Monday, March 19, 2012

Killer lilies are a no-no for kitties!

Image credit: Field of Lilies by Andrea Andrade

We’ve set our clocks forward and have seen crocuses poke their heads up from the frozen earth, and the first thing that many of us want to do is to celebrate spring with some lovely, fragrant lilies – especially the beautiful white trumpet-shaped Easter lilies that appear everywhere this time of year. Unfortunately, for those of us with cats, this is probably the worst way to usher in good weather.

Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) are incredibly poisonous to cats. Well, all lilies, really - Tiger Lily ( Lilium henryi and lancifolium spp.), Day Lily (Hemerocallis spp.), Asiatic lily (Lilium asiatica), Stargazer lily (Lilium orientalis) and the rest of the Lilium family. (Not sure if you have a lily? Wikipedia has images of many of the lily species which will help with identification.) All parts of the lily plant are dangerous, including the flowers, stamens, stems, leaves and roots – even the pollen. If a cat gets pollen on its coat and then grooms, it could still cause fatal illness. Cats that get pollen on themselves should be thoroughly bathed as soon as possible.

Most of the time, we only know that a cat has eaten a lily because some part of the lily appears in a very inconveniently placed puddle of vomit. Many people may even initially write it off, thinking, “Oh well, Fluffy got into the spider plant again. Guess I’ll go get the carpet cleaner.” (Spider plants are non-toxic, by the way, so Fluffy can eat away at them all she likes!) However, when it comes to lilies, it is imperative that you seek emergency medical treatment for your cat as soon as possible to ensure proper and effective treatment. In approximately 2-4 days after ingestion of the plant, your cat may begin to show signs of kidney failure. If enough toxin is absorbed to cause acute kidney failure, then the likelihood that your cat will respond to treatment is poor.

A cat affected by lily intoxication will initially show signs of an upset stomach (gastritis): vomiting, a lack of interest in food and lethargy. These initial signs may appear within 2-12 hours of ingestion and may disappear after 12 hours. The cat may improve briefly or appear to act normal before the condition progresses to serious acute renal failure within 48 to 72 hours.

Once a cat’s kidneys have been damaged to the point of failure, they will show a variety of signs such as lethargy, vomiting, increased thirst, and urinating large quantities (in some cases, urine production may stop altogether - anuria). Affected cats are also likely to be dehydrated. If left untreated, death can occur in as little as 3 days.

Diagnosis and Treatment:
There is no “lily poisoning test”, diagnosis is usually made due to someone witnessing the cat eat the lily or vomit part of the plant. Blood tests that check the kidneys (BUN and creatinine levels) will help confirm ingestion, though severe increases are not likely to be seen immediately. If your cat’s kidney values are normal after eating part of a lily plant, this is GOOD! It means that treatment is more likely to be successful.

Within 6 hours of exposure
, depending on how quickly the cat is brought to the veterinary hospital, doctors and staff may try to induce vomiting and/or give medications to prevent further absorption of the toxin. Even if blood values are normal and the cat vomits up the lily parts you will likely be advised to hospitalize your cat for monitoring and IV fluid administration for a minimum of 24 hours. If your cat is treated immediately after ingestion, prognosis is good.

Up to 48 hours post-exposure, immediate hospitalization and intensive IV fluid therapy will be recommended. The length of time that your cat will need to be hospitalized depends on how badly his kidneys have already been affected, and how he responds to treatment. Prognosis is guarded to poor – mild to moderate kidney damage may be permanent.

Two to four days post-exposure, depending on laboratory testing of the kidneys, humane euthanasia to end suffering may be the only option. Prognosis is very poor – severe, irreversible kidney damage may result in the inability to produce urine. Left untreated for longer than 18 hours, one can expect death in almost 100% of cases.

If you or anyone in your household suspects that your cat may have ingested any part of a lily, no matter how small, please seek immediate veterinary attention. Hesitation may mean the difference between life and death for your cat!

**Celebrate Pet Poison Prevention Week March 18-24 by sharing this article with at least one other person. You might save a life! **
Calla Lily

Peace Lily
Note: While Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.) are not true lilies, they are still toxic to a lesser degree and can cause oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing

Lily of the Valley
Peruvian Lily
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is also not a true lily, however, it is also toxic and can cause vomiting and cardiac problems such as irregular heart beat, low blood pressure, disorientation, coma, and seizures. Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria spp.) is another lily to be aware of. While many florists advertize it to be non-toxic, large amounts of this lily-lookalike can cause stomach irritation, vomiting and diarrhea. Peruvian lilies come in all colors and are also valued in floral arrangements due to their long life as a cut flower.
  For further information:
ASPCA Toxic Plant List
Pet Poison Help Line – learn the common signs of poisoning, 
make a pet poison first aid kit and more!
PSA website: No Lilies for Cats  - FAQ about lily poisoning
Why veterinarians hate Easter - a Veterinarian’s story
The dangers of lilies – a cat owner’s story 


  1. Random question perhaps, but do you know the name of the photographer that made the picture of the lily that is the second image on this page?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. I am not sure. It is one that we have had in our hospital image library for quite a while, so I suspect it might be a Shutterstock image or something similar?

    2. Thank you very much for you answer.

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