Activated charcoal can be very handy to have around in your home if you are a cat parent, but giving them to your feline companion in case they eat anything potentially toxic is a little challenging (especially if you are alone). Besides, most cats do not tend to react well when being forced to ingest something, so if you have any suspicion that your pet ate poisoned food, go to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
In today’s article, we are looking at the way activated charcoal can save a pet’s life, if there are any side effects to using it, and more.
What is activated charcoal?
First of all, activated charcoal is completely different from regular charcoal. It is available in several different forms – powder, liquid, or tablet, and all of these forms are safe to give to cats.
Activated charcoal cannot be considered an antidote for whatever toxic substance or food your cat might have had to eat because it does not neutralize poisons. It simply binds to them and prevents them from getting into the main blood circulation. It then allows the digestive contents to be released to the outside through the feces.
How does activated charcoal work in cats?
The most important aspect when it comes to activated charcoal is that it needs to be administered as soon as possible. But even in some cases, it might not be as effective as you might think.
Although it pertains to a completely different species, one of the best examples would be chocolate and the havoc it can do to a dog’s system – activated charcoal is more often than not completely useless in a case like this because chocolate can be digested very quickly, so its main poisonous ingredients, theobromine, and caffeine, can end up in the blood circulation very, very fast.
On the other hand, if the cat ingests a part of a plant that’s poisonous to them and other animals, it will take some amount of time for the leaves or stem to be digested and for the toxic compounds to end up in the blood flow. This is where activated charcoal can prove its worth.
But it would be incorrect to assume that any type of poison can be inactivated/absorbed by this type of treatment, so the best way to go about things would be to get veterinary assistance as soon as possible.
When is activated charcoal not a good idea for cats?
The type of exact poison can lead the vet to decide for or against the administration of activated charcoal in this species. If the toxin is something that might be eliminated in a more effective manner with gastric lavage, that will be the elected therapy method.
Cats that are already very dehydrated as a result of them having suffered from digestive distress for several days (whether that be because of diarrhea or vomiting) may be treated with very low amounts of activated charcoal, keeping in mind that it can lead to significant electrolyte imbalances in the blood flow. For some, that might not even be an option.
On the other hand, if the cat is already severely constipated, even though activated charcoal might indeed block the toxins from being absorbed into the main circulation, it might aggravate constipation, therefore creating the need for an enema to be performed or laxatives to be administered shortly after.
What else can be done if activated charcoal is not the solution to the problem?
Depending on the type of poison that has led to the intoxication case, there could be a specific antidote that the veterinarian might be able to use when you bring your cat to the animal hospital.
If one does not exist, supportive therapy with IV fluids and symptomatic medication for any of the clinical signs, along with gastric lavage, might be a solution.
Do keep in mind that some toxic substances can act very fast, so time is of the essence when it comes to saving a cat’s life if she ate something she was not supposed to.
Common side effects of administering activated charcoal to cats
The most noticeable adverse reaction that can happen in cats, but also in other animal species, is their feces color being changed for a couple of days following the treatment. This happens because of the distinct color of the activated charcoal solution or tablet.
However, the black color doesn’t necessarily mean that there is bleeding somewhere in the digestive tract – this is what it usually means, especially when the cat hasn’t received any activated charcoal.
If the product did not manage to absorb all the toxins, the cat might end up developing some bad reactions as a result of the poisons, but not the activated charcoal itself.
How much activated charcoal can a cat have?
The answer to this question is that it depends on the exact form and concentration. In general, cats should receive about 1 to 2 grams of activated charcoal per every kilogram of body weight.
Just to be on the safe side of things, make sure you do not attempt to induce vomiting at home, even with a hydrogen peroxide solution. Cats can have a variety of bad reactions when handled in this way, and the last thing you’d want in a situation like this would be for your feline friend to run and hide so that you can’t even take them to the vet clinic.
How much does an activated charcoal treatment cost in cats?
The product itself can be bought at pretty much any drugstore across North America, but giving it to cats at home calls for a little attention and care. If you can’t handle the task yourself and you risk causing aspiration pneumonia, it’s always better to have your vet do it.
If this is the only type of treatment that your pet requires, it might set you back anything between one and a couple hundred dollars. If your cat also needs to be hospitalized and will have to receive supportive therapy, you can expect a rather costly vet bill, sometimes worth more than a thousand dollars.