Lily toxicity: a common and potentially lethal threat to cats

Lilies are a common fixture in garden beds, yards, and bouquets this time of year. What many people do not know is the risk that these flowers hold for curious cats. In fact, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, which has more than 100 practices across 29 U.S. states, sees an approximate 85% increase in pets with lily toxicity in April and May as compared to other months.

Lilies are common during the spring months. However, if your cat ingests even a small amount of a plant leaf or flower petal, licks pollen grains off its fur while grooming, or drinks the water from a bouquet vase containing lilies, they can develop fatal kidney failure,” explained BluePearl’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. James Barr. “Dogs that have ingested a lily or parts of the plant may experience stomach upset but will not develop kidney failure. Of the close to 1,000 patients seen at BluePearl for lily ingestion since 2018, only four have been canines.”

The effects of lily toxicity are rapid. Subsequent kidney damage can often be reversed if the cat is treated early and aggressively. If treatment is delayed, cats can experience irreversible kidney failure, which may lead to death. With this in mind, BluePearl Pet Hospital is educating pet owners on the dangers that lilies pose and urging them to take preventative measures this spring.

Most Dangerous Lilies

Many members of the lily family are toxic to cats, with “true lily” and “daylily” families posing as the most significant safety threats. The most dangerous lilies for cats include:

Other “lily” plants such as lily-of-the-valley and the gloriosa lily, or flame lily, may cause serious health problems if ingested by cats or dogs. Lily-of-the-valley contains harmful toxins that can cause abnormal heartbeat patterns, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. Gloriosa lily roots contain toxins that when chewed on or eaten by cats or dogs can cause serious multi-system organ failure.

Signs of Lily Toxicity

Early signs of lily toxicity include decreased activity level (lethargy), drooling, loss of appetite, and vomiting. It is important to note that vomiting is typically self-limiting and can resolve without treatment within two to six hours; however, this does not necessarily mean the cat has recovered. As the condition progresses, kidney damage may begin to occur. Signs of kidney damage generally show within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion, with kidney failure occurring within 24 to 72 hours (about three days) after ingestion. The most common signs of kidney damage include:

Early veterinary treatment greatly improves a pet’s prognosis and outcome after lily ingestion,” said Dr. Barr. “As little as one or two leaves can make your cat sick. If left untreated, the condition can become life-threatening within a day or two.”

Seek Immediate Treatment

If your cat has eaten any part of a lily or has drunk vase water that contains lilies, do not wait to seek veterinary care. Depending on the type of lily and the amount of plant ingested, it may be a medical emergency. If possible, bring the lily plant or a piece of the plant with you to the practice or take a picture to show your veterinarian upon arrival. This will help the medical team determine the severity of the toxin and best course of treatment.

Common treatments for lily toxicity include:

Decontamination with activated charcoal: In the initial stages of lily toxicity, a veterinarian may induce vomiting and/or perform a procedure known as decontamination. Your cat will be given activated charcoal, an oral liquid that will bind to the lily toxins and then move them out of the body through the gastrointestinal tract.

IV therapy: Aggressive fluid therapy given intravenously (IV) within 24 hours of ingestion may help to prevent anuric renal failure (when the kidneys shut down) and prevent dehydration. Typically, fluids are given for one to two days, and the cat is monitored for urine output. Lack of urine production is a sign that the treatment was unsuccessful. If the pet experiences anuric renal failure, its kidneys will stop producing urine.

Extracorporeal renal replacement therapy: A highly advanced and potentially life-saving medical treatment for pets with acute kidney failure from toxin exposures (among others). Extracorporeal therapies include both intermittent hemodialysis (IHD) and total plasma exchange (TPE). Currently, these BluePearl Pet Hospitals offer IHD and TPE services for pets:

Cat-Proof for the Spring Season

Springtime holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day are great times to celebrate with family and friends. However, it is important to keep the safety of our furry companions in mind.

Because lilies are so dangerous and there is a substantial risk of death if they are eaten, it is best to avoid bringing these plants into your home or planting them in your garden. This is particularly important if your cat or your neighbor’s cat is let outdoors,” said Dr. Barr. “If you do have lilies in your home, ensure your cat cannot reach them by keeping them in an inaccessible room and make sure to inform everyone in your household of the dangers lilies pose to the cat.”

Most BluePearl Pet Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide advanced emergency care to pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested any part of a lily, immediately bring them in to see a veterinarian or contact the Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661 (a small fee may apply) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435.