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How to Administer Activated Charcoal for Accidental Poisonings

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I have worked as an RN for over 25 years in several specialties, and I am an educator for various universities on the West Coast.

Treat Unintentional Poisoning Quickly

Children and pets are the most vulnerable populations to poisoning. Every year, over one million children are affected globally. Over 90 percent of poisonings occur in the home and may cause death or severe disability to victims.

For unintentional poisonings, it is imperative to treat the person or pet within one hour of the ingestion of the toxic substance with activated charcoal. The charcoal will absorb the substance and prevent it from leaving the stomach and entering the body.

The ingestion of aspirin is the number one cause of poisoning in children. Tylenol and ibuprofen are also in the lead. It only takes a moment for a child to swallow something toxic, and usually, it occurs when a parent is distracted for a fraction of a minute.

Always have activated charcoal on hand—and the number to the poison control center and your pediatrician on speed dial.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal comes in powder, granules, liquid and tablets. Keep the most useful form of the poison absorbent on hand and be prepared for any emergency. When a child, adult or pet ingests a poison, the activated charcoal is given orally to absorb the poison, medications or the toxic substance and stops it from entering the person's bloodstream and doing harm.

Activated charcoal is made up of continuous layers of almost pure carbon that trap and absorb harmful substances in the stomach and render them harmless.

Here's how activated charcoal absorbs the poison in the stomach.

Here's how activated charcoal absorbs the poison in the stomach.

Consult Your Pediatrician in Advance

Be prepared before an unintentional poisoning and consult your pediatrician on the best way to administer and provide a dosage for your child.

Do not give activated charcoal if your child has any allergy to it. Be sure to consult your physician if your child has any other ailments or stomach conditions.


What to Do in an Unintentional Poisoning

Don't panic. This is easier said than done, but if you start yelling, the child will look to you for their anxiety level and begin to cry and may be less cooperative. Be calm and work fast. Contact the poison control center immediately, and call your pediatrician as well. Have this information available for the professionals you have contacted:

  • The child's age
  • The child's weight
  • Read the ingredients from the bottle that the child swallowed, drank or inhaled
  • What time did the accident occur
  • Did the child or adult vomit?
  • How far away from a hospital are you?
  • Do you have activated charcoal on hand?
  • Does your child or the adult have any existing diseases or conditions?

Follow the Instructions of the Poison Control Center

The poison professionals recommend that you don't follow the instructions on the label of a bottle of a poisonous substance. The instructions may be actually harmful and are usually outdated and useless. Always follow the directions of the poison control center or your pediatrician.

Dosages for Adults and Children

Different strengths and dosages may apply to various forms of activated charcoal. Follow the instructions on the bottle or wait for instructions from the poison control professional. Liquid charcoal may be better for children that can't swallow tablets or the powder form may be also mixed with water.

Most professionals recommend you don't mix the activated charcoal with sugary foods or drinks because it may lessen its effectiveness to absorb the substance. The poison control professional will figure out the dose for your child by weight, or give you a standard dose for a teen or adult.

After initial dose of charcoal, call your physician and poison control center for further instructions

Age Related DosageAge Related DosageDosage Time

Children up to 1 year of age

10-25 grams (gm)

Wihin one hour of poisoning as a single dose

Over 1 year of age and up to 12 years old

25-50 grams (gm)

Within one hour of poisoning as a single dose

Over 12 years of age and adults

50-100 grams (gm)

Withing one hour of poisoning as a single dose

References and Resources

The Use of Activated Charcoal in Pediatric Populations

American Association of Poison Control Centers: For a poison emergency in the U.S. call 1-800-222-1222 (this is the 911 for Poison Control)

What If My Pet Swallows Poison or Medication?

The curious nature of our best friends may put them in danger of being poisoned. If you suspect they have been poisoned, call the Animal Poison Control hotline immediately or contact your veterinarian immediately and give them the information:

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  • How old is your pet?
  • How much does your pet weigh?
  • Read the ingredients from the bottle or give the vet your pet's symptoms in detail
  • Has your pet vomited?
  • What other conditions does your pet have?
  • Do you know what time the pet ingested the poison?

Call the National Animal Poison Control Hotline

This is the Poison Control for Animals Number from the ASPCA (888) 426-4435 and is available 24/7.

Activated Charcoal Dosages for Dogs and Cats

Follow up your initial dosage of activated charcoal with a veterinary consult

Weight of Dog or CatDosage of Activated CharcoalSingle Dosage and Follow Up with a Vet

1-10 pounds

2-18 grams (gm)

by mouth in a single dose

11-20 pounds

20-40 grams (gm)

by mouth in a single dose

21-30 pounds

41-60 grams (gm)

by mouth in a single dose

31-40 pounds

61-80 grams (gm)

by mouth in a single dose

41--50 pounds

81-100 grams (gm)

by mouth in a single dose

51-60 pounds

101 grams-120 grams (gm)

by mouth as a single dose

Over 60 pounds

120-200 grams (gm)

by mouth as a single dose

Always Contact the Poison Control Center Before Administering Activated Charcoal

Before you administer the activated charcoal, always speak with the poison control center. Don't call your physician or veterinarian first—they may take too long to call back, and this will waste time. Both of the poison control hotlines are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and they will provide the best information for helping the victim.

Activated Charcoal in Tablet Form

Activated Charcoal in Liquid Form

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on December 04, 2012:

Thanks DrMark, I love your hubs too! They are very interesting and very cool!

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 04, 2012:

Just reading this great article again and wanted to let you know I will share this on my twitter feed again.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on November 01, 2012:

Thanks Kris, I am so glad you think it's useful. I appreciate the kind comments and thank you for the support!

Kris Heeter from Indiana on November 01, 2012:

I had never heard of this either until I had seen it administered in an emergency room for someone who overdosed. This is extremely useful information! Voted up and sharing:)

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on November 01, 2012:

Thanks Glimmer, a real must in a first aid kit. It has saved many lives of all kinds of pets and people. Thanks for your comment, always glad to see you.

Claudia Porter on November 01, 2012:

I've never heard about activated charcoal, but obviously wish I had. This is an extremely useful hub. Shared.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 30, 2012:

Hi Mary, thanks for the support. Activated charcoal in liquid form can be given to pets or children, although maybe tablets for dogs would be easier to give them, depends on the dog I guess. Thanks for stopping by and see you soon on the hubs!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 30, 2012:

This is a very informative article. I never knew activated charcoal came in liquid form. That would be easier to give to a pet, I think. You did a great job with this Hub, chart, etc.

I voted this UP, etc. and will share.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 29, 2012:

Thanks DrMark, I wish I would've thought of that for a "first aid kit," great idea! I was shocked to learn that the ASPCA had a 24/7 poison control hotline for dogs! Very cool and thanks for the support!

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 29, 2012:

Excellent advice! Activated charcoal should always be part of a good first aid kit, human or animal. That trip to the emergency room and the time it takes you to explain what happenedmay be too much for a small system exposed to poison.

Voted up and shared.

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