My Dog Ate Charcoal – Symptoms You Should Watch

My Dog Ate Charcoal. Picture of a dog looking at charcoal and licking his lips.

Dogs always have a knack for finding the strangest and most dangerous things to eat, right? If you’ve discovered that your dog’s eaten charcoal from your barbecue or your fire pit, you’ll want to give this a read to keep him safe.

If your dog eats charcoal, he may end up with slight burns in his mouth. Charcoal itself isn’t toxic to dogs, but sometimes additives such as lighter fluid or larger chunks of wood in the charcoal can be dangerous. 

Below, you’ll learn about what can happen if your dog eats charcoal, how serious it could end up being, and what danger signs you should be watching for.

What happens if a dog eats charcoal?

The actual process of a dog eating charcoal is about the same as you’d expect from eating anything else. The concerns to watch for will be:

  • Burns in the mouth and throat
  • Blockages from the charcoal bits
  • Toxic additives

Burns in the mouth and throat

Dogs have no understanding of heat. Like, at all. If they have access to still-smoking coals, they will eat them without understanding that they’re too hot to eat.

This means that you’ll need to watch for burns in his mouth (including his tongue) and down his throat. 

If the burn is severe enough from the temperature of the charcoal, his throat or tongue may swell, too, possibly putting him at risk of struggling to breathe.

This depends on the size of your breed and how hot the coals were, of course.

Blockages from the charcoal bits

Charcoal isn’t a fine powder in most cases. Any bits of wood and other debris you were burning can cause a problem when your dog eats them.

In this case, a blockage. It could make it hard to pass in their digestive tract and also create a tear in their system, which will need surgery to correct.

Toxic additives

Lighter fluid, gasoline, etc., are all extremely dangerous for your dog, often to the point of being toxic.

If you know that any of those have been used/added to your fire and your dog has eaten its coals, you’ll want to call the veterinarian immediately and have them taken in to get looked at to counteract any poisoning side effects.

What should I do if my dog ate charcoal?

No matter how attentive you are, accidents happen. If your dog ate charcoal and you’re not wondering what to do in a panic, here are the steps to follow.

  1. Remove him from the charcoal
  2. Assess how much he ate
  3. Give him plenty of water
  4. Call your vet
  5. Watch for danger signs

Remove him from the charcoal

The moment that you know he’s eaten some make sure he can’t get anything else from the pile! Remove him (and all other pets, if applicable) from the charcoal source itself at all times.

Assess how much he ate

The amounts that he ate can often determine how potentially dangerous it is. Try to get as precise a measurement as you can since this can often let you know how serious it may be.

For example: was it a lick? An entire mouthful? Several mouthfuls?

Give him plenty of water

Water will help him wash it out of his mouth and help curb the pain from the burns, too. Ensure he has plenty of access to fresh water and do what you can to keep him drinking as much as possible.

Call your vet 

Even if it’s just a lick, you’ll want to consider calling your vet seriously. Or any vet that is open if it’s after hours.

You’ll need to inform the vet of his age, size, breeze, weight, and what was in the charcoal (like lighter fluid, for example). Also, an estimate on how much he ate.

Watch for danger signs

If your dog’s veterinarian doesn’t tell you to bring him in right away, you’ll want to keep a very close eye to watch for danger signs in your dog’s behavior or appearance.

These could be signs that he is either struggling to digest the charcoals or that something in the charcoal is potentially poisoning him. 

Danger signs to watch for when my dog eats charcoal?

If your dog ate charcoal, the good news is that most of these danger signs will happen pretty quickly after eating the charcoal, so you don’t have to wait for days to notice a problem. These include:

  • Symptoms of pain or distress
  • Vomiting, or a refusing to eat or drink
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Restlessness or lethargy
  • Sores or tremors

The last items, sores or tremors, could indicate that he is struggling with any chemical additives or toxins in the charcoal. If you notice either or both of these, take him immediately to the vet.

How can I stop my dog from eating charcoal?

Preventing your dog from eating charcoals in the first place is definitely a great approach to take! Thankfully, it’s much easier than you’d think. Firstly, keep your dog away from any source of charcoal. 

Not only will it keep him safe from accidentally catching his wagging tail on fire, but it will also make sure he won’t get access to the charcoal at all. Since charcoal tastes like food from the meat juices, etc., he’ll want to snack on it!

When you are done with your fire, make sure you cover the ashes and all the remaining charcoal firmly with the proper fire pit equipment. Most store-bought grills or fire pits come with a mesh cover for this reason.

Once the coals are cold, you can dispose of them following your local guidelines!

Difference between regular charcoal and activated charcoal?

This is an excellent question! There is a big difference between regular charcoal and activated charcoal, so you’ll want to make sure you know which is which

A regular charcoal briquette is what you get from fire pits and barbecues. It contains food bits and improperly burned wood and other fuel that can be dangerous when your dog eats them.

Activated charcoal is processed using oxygen, and it has had all of its impurities removed to maximize its absorbency for toxins.

The activated charcoal will bind to the toxins to remove them from the body harmlessly. You cannot DIY your way from regular charcoal briquettes to activated charcoal! This is done in a lab for a reason, after all. 

Is it safe to give my dog activated charcoal?

You might be familiar with vets and other professionals recommending activated charcoal for dogs when they’ve accidentally eaten toxins.

This is how it works, actually. In theory, it’s a good idea. In actuality, though, it’s not something to do without the express permission of your dog’s vet!

Eating charcoal creates some severe stomach upset, not to mention burns in your dog. Make sure you keep him far away from your coals just to be safe!

In short

If your dog eats charcoal, he may end up with several health issues such as burns in his mouth and stomach, digestive issues, or even poisoning. Know the signs to watch for to keep him as safe as possible.

Know someone who has a dog especially fond of coals and charcoal? Could you share this with them to keep him safe?

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Writer, Editor and member of the Council, I am a dog person and I thrive to get the answers that will help you provide the best care a dog can have.