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Lily Toxicity in Cats

Written by Heather Norton-Bower, DVM.



A common springtime and summer hazard:
As spring unfolds, lilies will become more common in households or in domestic flower gardens across Minnesota. According to Michigan State University Extension's Grower Guide, Easter lilies are the third most important flowering potted-plant grown in the United States, with 10-11 million plants produced annually. Unfortunately, many types of lilies pose a deadly threat to cats.

Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily, Japanese show lily, glory lily, some species of day lily, and certain other members of the Lily family can cause acute kidney failure in cats after ingestion of even very small amounts of the lily plant/flower.

The lily toxin and toxic dose:

The toxic substance in lilies that injures kidneys has not been identified, but all parts of the lily plant are considered to be toxic. Ingestion of any part of the flower, stems, leaves, or roots of a lily plant can cause kidney failure. The toxic dose is also unknown, but it is assumed to be very small. Even mouthing a lily plant/flower or grooming after having brushed past the pollen of a lily flower can cause kidney failure.

Symptoms of illness from lily ingestion:
The first symptoms of lily toxicity in a cat are vomiting, depression/lethargy, and loss of appetite. These first symptoms usually occur within 2 hours of ingestion. Without treatment, a cat may develop acute kidney failure within 24-72 hours and death may occur within 3-7 days.

Diagnosis and treatment:
Diagnosis of kidney damage is made through blood work and urine tests. Fortunately, acute kidney damage has the potential to be reversible. Treatment is very intensive, involving intravenous fluid therapy and hospitalization for several days. A successful outcome can never be assured, but the prognosis is much better if treatment is begun within 6 hours of ingestion of the toxins.

Lily ingestion suspected:
If you suspect your cat has ingested any part of a lily plant, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. This may mean going to a local emergency clinic if you make this discovery during non-business hours. Remember, if treatment is begun within 6 hours of ingestion, there is a much better prognosis for recovery.

Prevention:

If you have a cat, avoid having any lily plants or flower bouquets in your household (or garden if your cat visits the outdoors). Indoor cats, especially kittens, are drawn to floral arrangements because they are a novel feature in an otherwise familiar environment that may normally lack other plants.

For more information on lily toxicity and to learn about other plants/flowers that may pose a danger to your cat, visit the following websites: American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Cat Fanciers Association.

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