It's that time of year that we have all grown to love and/or despise depending on your perspective. With springtime approaching, we get to see much of nature that has been dormant for several months spring back to life in beautiful and vibrant colors. But with that also comes the yellow clouds of pollen that wreak havoc with allergy sufferers. However, as a veterinarian, one of my biggest concerns during this time of year is a potentially hidden threat to our feline friends.
During the Easter season, lily plants seem to be everywhere from tabletop floral arrangements to ornamental flower beds in our neighborhood yards. But many pet owners still are not aware of the hidden dangers that this beautiful plant poses, especially to cats. Of all the plants that are toxic to our pets, the lily plant is perhaps the most dangerous. While much attention is given to the Easter lily, that is not the only type of lily that is toxic. The list also includes Stargazer lilies, Day lilies, Tiger lilies, Red lilies, Western lilies, Asiatic hybrid lilies, Japanese show lilies, and Wood lilies.
What parts of the plant are toxic?
While the most toxic component is the flower itself, it is important to note that all parts of the plant are toxic, including the pollen. Ingesting just one or two plant pieces can cause death in some cats. And with cats being the compulsive groomers that they are, the pollen that can accumulate on their fur can be deadly when ingested.
Clinical Signs of Lily Toxicity.
Lilies are nephrotoxic, meaning that they primarily will affect the kidneys and can cause acute renal failure similar to that of an animal ingesting antifreeze. Signs of poisoning often develop within 6-12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, inappetance, lethargy, and dehydration. If left untreated, the signs worsen as acute kidney failure develops, and signs of not urinating or urinating too frequently, not drinking or excessive thirst, and inflammation of the pancreas may be seen with lily poisoning. Rarer signs include walking drunk, disorientation, tremors, and even seizures.
Unfortunately, there is no antidote for lily poisoning as the toxic element is not fully known at this time. Because of that, quick veterinary attention is necessary. The sooner you bring in your cat, the better and more efficiently your veterinarian can treat the poisoning. Decontamination (like inducing vomiting and giving drugs like activated charcoal to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines) are imperative in the early toxic stages, while aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, kidney function monitoring tests, and supportive care can greatly improve the prognosis. IV fluids need to be started, ideally, within 18 hours for the best prognosis for your cat.
Final Words of Advice
If you suspect that your cat has consumed any part of a lily plant, please seek advice from your veterinarian immediately. If you are a cat owner, always inspect any plant or floral arrangement that comes into your house for anything of the lily variety. And when sending a floral arrangement to someone who owns a pet, ask that the florist send an "lily-free" arrangement. And as always, when in doubt, err on the side of caution and remove anything that you suspect might be toxic to your pet. Thankfully, lily poisoning doesn’t cause kidney failure in dogs, but if a large amount is ingested, it can result in some gastrointestinal signs in our canine friends. I hope we can make this Easter a much safer one for all of our feline friends out there.
Jay Fulmer is a graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine ('94) and has practiced veterinary medicine in the Dacula area for 16 years. He is the owner of Hamilton Mill Animal Hospital. For more information, visit the Hamilton Mill Animal Hospital website or the Hamilton Mill Animal Hospital Facebook page.