Lilies are a popular ornamental plant in homes, especially around Easter time. Unfortunately, lilies can be highly toxic to cats if they ingest any part of it, with the flower being the most dangerous part of the plant. This toxicity can result in acute kidney failure, leading to hospitalization, and if not treated soon enough, results can be “cat”astrophic for the animal.
There are many types of lilies, and all Lilium or Hemerocallis species should be considered toxic. The common names of some of these lilies are daylilies, Easter lilies, Rubrum or Japanese showy lilies, Stargazer lilies, and tiger lilies. If you have any of these types of plants in your home, and you have cats, I would suggest that you get rid of them to prevent this type of toxicity. Cats, on the whole, are an intelligent species but some are known to lick or chew on things if they are younger, or just bored. They do not know any better!
The initial signs of this toxicity are vomiting, lack of appetite, and lethargy. These can develop within 2 hours of ingestion. The average time is about 12 hours. The gastrointestinal signs are due to the irritating material in the plants that directly affects the stomach. The worse damaging injury to the body develops later, which is acute kidney failure. It is unknown why the plant causes kidney failure, but the results are potentially fatal. When kidney damage occurs, the cats may start drinking more water and urinating more often. When the kidney disease worsens, other potential symptoms are vocalization, not drinking water, tremors, weakness, and seizures. If a cat progresses to those latter signs, it will die or will have to be put to sleep.
The diagnosis of this toxicity is all in the history of the situation. First, a lily is known to be in the home. Second, the cat is known to have chewed on or ingested part of the plant. Unfortunately, the owner is not always aware that the cat has done this because it is not immediately obvious, the signs can be delayed up to a few days, and most people are not following their cat around at home. The sooner the problem is diagnosed, the better the outcome will be for the animal. Having blood work performed will diagnose acute kidney failure, and determine the course of treatment. There is no specific test for this toxin; it can only be determined by history.
Treatments include decontamination with the induction of vomiting, and administering charcoal to absorb the toxin from the lily. These initial treatments are only performed if the problem is caught very early on. If there is any suspicion of the animal chewing or eating a part of a lily plant, pre-emptive measures should be taken. Treatment would involve hospitalization of the cat, IV fluids for diuresis of the kidneys, and other supportive care. The prognosis can be good if treatment is initiated within 18 hours of the ingestion. After that time, the prognosis is guarded to poor, even with treatment.
I know this all sounds very grim, but this “is what it is”, potentially fatal toxicity that can be avoided easily. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the end result of a cat chewing on a lily plant, and despite treatment, resulting in the euthanasia of the animal. I do not want to see this again, it was an extremely sad situation, and devastating for the owners of the cat. If you are considering buying or having a lily plant in your home and you have a cat, don’t do it! If you have one in your home, and you think it’s in a place where your cat can’t get to it, you are wrong, get rid of the plant! There are many other flowers that can beautify your home!
Keep your cats safe. If you have any questions, please give us a call.
Dr. Jaime Kozelka
St. Francis Hospital for Animals