Formidable Flora

Lily Toxicity in Cats

Part 4 of Seven Veterinary Emergencies Deconstructed

Spring and the arrival of Easter celebrations always bring flowers, both sprouting from the garden and being displayed in the home. A vase of fresh flowers from Eastern Market or Frager’s or as a gift from a friend is a delight to humans and animals alike. However, certain flowers should be avoided; especially if you are a cat owner.

The primary plant culprit for cats is from the lily family (Lilium). Examples of these plants are the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum), day lily (Lilium hemerocallus), stargazer (Lilium orientalis), and Asian lily (Lilium asiatica). Any part of the plant can be toxic including the stem, the leaves, and the flower. Even ingestion of the pollen or drinking the water the lilies are standing in can be dangerous.  

The first clinical signs a pet owner will see with lily toxicity are vomiting and/or decreased appetite. This can progress to severe lethargy or weakness. However, the best way to diagnose lily toxicity is through direct observation. Witnessing the ingestion or presence of lily material in your cat’s vomit is the only ways to definitively diagnose lily toxicity.

All “lilies” are not equally toxic. Some (calla lilies, Calla palustris, and peace lilies, Spathiphyllum) cause gastric upset (drooling, vomiting, and loss of appetite) from the sharp calcium oxalate crystals found in the plant. These can be irritating but not dangerous. However a good number of lilies will cause serious kidney damage and can start injuring the kidneys within four hours of ingestion. If a cat that has consumed this type of lily goes untreated, its kidneys can fail in two to four days, and prognosis for recovery, even if treatment is initiated, is poor to grave. It is best not to debate which type of lily your cat may have ingested and get him or her to the veterinarian immediately.

The keys to avoiding lily toxicity if you are a cat owner are: 

1) Do not introduce lilies to your home.

2) If you have lilies in your home, remove them immediately. Make sure you clean up any leaves, flowers, or pollen from where the lilies were kept and dispose of the water safely.

3) If you have an indoor/outdoor cat or even just a cat who hangs out in your fenced back yard, avoid planting lilies. Note that lilies are perennials, so if you are moving into a new home make sure to scour the backyard for spring growth.

If you should see your cat nibbling on a portion of lily, get the lily away from the cat and try to remove the plant material from the cat’s mouth (while avoiding your cat’s teeth, please). Then bring your cat to a 24-hour veterinary facility for immediate treatment. If possible, bring the lily plant with you as the veterinary clinic may be able to help identify the type of lily.

If a cat consumes a portion of lily, the best treatment is to induce vomiting at your veterinary clinic, get blood work as a baseline, and start IV fluids immediately. IV fluids should be administered for at least 24 hours or longer if there are already signs of kidney damage. If gastric evacuation and IV fluids are implemented within four hours of ingestion, the prognosis is good to excellent.

If I had my way, all lilies would come with a warning sign for cat owners. But until that time, cat lovers should be aware of the information contained in this article and should be share it with all friends of felines. If you would like more information on lily toxicity in cats or would like a resource for other potentially toxic plants to your pets, check out the ASPCA Poison Control website: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control. Here you can find lists (and photos!) of toxic and non-toxic plants.

Questions can always be sent to Dr. Miller or me at info@atlasvetdc.com.

Enjoy your spring, and see you ‘round the Hill!

Dr. Antkowiak and Dr. Miller reside in Capitol Hill and are the owners of AtlasVet (the Atlas District Veterinary Hospital) at 1326 H St. NE. www.atlasvetdc.com. Twitter: @atlasvet. Facebook: atlasvetdc


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