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Mon, Apr. 5th, 2010, 11:10 pm
Lies that people tell you, part 2: activated charcoal

Part of an occasional series of dog-discovered truths.

There are some truths that are self-evident, and can be discovered by introspective reasoning alone. Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” is one such truth; the Enlightenment ideal that all people are created equal, and that they have certain unalienable rights, among which life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known by its pithier slogan version “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”) is another.

There are other truths that are only available to us through empirical observation, but whose nature appears to us obvious and almost axiomatic once we understand them fully. Fire burns and is painful to the human hand, for instance; most people working in the finance industry should just shoot themselves now, say. Or: The Tories will never win a majority in Scotland until the last person who remembers the Poll Tax is dead.

Then there are other truths, which can perhaps only be fully understood and taken to heart once acquired through painful personal experience (or, and this is my hope, cautionary tale). One such truth is this: tradesmen who claim to be 24-hour locksmiths are, almost universally, goddamn liars. Another such truth that we discovered tonight, also via the medium of dog, concerns activated charcoal.

Half past six in the evening of Easter Monday is a bad time to find out, just as you’re about to go out to see an old friend you hadn’t seen for years, that your daft Akita has just eaten an entire bar of Green & Black’s Maya Gold. Not so much because your vet isn’t open (they weren’t, but the emergency vet was, and Taji has insurance), or your car won’t start (Cleodhna took a taxi, I called the RAC, and had plenty of time to drive around charging up the battery before meeting them at the vet’s). No, the reason you shouldn’t have a bar of chocolate drop out of your shopping bag on Easter Monday, and have your dog (previously known for putting his head down drains and eating broken glass) scarf the lot, including much of the foil and paper wrapping, is that when the emergency vet says “OK, it was touch and go, but I’ve injected your dog with something that made him come down from his sugar high quite dramatically, puke his guts out, and feel thoroughly miserable, and now as long as you give him these pills and some activated charcoal he should be fine”, she then says “but I don’t have any activated charcoal, because I gave all of mine to the shedloads of other people whose dogs have eaten chocolate at some point over this Easter weekend”.

Activated charcoal is used, among other applications, as a way of neutralising toxic or poisonous ingested substances. As far as I can make out, it works by being amazingly porous, and therefore amazingly absorbent; you chuck some of it down your dog’s throat, it sucks up any remaining chocolate, and protects it from any remaining gastric processes. The vet didn’t tell me this; I skim-read the Wikipedia article tonight when I got home.

What I learned from personal experience was far more difficult to acquire, and it’s this: contrary to what the emergency vet said, activate charcoal is not stocked by “any large supermarket”.

For instance, the very large Sainsbury’s in Braehead has none. The M&S next door may or may not stock it; this being Easter Monday, they were shut by the time we arrived. Asda’s website was being troublesome on my iPhone, so we couldn’t check whether our fairly local Asda was 24-hours, so we decided to go looking for the one we knew was 24 hours. (It turns out that the Summerston Asda isn’t, and Asda’s website only tells you about normal opening hours, which is no fucking use when it’s Easter weekend and the opening hours are different, which of course is why you’re checking the website in the first place.) By the time we’d got lost a couple of times and made it to the Govan 24-hour Asda, Cleodhna found out that they didn’t stock the damn stuff either - but at least found someone who knew what she was talking about. “You want the Boots at Central Station. It’s open until midnight.”

Needless to say, said Boots was shut by the time we finally get to it at a quarter past ten. It might have been open had we gone straight there from the emergency vet, which is just down the street from the Mitchell Library.

I should make it clear at this point that whatever the vet did to Taji before saying “oh, and some activated charcoal would be nice” was almost certainly enough; while chocolate is toxic to dogs, no lasting damage was done. Had he eaten 120 grams rather than 100 grams, had the 73% cocoa solids bar of chilli and dark chocolate fallen out of the bag rather than the 55% cocoa solids bar, or had one of the other (much smaller) dogs decided to rampage through our groceries, a simple purge wouldn’t have been enough: the emergency vets would have had to keep the dog under observation overnight, and long-term damage to e.g. the pancreas could not have been ruled out. As it is, after feeling truly sorry for himself for the first hour or so, Taji eventually perked up; we gave him his pills and some bread and butter as soon as we got back (bread’s pretty porous and absorbent, and we definitely had some of that), and he looks like he’s back to his normal self again. We’ll get some activated charcoal from a local chemist’s tomorrow.

Similarly, the guy from the RAC said “right, now that I’ve jump-started your car, you should drive it around for at least 40 minutes to charge the battery fully”. After tonight’s fun excursions around Glasgow, that sucker had better be fully charged.

And while Sainsbury’s don’t stock activated charcoal, they do stock the Brew Dog range of beers, which is good as we were out.

Still: if vets tell you where to get activated charcoal? Don’t believe them.