of toxins, there are a wide range of toxic materials that cannot be absorbed by the charcoal.

Furthermore, for many dogs, there is very limited side effects and adverse, even dangerous effects. However, when you consider that some of those side effects can lead to dehydration and even death, it’s something you seriously need to consider.

Although you can buy activate charcoal over the counter, we would always recommend that you seek out the help and advice of your local veterinary practitioner, before doing so.

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