Activated charcoal is a first aid medication given in certain cases of poisoning. Adding it to your pup's food as a supplement or to treat other problems does him absolutely no good whatsoever. Adding it to your dog's food when you suspect he's ingested a poison is also frowned upon. Only in very unusual circumstances would you give your dog activated charcoal with food.
What and Why?
Activated charcoal is an extremely lightweight, porous charcoal produced as a pharmacological agent, usually from plant matter. It is available in liquid form by prescription and as a powder -- loose or in capsules or compressed tablets -- over the counter. The particles have lots of surface area with great absorptive capacity. It's been used for thousands of years to treat cases of ingested poisoning, but it's use is a subject of ongoing debate in the first aid community. Some first responders say don't use it, unless it's in liquid form; the American Red Cross still says it's a choice, regardless of form. Some medical practitioners claim it absorbs up to 60 percent of ingested poison. Others claim its success rate is far lower, and that home first aid and routine hospital use are contraindicated. Both sides cite scientific studies supporting their positions.
When to Use Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is best given by veterinary personnel. The only time you should administer it yourself is when you are certain your pet swallowed a specific substance and your veterinarian or an emergency services staff member tells you to give activated charcoal on your way to the animal hospital. Activated charcoal must be administered before your pet shows symptoms of poisoning, so the vet may advise you to use it if you're racing against the clock to get your pup treated before symptoms arise. The Pet Poison Help Line is 1-800-222-1222.
Procedures and Dangers
In rare cases, activated charcoal can cause dehydration or a dangerous surge in blood sodium levels. These conditions can make poisoning symptoms worse and lead to loss of bodily control and even to death. For this reason it isn't given to patients who are dehydrated and is usually administered with fluid therapy. Your vet may also give your pup a second medication with the activated charcoal to help him vomit or pass the charcoal and the poison as stool.
Giving It With Food
Giving activated charcoal with food isn't the dosage method of choice. You typically don't have time to convince your doggy to eat during a poisoning episode -- you or your vet will simply be shoving the medication down his throat. Moreover, the activated charcoal will absorb nutrients and fluid from the food, which means it will be less available to absorb the poison. The only time you might give activated charcoal with food is when you are unable to force your pup to swallow it plain and are at your wit's end. The Pet Poison Helpline says that under these conditions, it is better to give it with a small amount of wet food than to not give it at all, but to use the smallest amount of food possible.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.