Why Do Dogs Eat Charcoal?

Dog closely watching a charcoal grill

If you own a dog, you probably know one simple truth: they will eat many strange things that seem unhealthy or dangerous from our point of view. One such thing you may find your dog eating from time to time is charcoal, which definitely seems like it would be unpleasant. Why do dogs do this?

There are a couple of potential reasons, but the main one tends to be a matter of investigation: taste is a significant part of how dogs explore and understand the world, so they often taste things they are curious about to learn more about them. There are some other explanations as well, but we’ll get to that.

This article will go into greater detail regarding why dogs sometimes eat charcoal, whether or not you need to stop them from doing it, and the pros and cons of letting it happen.

After all, a dog’s biology is a lot different than a human’s, so there are many things to consider!

A Means of Exploration

Because humans have opposable thumbs, we tend to investigate things we don’t understand by touching them with our hands.

Because we can manipulate objects in a very precise manner like this, it’s one of our best means of investigating something. Of course, dogs don’t have opposable thumbs. They can only grab things with their mouth.

This means that, for a dog, their mouth is the primary tool they can interact with the world. It’s the most efficient way to investigate something they are curious about, which can sometimes include charcoal. 

This is a big reason why a dog may lick or eat charcoal: they want to know what it is.

Of course, that also includes taste: when you are picking things up with your mouth, you are inevitably going to taste it, so that can be a big lure for dogs as well.

Most dogs don’t particularly like the taste of charcoal on its own, but there are some cases in which it might taste good: namely, right after a grilling session.

While grilling, it’s possible for juices from the meat you cooked to get on charcoal. If this happens, your dog will probably be more than willing to snatch it up into his mouth.

This is the other primary reason your dog may be eating charcoal, as, even for a dog, charcoal in and of itself is not very tasty.

Is It Dangerous for a Dog to Eat Charcoal?

Charcoal isn’t food, so it would be perfectly understandable for you to be concerned over whether or not it would cause a problem for your dog.

It depends on what type of charcoal we are talking about because they aren’t all created equal. There are two types of charcoal, one of which is a big problem and one isn’t.

Activated Charcoal

Having become quite popular in recent years, activated charcoal is often given to both people and animals to deal with upset stomachs.

As you may have determined already, this is the safe type of charcoal for your dog to consume. It actually helps remove toxins from the body, so one could even say it’s healthy.

Unfortunately, this is probably not the type of charcoal your dog is eating most of the time since activated charcoal is mostly in healthcare products. Your dog is much more likely to be eating grilling charcoal.

Grilling Charcoal

What makes grilling charcoal so dangerous for your dog is that it was intended to burn easily.

Most grilling charcoal is covered in grilling fluid, which includes many chemicals that are not safe for consumption, especially for your dog. Another concern is the size of grilling charcoal, which often comes in chunks.

If your dog happens to swallow a chunk of grilling charcoal, the size of the thing can cause an intestinal blockage, which could cause serious indigestion problems.

Admittedly, the chances of your dog outright dying from eating charcoal are very slim, but even so, this is not something you want them to be eating, as it could make them sick.

How Is My Dog Getting Its Paws on Charcoal?

It’s not like charcoal is just lying around in the wild, so if your dog is managing to eat it, it’s probably due to conditions in its living environment. 

For instance, grilling charcoal is often stored in a bag, and a dog could quickly get inside of that bag if it is left within its reach. Charcoal that is thrown in the trash could be easily accessible as well.

However, a little-known danger is the charcoal that could be left on your grilling tools. Grilling tools often manage to get residual charcoal on them, and if your dog can reach those tools to lick or chew on them, that could be a problem. Granted, they won’t be swallowing large charcoal chunks in such a scenario, but still.

Make sure you always clean your grilling tools properly after use and do your best to store them in locations that your dog will not be able to reach. 

What Can You Do to Keep Charcoal Away From Your Dog?

OK, you don’t want your dog to eat any grilling charcoal. What can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen?

The simplest and most effective thing to do is make sure your dog cannot gain access to charcoal at any time. If you have a bag of charcoal, you should always store that out of reach of your dog.

When it comes to grilling, you should also keep your dog away from the grill as much as possible. At the very least, your dog should be kept three feet away from the grill whenever possible. This reduces the risk of your dog nabbing any charcoal, but it keeps him a safe distance from the flames as well.

Always clean your grilling tools thoroughly after you grill, and make sure to store them away from your dog if at all possible. That way, there is no danger of your dog licking or chewing on them and getting residual charcoal in their mouth, and your tools get to stay undamaged, which is also a nice bonus.

What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Charcoal?

If you noticed that your dog has managed to consume charcoal, the very first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian if possible.

Charcoal is not going to kill your dog, but a vet will be able to guide you towards the proper course of action most efficiently. If you can’t get into contact with your vet, try the following.

First, be sure to let your dog drink plenty of water, which will help flush out any harmful toxins brought on by the swallowed charcoal.

Keep an eye out for any signs of stomach irritation, which is a significant danger for a dog swallowing charcoal. Ensure your dog eats bland food for a while to reduce the risk of stomach irritation.

If you notice your dog getting sick, you should probably take them to the vet since there won’t be much you can do for them at that point. Your vet will know what to do to aid your dog through the recovery process, so it’s always good to consult them if you are worried about your dog’s health.


Dogs may sometimes eat charcoal because they are curious about what it is or because there is juice from meat left on the charcoal in the case of grilling.

Regardless, you don’t want your dog consuming grilling charcoal: it’s not good for them, and if the chunk is large enough, it could cause an intestinal blockage, leading to indigestion.

Because this is the case, you should take steps to ensure that your dog is unable to consume grilling charcoal. Keep any charcoal bags out of their reach, and if you throw any charcoal in the garbage, make sure your dog can’t access that either. Your grilling tools may have residual charcoal, so clean them well and keep them away from your dog.

Also, take steps to keep your dog away from your grill: this will keep them away from charcoal, but it will also keep them a safe distance from any open flames.

If your dog does consume charcoal, make sure they get plenty of fluids and have them eat bland dog food to avoid exacerbating any stomach irritation. 

If your dog gets sick from eating charcoal, we recommend that you contact your vet immediately for instructions on what to do.

While eating charcoal is unlikely to be fatal for your dog, it could still be problematic, so going to a vet is always a good idea, especially if your dog ended up eating several pieces of charcoal.

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