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What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a liquid medication by mouth, used to try and prevent or slow the absorption of a toxin from the stomach. It is not an antidote as such, but acts to bind to certain toxins so they stay within the gut, rather than pass across the gut wall into the bloodstream. This lowers the absorption of poison into the blood with the aim of reducing organ damage . 

Activated charcoal is made from finely ground charcoal and available over the counter and by prescription. It is essential to give the activated charcoal immediately, or very soon after ingestion of the toxin, in order to be of benefit. 

Activated Charcoal Procedure in Cats

When a cat ingests a toxin, the first course of action should be to contact the vet for advice. In almost all cases where the cat ate the toxicant recently, it's desirable to induce vomiting to void it from the stomach. Then activated charcoal may be given to mop up any toxicant left lining the gut. However, the best course of action depends on what the cat ate, so professional assessment is essential. 

In addition, the vet will assess if the cat is dehydrated or not. There is an increased risk of high blood sodium levels if activated charcoal is given to severely dehydrated cats. In the latter circumstances the vet will put the cat on intravenous fluids. 

Activated charcoal is given by mouth. Since most cats are fussy about food, it is unlikely they will voluntarily eat charcoal mixed in a feed. Instead, it may be slowly syringed into the cat's mouth giving her a chance to swallow each mouthful. If, however, the cat is semi-conscious, then this must not be done as there is a risk of inhaling the liquid charcoal into the lungs. Should this be the case the vet may pass a stomach tube, to give the medication directly into the stomach. 

Repeat doses may be necessary every 4 to 8 hours, for 24 hours or so, depending on how much toxicant the cat ingested. 

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Efficacy of Activated Charcoal in Cats

It should be remembered that activated charcoal is not an antidote, but a means of reducing absorption of a toxin. How effective it is depends on the type and amount of poison ingested. In some cases, drugs can undergo 'recycling' by the liver, in which case continued doses are necessary until the drug has been completely eliminated from the body. 

The ultimate aim of administering activated charcoal is to lessen the effects of poisoning. To this end, it may be appropriate to make the cat vomit within two hours of ingesting the poison. Dehydrated patients also benefit from intravenous fluids. Wherever a specific antidote exist then it is highly desirable to use it.

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Activated Charcoal Recovery in Cats

Activated charcoal in itself is fairly inert and administration is not directly linked to side effects. In a well-hydrated cat the most noticeable effect will be black feces for a day or two afterward. 

However, if some toxicant passed into the bloodstream the cat may suffer ill effects as a result. This could include complications such as gastric ulcers, liver failure, or kidney damage.

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Cost of Activated Charcoal in Cats

Activated charcoal is relatively inexpensive to purchase, and can be bought over the pharmacy counter for as little as $10. What is more costly is the veterinary consultation to assess the patient, hospitalization fees, and nursing fees for regular administration of the activated charcoal throughout the night if necessary. Thus, simple cases may be relatively inexpensive, and cost $40 -50 to treat. However, a complex poisoning could result in a bill for many hundreds of dollars, should bloods, intravenous fluids, and overnight care be needed.

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Cat Activated Charcoal Considerations

As mentioned already, the patient should be fully hydrated before activated charcoal is administered. In addition, it must be syringed into the mouth slowly and with great care, so the cat gets a chance to swallow between mouthfuls. This is to reduce the risk of the cat inhaling charcoal down into the lungs where it could cause an aspiration pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening condition. 

In patients that are not fully conscious, the risk of inhaling them medication is too great and it's best to administer it via a stomach tube. Another option is to pass a intratracheal tube and inflate the cuff, so the airway is completely protected and no charcoal can pass down into the lungs. 

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Activated Charcoal Prevention in Cats

Preventing the need to administer activated charcoal is a matter of protecting the cat from toxins. This means keeping potential poisons safely out of the cat's reach. Medications (including human ones) should be kept in a closeable cabinet, whilst cleaning products, insecticides, and weedkillers, should all be in cupboards with safety latches. Remember, cats are agile jumpers and merely assuming a box of slug pellets is safe on a high shelf in the garage is not sufficient precaution. 

In addition, accidental poisoning by overdosing a prescribed medication or administering a human medicine to a cat is surprisingly common. When medicating a cat read the label twice and make sure you are completely clear as to the recommended dose. If in doubt, a quick call to the vet's office to double check could save your cat's life. 

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Activated Charcoal Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Grey Tabby Cat

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9 months

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Unknown severity

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Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My cat was walking slowly yesterday with pain in her stomach. Today she is laying on her side, breathing heavy and fast with mouth open, and blood just came out of her mouth. Is there any way I treat this at home because I do not have any money for the vet. Please help

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

There is no way this can be treated at home. It sounds like your cat is very ill and needs to see a veterinarian immediately. Cats usually do not open mouth breath unless they are extremely stressed or gravely ill. I would do whatever you can to get her to a vet now. Contact family for a loan, look into care credit or scratch pay which many veterinary offices will take as payment. Good luck to you and your cat.

July 10, 2020

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Kiki

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Blue linx point Siamese mix

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Disorientation
Rash

I have a cat with feline herpes who had been given the nobivac rabies vaccine, is that safe ? She was spayed on the day that she was given the vaccine and also treated with revolution and treated for ear mites She came home lethargic disoriented and developing rash on neck . Also can I detox her with activated charcoal ? And what would be the proper dosage? Should I also give her lyssin? The rabies detox

Aug. 16, 2018

Kiki's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

The Nobivac Rabies vaccine is safe for most cats, although some animals do react to vaccinations. I can't see a reason to give activated charcoal for the signs that you are describing, but it might be a good idea to call your veterinarian and let them know what you are seeing, as they have examined her and might have an idea what might be going on with her lethargy and rash. The treatments that she received that you describe are quite common and safe, but she may be having an abnormal reaction.

Aug. 16, 2018

I just need the correct charcoal dosage instructions for cat 5 pounds

Aug. 16, 2018

Kiki's Owner

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Noble

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Russian Blue

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5 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Vomiting

My cat has been vomiting and I thought it was a hairball. It's been a week and I've read about giving her activated charcoal if she's been poisoned. Is it too late?

Aug. 16, 2018

Noble's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

It is too late to give activated charcoal for any poisoning after a week, depending on the specific poison activated charcoal may be given for two or three days if there is enterohepatic recirculation of the specific toxin. There are various causes for vomiting in cats and it is important to visit your Veterinarian to determine what the specific cause is; infections, parasites, poisoning, foreign objects, food intolerance among many other conditions may cause vomiting. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 16, 2018

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Mogli

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mixed

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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My cat is 9 years old and started acting weird after I put flea treatment on the back of his neck two days ago. Today he has been sleeping in a hidden spot in my closet, and normally he’s right by my side. He has not vomited, and I think his eating and bathroom habits are pretty normal. He might be eating less. What should I do??

Aug. 4, 2018

Mogli's Owner

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It is possible that Mogli has a side effect of licking the flea & tick medication application site; if this is the case, there is no real treatment apart from rinsing out the mouth and cleaning the application site (a bit late now as it will be all absorbed) and waiting for the medication to get out of the system. You should still visit your Veterinarian to be on the safe side to ensure that there is no other concerning underlying cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 5, 2018

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Tiny and Tiger

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Stray kittens

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3 Weeks

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Lethargy

My two 3weeks old kittens have yellow diarrhea for about 3 days. They dont have KMR here so i gave them goat milk until i get KMR. Im giving them milk several times a day but in smaller amounts. Sometimes i give them a few drops of water to keep them hydrated. I clean them and cuddle them and sometimes they feel better. I was wondering can i give them some activated charcoal in case they have coccidia? Is that safe for them? The kittens are abandoned by their mother and im trying to help them as much as i can since i live with my parents and i cant have cats inside my house because im allergic. I really wish i could help them get through this. What is your advice?

July 26, 2018

Tiny and Tiger's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Some people give activated charcoal in cases of Coccidiosis but generally it is not required since cats normally get out the infection themselves; however it is important to keep Tiny and Tiger fed well but goat’s milk isn’t a long term solution as it isn’t nutritionally balanced for kittens and it is important to get some kitten milk replacer as soon as possible, you should also ensure that the kittens are wormed every two weeks. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 27, 2018

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Raiden

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Not sure

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1 Year

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

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Licking

My cat ingested Liquid laundry detergent; I think maybe a small amount. He had detergent amount his mouth. I gave him activated charcoal in some wet food to help. Will he be ok?

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Buddy, Peanut, Pumpking and Clarabell

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Unknown

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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Normal

I got a vase of flowers for my birthday and I don't know which one of my four cats ate it, we took them to the vet, they induced vomiting in all four of my babies and gave two Activated charcoal because they would not vomit...We dropped them off at 12noon at the vet went back at around 5:30 P.M. on the 12th of March we are now 2 days out and we are continuing to give supportive care to all the cats and Activated charcoal with all of there night time food I go back Monday to do some test to see if they all of them have good functioning kidneys.

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Callie

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Cat

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9 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Respiratory Distress,
Respiratory Distress, Lethargy

I have 2 kittens, a few days ago I had put Lysol in the kennel they had been using because it smelled of urine, I locked the kennel with the intention of taking it outside and rinsing it out. I forgot, and today my kids unknowingly put the 2 kittens (9 wks old) in the kennel. When I came downstairs I noticed them wheezing badly, I looked up their symptoms and found out the kids had them in the kennel in the early morning! I washed them down and gave them milk and water... then some oil by syringe as I read that would help dilute it. They have been sleeping most of the day, and still sound really rattly in their breathing. I just gave them some activated charcoal mixed with more oil. I can’t afford the vet, is there anything else I can do?

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Charred

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Unknown

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5 Months

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

My 5 month old cat ate my daughter's leftovers she failed to put up. We put garlic on everything just about. I was working last night and the kids just told me that he had diaherra and was lathergic. His gums are pink but he is keeping his claws extended and not moving. I can't get to the vet. Should i give him activated charcoal? Or hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting? Is it to late? Please help me. Ive never had a pet and only have him because I saved him from torturous teenagers.

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Joyous

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tabby

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3 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Vomitin

I'm really concern about my baby... Last Friday my dumb boyfriend left his weed out on the night stand while I was at work. He claims he went to restroom and when he returned the kitten had it on the floor. He's not sure how much she at. When I got home she was still very active. Saturday morning she just slept a lot. Sunday she was her active self again. Monday she was fine she ate her food then vomited some orange liquid stuff up but was still active and playful.. Today Tuesday she has not been playfull kinda sleeping a lot, she's not eating her food or drinking any water and when she did eat a little she vomited again the same color.Checked to see if she had a hairball in it but I didn't see anything. Someone told me to give her PediaSure ( haven't done it yet, didn't want to make her worse). She has a favorite toy and when I tried to play with her with it she just sat there. Help any advice will help. I don't get paid till Friday so can't take her to Vet till then; yet I'm worried and want to make her feel better. She not experiencing any symptoms but not eating today and vomiting.