Is Activated Charcoal Safe for Cats?
Most of us who have pets love to talk about how cunning and resourceful they are—after all, just last week, your cat figured out how to open your bedroom door all by herself!—but there are times when they get themselves into trouble that we then have to try to get them back out of. As smart as your feline friend may be, there may come a time when they consume something that is dangerous to their health. They may have dug chocolate out of the trash can, swallowed several Tylenol from your suitcase, or eaten the leaves off a houseplant you know to be poisonous.
When this happens, our first instinct is to panic, and our second is to give them drugs. Anyone who has done any research on poisoning is familiar with activated charcoal, but is it a safe and effective way to protect a cat from toxic substances? Can my cat take activated charcoal?
Before we discuss the pros and cons of activated charcoal, we must stress the importance of seeking professional veterinary care if you believe that your cat’s life is at risk. If your cat is experiencing severe toxicity symptoms (vomiting blood, seizures, incontinence, extreme behavioral changes, fever, etc), there is no time to waste with at-home remedies or preventative treatments. If your cat has been poisoned, the absolute best thing you can do to protect their health is take them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Whenever we attempt to treat our cats’ ailments at home, we run the risk of misdiagnosing them—and therefore failing to give them the treatment they need to stay healthy or even to survive.
Back on topic: yes, you can give your cat activated charcoal. This drug, which is sold under brand names like Toxiban and CharcoAid, is a potentially life-saving over-the-counter detoxification agent which has been approved by the FDA for animal use. Activated charcoal is relatively safe, and it may be wise to keep some on hand if you share your home with pets who may ingest toxic substances.
There are some situations in which activated charcoal can dramatically improve your cat’s chances of survival by minimizing the damage done to their body. This drug is most effective when it is administered within an hour of ingesting the toxic substance—so, if you catch your cat eating something poisonous and they are not yet experiencing symptoms of toxicity, it may be a good idea to administer activated charcoal. This is because activated charcoal works not by neutralizing the toxin, but by preventing your cat’s body from absorbing it.
Simply put, activated charcoal absorbs the toxic substance inside your cat’s stomach before it has a chance to enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc in their body. Activated charcoal, which is extremely porous, may protect your cat by acting as a sort of bouncer inside their stomach—a medication that can escort the troublemaking toxins through their digestive system before they have a chance to enter the body. This is why timing is critical. If a substantial amount of poison has already entered your pet’s bloodstream, activated charcoal will do little to help them.
There are a few ways to administer activated charcoal. The most common (and probably the most effective) way to give this to your cat is using a syringe to administer by mouth, but some pet parents find success in using tablets or by mixing powdered activated charcoal into tiny amounts of food or water. Doses will vary based on your cat’s size, with the general rule being around 2 gm per kg of body weight.
Things to ConsiderIf you plan to use activated charcoal on your cat at any time, preparedness is an asset—consult your veterinarian for dosing advice when you first purchase the drug. If you find yourself in a situation where your cat has been poisoned and you feel at all unsure of your ability to administer activated charcoal (either due to your own confusion or your cat’s uncooperativeness), do not waste time trying to figure it out on your own. It is better to rush your cat to the vet’s office for professional help than it is to spend an hour trying and failing to administer activated charcoal yourself.
Activated charcoal is not an antidote—if your cat is showing symptoms of poisoning, take them to the vet. In addition, cats who have consumed corrosive poisons such as cyanide, fluoride, and ethanol should not eat activated charcoal. This drug should never be administered to cats who are not fully conscious due to the risk of aspirating.
In the end, the best thing you can do in cases of suspected poisoning is take your cat to the vet. If your cat has very recently ingested a toxic substance and you feel qualified to administer activated charcoal, it can be a useful tool, but it is not a substitute for veterinary care.