It’s worth noting that coal and charcoal are different. Coal is the natural mineral forms over millions of years, whereas charcoal is the human-made product we use for grilling. This article assumes the latter is the information you’re looking for.
No, dogs cannot eat charcoal, and if yours did you need to contact your vet or local animal hospital immediately. If you feel a substantial amount was consumed and not just a few little pieces, then take them right to the vet.
Why is charcoal harmful?
Coal and charcoal ash contain a lot of dangerous chemicals, including lighter fluid and petroleum. Your dog might not immediately exhibit symptoms of distress because these chemicals can take some time to work their way through the pet’s system, but you still shouldn’t wait to get help.
Charcoal is also indigestible, so while your dog may be able to pass small pieces, large pieces are likely to get stuck in their digestive system. This can result in a blockage which could potentially lead to emergency surgery.
Hot coal can easily cause severe burns to your dog’s mouth, gums, and esophagus, which is extremely painful for an animal.
Why do dogs eat charcoal?
It’s actually very common for dogs to want to eat coal, especially coal that’s being used in a BBQ. They smell the food cooking and equate that smell with the charcoal, prompting them to eat it in an attempt to consume those delicious meat juices.
Some dogs also suffer from a condition called “Pica”, which leads them to eat non-food substances like charcoal, rocks, sticks, and even feces. Pica can be caused by a medical condition such as malnutrition or anemia. It can also be behavioral and stem from boredom, anxiety, or the fear of being punished.
Keep your ashes out of reach from your pet and make sure they’re covered securely when you’re done cooking your food.
Charcoal vs. activated charcoal for dogs
People often confuse these two substances which is very dangerous because one is safe for pets and one is not.
Activated charcoal has been processed and is often given to animals to induce vomiting after they’ve eaten something foreign. It’s safe because it’s been treated with oxygen and is highly absorbent. The impurities that you find in regular charcoal have been removed, making it safe for animals to consume. That being said, you should only give your pet activated charcoal under the guidance of your vet.
Charcoal contains all the toxins that make animals sick, and is not absorbent. It does not bind together to remove toxins in the way that activated charcoal does. In fact, all it is is partially burnt wood. You should never purposefully feed your dog charcoal.
What to expect if your dog eats charcoal
The vet should immediately perform bloodwork and a urinalysis to determine the extent of the damage. They will also monitor your dog for signs of illness, including:
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- change in urine output or stools
- increased or decreased water consumption
- other abnormal behaviors
Depending on your dog’s symptoms, they might recommend inducing vomiting, although this is not without risk and should only be done under a veterinarian’s supervision. They may also order x-rays and, depending on what they find there, the dog could need surgery to remove the coal and/or any type of blockage it may have caused.