Let's Talk Toxins!

They say April showers bring May flowers. With spring in the air and the recent passing of Easter, we wanted to highlight one of the sneaky flowers that may look unassuming in your beautiful spring bouquet but are actually quite toxic, and potentially deadly, to cats.

Lilies, we’re looking at you. Flowers of the Lilium (true lilies) and Hemerocallis (day lilies) genera are the culprits we are focusing on today. This includes popular varieties such as Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), tiger lilies (Lilium tigrinum), Japanese show lilies (Lilium speciosum and Lilium lancifolium), and various day lilies (Hemerocallis species), among others. While this does not include other “lilies” such as the Calla lily (Zantedeschia species), Peace lily (Spathiphyllum species), Peruvian lily (Alstromeria aurea), or Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), proceed with caution – some of these other species have properties of their own that can cause issues in pets and should also be brought into the home with careful thought.

While the toxic principle of lilies is unknown at this time, what we do know is that exposure to ANY part of the plant can cause trouble for cats. This includes the leaves, flowers, pollen, or even the water from the vase! It has been reported that ingestion of less than a single leaf can lead to severe toxicity in cats.

Cats unlucky enough to snack on these plants can suffer from acute (sudden) kidney failure. Typically we see cats begin vomiting and/or showing signs of depression and lethargy 2-4 hours after ingestion. The cat may initially appear to improve, however rapid deterioration 24-72 hours (up to 5 days) later tends to occur with vomiting, poor appetite, and lethargy most commonly reported. Some cats can sustain irreversible kidney damage, kidney failure, and even death. This means that early identification of ingestion and veterinary medical intervention is key to giving your feline friend the best chance.

Once we have determined your cat ingested a lily, treatment may initially try to reduce the amount of plant material absorbed by the patient based on the timeline of exposure. From there we must then move forward by trying to support the cat’s kidneys. Management typically involves close monitoring of kidney values (blood work) and urine testing along with aggressive IV fluid management and GI supportive care for multiple days. In some cases, the cat may even benefit from dialysis performed with a veterinary specialist.

As beautiful as these plants are, it’s clearly not worth the risk to bring one into the home if you are a cat-friendly family to avoid accidental ingestion and possible harm to your feline friend(s)!

PS. For all you dog-lovers out there who may be wondering, the good news is that dogs who ingest lilies do not typically suffer kidney damage like their cat counterparts. Instead they may be plagued by some stomach upset.

If your pet ever ingests a potentially toxic object or substance and we are unavailable to provide guidance, consider calling one of the following resources available 24/7 (usually for a small consultation fee):

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control: 888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661

Dr. Erica Falvey

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