Do not give your dog activated charcoal unless under the supervision of a veterinarian. Activated charcoal is used to treat gas and bad breath in dogs, and also to treat poisoning. Even though it is generally safe when used by a veterinarian and is sold over the counter at many pet stores, do not diagnose and treat your dog independent of veterinarian advice as activated charcoal can cause serious adverse reactions (including fatal respiratory obstructions).
What does activated charcoal do?
Activated charcoal (sold in powder, granular and liquid forms) is used in humans and animals to treat poisonings and overdoses, as it binds to the poison and prevents its absorption by the body. It has become the primary treatment for poisonings because it is so effective. However, it is effective because it is powerful and therefore needs to be handled responsibly. If administered incorrectly, it can lead to pulmonary aspiration (which can be fatal). Additionally, for some poisonings (acid, alkali, petroleum and others), it can actually make the situation worse.
Why would someone want to give a dog activated charcoal?
The most common at-home use of activated charcoal is to cure gas and bad breath in dogs. As these are not life-threatening conditions, hold off treating your pet until you are able to consult with a veterinarian. Activated charcoal can also remove toxins in the case of poisoning. Many books and websites will recommend activated charcoal as first aid in the event of poisoning, but this method of detoxification works best when administered by an experienced professional. There are important follow-up steps to be taken by a professional immediately after administration, which may include an IV and/or a urinary catheter. If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, immediately seek emergency veterinary care.
What are the risks in giving a dog activated charcoal?
If an animal is hypersensitive or allergic to activated charcoal, ingestion could be fatal. Aspiration of activated charcoal may cause respiratory obstruction and possibly fatal bronchiolitis (inflammation of the smallest air passages in the lungs, which can lead to asthma); because of this, it SHOULD NOT be used in situations where the animal is unable to protect his airway (if he has reduced consciousness). Other risks include vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, poor nutrient absorption and dehydration.