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My Dog Ate Charcoal: What Should I Do Now?

Wherever there is delicious meat, there is also a curious dog who will try to get a taste of it. That’s why sometimes a happy barbecue can turn into an unpleasant experience when your dog eats something inappropriate like the charcoal you use for the grill.

If your dog ate charcoal, it will be important to make a careful guess on the quantity ingested. Although charcoal isn’t toxic to dogs, it can still cause an upset stomach at the very least.

What should you do if your dog ate charcoal?

In the absence of specific conditions or health issues, the ingestion of charcoal won’t be life-threatening to your dog so there’s no need to panic.

Instead, it’s important to analyze the situation rationally, especially because the quantity ingested will be fundamental to know how to proceed.

As with many other foreign objects, some dogs might be completely fine and others may experience a variety of symptoms, which is why it’s important to monitor your dog closely and contact your vet as soon as your dog shows any sign of discomfort.

The consequences of eating charcoal vary greatly depending on the type of carbon (briquette or ashes), the size of your dog, and their medical history, so there are different ways to deal with the aftermath of such ingestion.

Bland diet 

Whether your dog shows symptoms or not, it will be wise to keep them on a bland diet of white rice and plain chicken for a few days. This way, you might avoid further complications in the stomach and intestines.

If your dog doesn’t seem to be sick, it is important to make them drink a lot of water, because it will help the charcoal pass through the body. If your dog seems unable to drink water, the charcoal may be lodged inside their intestines, so bring them to your vet.

What happens if a dog eats charcoal?

This is a tricky question because sometimes your dog doesn’t experience any symptoms after ingesting charcoal. This is especially true for big dogs who ate very little charcoal and will most likely pass it through the stools with no discomfort.

Keep an eye on your dog if you know they ate charcoal. Symptoms should show up not long after the ingestion, so if your dog seems fine for a few days after that, there should be nothing to worry about.

However, if your dog ate charcoal and is throwing up, better call your veterinarian. The first question you will be asked is how much charcoal your dog ate, so try to make a careful estimate because from this data your vet will decide how to proceed.

Unluckily ingestion of charcoal may lead to different outcomes. Usually, what is harmful to your dog isn’t the charcoal, but the substance on it.

When grilling meat, you will use lighter fluid. On top of that, grilled meat may leak oily fats. Both of these things are very dangerous for the health of your pet and can lead to complications.

GI obstruction

As it might happen with ashes, charcoal briquettes can turn harmful if they get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). This kind of obstruction is more likely to happen in small dogs, however, large ingestion of charcoal may hurt big dogs as well.

GI obstruction will prevent your dog from eating and drinking properly. It also brings general discomfort that can easily turn into unbearable pain, so it shouldn’t be underestimated.

If your dog ate charcoal briquettes that got lodged in their intestines, they will show one or more of these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Fainting

Do not wait for symptoms to change for the better or worse and bring your dog to the vet. In severe cases, surgery is required to remove the charcoal and the vet may also need to remove part of the intestines as well.

As you can easily understand, it would be better not to get to the point where your dog needs medical surgery. Not only is it expensive, but most importantly it will most likely shorten your pet’s lifespan.

Pancreatitis 

The fat from grilled meat could end up on the charcoal and lure your dog in. Fats don’t get along with the pancreas, especially in dogs. When your dog ingests more fats than their pancreas can take, they will develop pancreatitis.

The function of the pancreas is to produce insulin and digestive enzymes. When this organ is inflamed, it will start leaking enzymes in the body, which will in turn cause inflammation of other organs.

Unfortunately, many dogs don’t show symptoms of this disease or show very vague symptoms that can easily be mistaken for something else.

If your dog shows poor appetite, abdominal pain, or fever on top of vomiting and diarrhea, they might be experiencing acute pancreatitis.

It is important to treat this disease before it becomes chronic because chronic pancreatitis can lead to the destruction of the pancreas cells and to diabetes in dogs.

Kidney failure 

While charcoal briquettes are not toxic, the lighter fluid you pour over them can cause a great deal of harm to your pet.

This liquid contains petroleum and is sometimes found inside the briquettes as well.

Lighter fluid will not only make your dog’s stomach upset but might also lead to kidney failure as it is poisonous for them.

A dog with failing kidneys will drink a lot of water, so if you notice this symptom in your dog, bring them to the nearest emergency clinic.

Why do dogs eat charcoal? 

Dogs are definitely not attracted to charcoal for the carbon itself, so there has to be another reason why some dogs end up eating the material. However, as it often happens with strange ingestions, it is hard to say what exactly goes on inside their mind.

Dogs usually act following their hunger, which means the best guess is that they’re not drawn to charcoal, but rather to the meat they can still smell on it.

Grilling Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal 

There is sometimes confusion between charcoal and activated charcoal, also called activated carbon. The latter is actually safe for dogs and must not be confused with normal charcoal, which is why it’s important to know the difference.

These two materials have nothing in common and are used for completely different purposes.

Activated charcoal is used as a medication for dangerous ingestions. This material can absorb toxins before they spread through the body and cause harm to the organs, so it’s used for both people and animals.

On the contrary, the charcoal you use to grill can be harmful to your dog. It shouldn’t be easy to confuse them because activated carbon is actually sold in animal shops too, while you wouldn’t find grilling charcoal in the same place.

Is charcoal bad for dogs? 

Sometimes harmless, sometimes harmful, charcoal is definitely something you don’t want your dog to eat even if you were told it is not strictly ‘bad’ for your pet.

A dog eating charcoal is like a dog playing Russian roulette, which means it’s a matter of sheer luck. If you’re lucky, they might come out with a bit of stomach ache, but if you’re unlucky, there is no saying in what could happen to your pet.

There have been cases of dogs barely brought back from the brink of death because of charcoal, even if the material is not poisonous, it has the potential to cause troubles just like any other foreign object.

Charcoal ashes 

Ashes are particularly dangerous because they’re easily accessible by your pet and by licking them they may end up eating a big amount of it.

If your dog eats ashes, bring them to the vet immediately. Even though ashes look small and don’t seem threatening, dogs may easily swallow several ounces of it in a very short time, which may cause blockage in the intestines.

Small dogs might quickly develop very serious symptoms from this kind of obstruction, and old or sick dogs may even die from it.

Animals aren’t usually compelled to eat ashes, but sometimes dogs are affected by a psychological condition known as pica, which pushes them to eat things that aren’t suitable for their diet.

If you suspect that your dog may be affected by pica, they will need to be examined by a professional. Treatments for pica are available, but your dog can only be treated once the cause behind the behavior is found.

Can dogs eat charcoal? 

Dogs should not be allowed to eat charcoal and you should make sure your dog doesn’t have access to charcoal or any of your grill tools.

In fact, the dangers of charcoal don’t end at what happens when your dog eats it. It’s important to keep your dog away from your grill because they might get burnt or some ashes could end up in their eyes.

Charcoal ingestion can easily turn into a nightmare and it could also compromise your pet’s health for the rest of their life.

Given the risks, you should be extra careful and not allow your dog near your grill set-up. Make sure all the charcoal is safely stored at all times as well or cover it when you’re not using it.

It would be ideal to have your grill elevated so that your dog cannot easily reach the coal or the ashes. Do not leave your dog alone in the same area as the grill. A few minutes can make a big difference in these situations.