Easter lilies are a common fixture in households across the country this time of year.
What many people are unaware of is the risk that these gorgeous flowers hold for curious household cats. Many members of the Lily family are toxic to cats, and ingestion of very small amounts of the plant can lead to signs of toxicity. All parts of the plant (leaves, stems, flowers) are considered to be toxic.
The kidneys are the target tissue of this toxicity, and kidney failure can develop rapidly in these patients. The cat kidney appears extremely sensitive to this toxin, whereas this effect is not observed in dogs. The kidneys are important for clearing waste products from the body in the form of urine. As the effects of this toxicity progress, the kidneys become less capable of performing this function. These waste products then accumulate in the blood stream, leading to clinical signs of illness.
Symptoms can develop from a few hours to a few days after ingesting or chewing on the plant. What you may observe at home is vomiting, loss of appetite and depression. Changes in water consumption and litter-box habits may also be noticed.
If you observe your cat chewing on a lily plant, they should be seen immediately by a veterinarian. Making your pet vomit up the plant may reduce the amount of toxin that is absorbed into the system. Labwork may reveal significant elevations in kidney values and alterations to the body’s electrolytes. The cornerstone of treatment is to provide aggressive fluid support through an IV catheter. Other medications may be needed to prevent stomach upset and stimulate urine production. In severe cases, dialysis and/or kidney transplant may be need to be considered.
Any suspicion of lily ingestion should be taken seriously, even if the cat isn’t observed to have eaten the plant. Emergency treatment should be sought out immediately.
If a cat recovers from the acute toxicity, it is very likely that there will be some long-term effects in the form of chronic kidney disease. Cats are very tolerant of low levels of kidney dysfunction and can still have extended good quality lives with this condition.
If you are concerned that your pet has been exposed to a toxic material in the form of a plant or otherwise, please seek advice from a veterinarian. You can also directly contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline at (888) 4ANI-HELP.
Special points of interest:
• Related flowers such as the Tiger lily, Daylily, and Stargazer lily have similar toxicity.
• Hemodialysis and kidney transplant surgeries are available to dogs and cats at a limited number of specialty veterinary hospitals.