MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Coal-tar Poisoning


Gary D. Osweiler

, DVM, MS, PhD, Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University

Last full review/revision Oct 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020

Coal-tar poisoning is often caused by chewing on or eating items that contain coal tar. Typical sources are clay pigeons, tar paper, creosote-treated wood, and bitumen-based flooring. Effects include liver damage with signs of jaundice, fluid build-up within the stomach, anemia, and death. Coal-tar related poisoning has been reported in farm animals and pets.

Coal tar contains 3 toxins: phenol, cresol, and pitch. Phenol is the most important toxin in coal-tar products. Cresols are used as disinfectants and are readily absorbed through the skin. Cats are especially sensitive to both phenol and cresol. Because cresol is toxic to wood-destroying fungi and insects, it is used as a wood preserver. Pitch is used as a binder in clay pigeons, road asphalt, insulation, tar paper, and roofing compounds. It is also used to cover iron pipes and to line wooden water tanks.

Diagnosis of coal-tar poisoning requires excluding poisoning by toxic plants and deficiency of vitamin E or selenium. Fragments of clay pigeons, tar paper, or other sources of coal tars found in the gastrointestinal tract, or chemical detection of coal-tar products in the liver, kidneys, blood, or urine can confirm the diagnosis.

There is no specific antidote for coal-tar poisoning. Supportive treatment is helpful, along with activated charcoal and medicines that cause the bowels to empty to reduce absorption. Antibiotics and high-quality protein diets may help recovery.

For More Information

Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Test your knowledge

Fluid Therapy in Animals
Abnormalities of circulation can be due to a number of causes and may result in circulatory shock, an emergency situation. All types of circulatory shock respond to administration of fluid therapy to some extent, but some types require additional medications. Which type of circulatory shock is most readily handled with fluid therapy alone?
Become a Pro at using our website 

Also of Interest

Become a Pro at using our website