Lily Toxicity in Cats

Lilies are beautiful flowers commonly used in flower arrangements to decorate our homes, however it is important that cat owners are aware of how detrimental they are to their cats wellbeing. All lilies have been associated with acute kidney disease in cats. Some of the more common lilies include the Peace Lily, Tiger Lily and Easter Lily but all lily plants must be considered toxic to cats.

Cats, especially kittens & indoor cats, are naturally curious creatures and like to investigate anything new in the home or garden. Unfortunately, if the object of their curiosity is a flower arrangement of tiger lilies or a newly potted plant of day lilies, this could prove fatal. Ingestion of even the tiniest amount of these plants can have catastrophic consequences for our feline friends. Something as simple as your cat grooming off pollen from their coat has been known to induce toxicity. While the exact toxin responsible for damaging the kidneys, along with the toxic dose are unknown, what is known is that the most toxic part of the lily plant is its flowers, including the stamen and the pollen it produces. However, toxicity may occur with ingestion of any part of the plant such as its leaves, stalks, roots and even water from the vase or pot.

Signs of Lily Toxicity in Cats

The first signs of lily toxicity are depression, vomiting and loss of appetite, usually within 2 hours of ingestion but these signs will often subside within 12 hours. This means that if ingestion occurred unobserved or when the owner is out, these clinical signs may be missed and the opportunity for early intervention lost. The cat usually then develops acute kidney failure within 24-72 hours of the initial lily ingestion and becomes critically ill.

Cats will often drink much more than usual, continue to remain depressed and lethargic. Despite enormous water intake, cats can become extremely dehydrated as the kidney lacks the ability to retain water in the body. Cats may stumble, tremor, appear weak or in severe cases have seizures. On physical examination the only abnormalities detected by your vet may be enlarged, painful kidneys. If left untreated cats will succumb to the disease within 3-7 days.

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Diagnosis of Lily Toxicity in Cats

Diagnosis of lily toxicity is based on a combination of your cats presenting clinical signs, diagnostic test results and history of exposure to lilies.

If you suspect your cat has ingested or been exposed to something toxic, bring a sample along to your appointment as this may be very useful in making a diagnosis. Early detection and treatment is the key, preferable within a few hours of suspected ingestion.

Treatment and Outcome of Lily Toxicity in Cats

Treatment for lily toxicity revolves around making cats vomit if there is recent exposure, followed by aggressive intravenous fluid therapy. Medications to manage nausea, vomiting and inappetence are also used. Unfortunately, these treatments are symptomatic and there is no antidote to the toxin that causes these problems. Recovery relies on fast diagnosis and rapid elimination of the toxin out of the cat’s system, making it all the more important to see rapid veterinary care if lily ingestion is suspected. Cats are often hospitalised for several days and require repeat blood and urine tests to monitor their response to treatment. This can be expensive and unfortunately due to the serious nature of this poisoning, a successful outcome is not assured despite receiving treatment.

The best way to protect your cat and prevent lily toxicity is to ensure these plants and flowers are not at home. Even if up high or in another room, the risks are too great for cats to ingest these plants.

Should I Be Concerned About My Other Pets?

Cats seem to be unique amongst domestic pets in their susceptibility to poisoning from lilies. As the toxic substance within the lily plant is yet to be fully identified it is unsure why cats are more affected than dogs, but it is suspected that how they metabolise certain substances has some involvement. Interestingly rabbits and rats show no signs of toxicity at all after ingestion and dogs tend to only get a mild gastrointestinal upset even after eating large quantities of lilies (although lily of the valley can cause severe cardiac arrhythmias and can rarely be fatal in dogs).

If you have concerns about your cat’s behaviour and suspect it may be lily toxicity, immediately bring them to your nearest Greencross Vets for an assessment from one of our qualified veterinarians.

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