Holiday Danger: Lilies and Cats

Holiday Danger: Lilies and Cats

Lily Flowers are Poisonous to Cats

Lilies. They are among the most frequently used flowers in commercial arrangements. They are beautiful, colorful, fragrant, and hearty. They are symbols of purity and innocence and are so frequently used for religious holiday arrangements that there is even a flower called the Easter Lilly, Lilium longiflorum. It’s a lovely flower but if you are a cat and you eat it, you’re probably going to die.

We all know that cats like to chew on plants and flowers. While there are a number of plants that cause side effects when ingested lilies cause deadly illness. All parts of the plant including the leaf, flower, stamen, pollen, stem and root are poisonous when ingested by cats. And, only a tiny amount needs to be eaten to be poisonous (less than a leaf). Lily toxicity requires rapid medical response and often that doesn’t happen because the initial symptoms are not recognized as anything more than stomach upset. Even with rapid intervention the treatment is not always successful.

There are two stages of symptoms of lily poisoning in the cat. The first starts shortly after ingestion and looks like stomach upset. The significance of these signs may not be realized if the ingestion of the plant is not noticed. If treatment is not instituted at this point it is unlikely to be successful. The first signs are:

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Depression

Vomiting usually subsides a few hours after ingestion although loss of appetite and depression typically remain. Within 72 hours the toxic substance within the plant causes acute kidney failure. The symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Increased or decreased thirst
  • Decreased urination
  • Weakness
  • Seizures

There is no specific test to diagnose lily poisoning. The diagnosis is based on a history of exposure to the plant along with signs of acute kidney failure. The blood biochemical profile will show an elevated BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine which are indicative of kidney failure. A urinalysis is helpful in determining the extent of kidney change.

There is no specific antidote for lily poisoning. Treatment involves removal of the ingested plant material if still present and treatment for kidney failure. If ingestion has just occurred, the stomach is emptied by the induction of vomiting. Afterwards, activated charcoal is administered to prevent further absorption of the remaining toxin in the stomach.

Treatment of kidney failure involves intravenous fluid therapy. When the kidneys are damaged toxins begin to build up in the blood. Intravenous helps to speed up the removal of the toxins and treat the dehydration which comes from fluid loss. When more significant kidney damage has occurred it may be necessary to try peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis. Both of these therapies are invasive and expensive and still may not guarantee a successful outcome.

Lily toxicity is an avoidable problem. Most people are unaware of just how deadly these flowers can be to cats. It is a good idea to inform friends, family and florists of the risks lilies pose to their cats.

When ordering flowers for friends or relatives, make sure they do not contain lilies if there is a cat living in the household.

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