Cats and Lilies

It’s nearly Easter time, which means lots of flowers and chocolates around the house. One flower often given as a gift at Easter is the beautiful white lily known as the Easter lily. Although this fragrant flower has long been a symbol of peace, innocence and hope, it can be highly dangerous to cats.

Many plants belong to the lily family (Lilaceae) but only those from the genera Lilium (true lilies) and Hemerocallis (day lilies) are toxic to cats. Common names for some of these lilies are Easter lily, oriental lily, asiatic lily, tiger lily, stargazer lily and day lily.

Lily ingestion is cause for alarm, as it results in acute kidney disease within 12-36 hours often resulting in death within three to five days. Symptoms of the developing kidney disease include vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, increased thirst and increased urination progressing to decreased and then absent urination in the end-stage of kidney failure. Drooling, weakness, wobbliness and tremors may also be seen.

All parts of the lily are toxic, but the flowers are the most potent. Most cats develop toxicity after ingesting parts of the flower and leaves. It is also possible for cats to develop toxicity after coming into contact with the pollen. This may occur when a cat walks through pollen that has fallen on the ground or table and then later grooms it off resulting in ingestion.

Many owners of indoor cats will already know they often chew on any indoor plants they can find. This means it’s best not to keep any of the toxic varieties of lilies at home. Some cats are drawn to lilies and may seek them out even if they are placed in a hard to reach part of the house.

To protect your precious pet, check all floral arrangements that you buy or are given and remove the lilies prior to bringing them into the house. Luckily, lilies do not have the same toxic effect in dogs, although they may develop mild gastrointestinal upset if they ingest lilies, but not the same nephrotoxicity as cats.

Early intervention is the best way to try to save a cat that has ingested lilies. If you find chewed up petals or leaves or vomited parts of the plant around house, it’s vital to have them immediately assessed by a vet. Do not wait to see if they develop symptoms. Sadly, once a cat develops symptoms of the toxicity, it is sometimes already too late to reverse the damage.

The House Call Vet will immediately start intensive management for a cat with lily toxicity. Initial treatment is aimed at reducing the amount of toxin absorbed from the gut by inducing vomiting and then administering activated charcoal (a binding agent). Blood tests are used to assess and monitor kidney function and urine output is also closely monitored. Intravenous fluid therapy is an essential treatment for cats with lily toxicity.

At The House Call Vet, we frequently identify potential toxins and dangers around homes that owners were previously unaware of. One of the many advantages of our house call appointments is that we routinely inspect the household environment during any consultation to help you keep your pet safe.