Activated charcoal can be used in the decontamination of a poisoned cat. It has been suggested that every cat owner should have some activated charcoal in their medicine cabinet or feline first aid kit. I am receiving slightly conflicting information about its use, however.
It works by absorbing toxicants (toxic substances that have been ingested) in the stomach and intestines. It has to be applied before the toxins have been absorbed into the cat’s bloodstream. Therefore activated charcoal needs to be administered as quickly as possible. This presents obvious problems. It is often unclear when the toxic substance was ingested and it may well be quite a while after your cat presents himself to you at which stage he may be fatally poisoned.
Based upon studies activated charcoal should be given to cat within an hour after being poisoned. That is the ideal but that does not mean that it is automatically hopeless administering it later than that.
A consideration is how to administer it. A veterinarian would give it to a cat with a cathartic (purging the bowels) and through syringe feeding. Susan Thixton, pet food safety advocate, tells us that she used it with success on her dog, Kirby.
Although she prepares her pet food herself, Kirby suddenly became ill with vomiting and had diarrhoea. Kirby’s veterinarian diagnosed bad bacteria in his gut and he was put on antibiotics for 10 days. This helped but after the course of antibiotics Kirby relapsed with vomiting and diarrhoea. The bacteria was resistant to the antibiotic. Although the veterinarian recommended a different antibiotic, Susan took the advice of a friend and gave him activated charcoal. She bought the charcoal from a health food store and gave it to Kirby in a capsule. She was surprised to see Kirby recover quickly from his illness. Within 30 minutes he looks much better. Obviously this is an excellent recommendation from very sensible person but it may be different with a dog in administering a capsule.
The ASPCA website says that activated charcoal absorbs the toxicant and facilitates its excretion via faeces. This prevents the toxicant from being absorbed into the bloodstream. They recommend that activated charcoal should be given orally with a large syringe or with a stomach tube. The cat may have to be anaesthetised to accept this.
There is an alternative to administering activated charcoal through a tube. There is a home treatment charcoal product which is compressed activated charcoal. It comes in 5 g tablets. I’m sure that your vet will be able to advise. The dose is one tablet per 10 pounds of bodyweight.
The amount of time in getting to a veterinarian would obviously have a negative impact upon the effectiveness of the charcoal in absorbing the toxins. In addition, charcoal does not absorb certain toxicants such as ethanol, methanol, heavy metals to name three. Further, it should not be given to animals that have ingested caustic materials as it may make it more difficult to see burns in the mouth and the oesophagus.
There is also an alternative to activated charcoal if it is not available which is to coat the intestines with milk and egg whites using a 60 ml amount of egg white and a quarter cup of milk. This should be mixed and given to the cat on a teaspoon or added to food.
As a home treatment activated charcoal should be given after inducing the cat to vomit with hydrogen peroxide but it is not always suitable to induce vomiting to prevent absorption of the poison so you will have to know when it is suitable and that is beyond the scope of this article.
I have never used activated charcoal and having studied its use in order to write this article it would seem that as a desperate measure it would be a good idea to administer it in tablet form to a cat that had ingested a toxin. It is therefore worthwhile to keep it on hand but the treatment of a poisoned cat can be more complicated than that and therefore an immediate visit to the vet is an absolute must under the circumstances.
See advice from Cats Protection on cat poisoning.