Lilies are beautiful flowers that have long been associated with Easter. At this time of year, they are decorating homes indoors and outdoors, a perfect symbol of the new beginning that is Spring. Yet, you must be extremely cautious if you have cats at home, as these flowers can be as lethal as they are splendid.
Some lilies, such as Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies, are known as benign lilies, and will only cause minor clinical signs in cats. They will cause irritation to the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and oesophagus, but will not lead to death.
However, lilies of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species are dangerous to the point of being fatal for our feline friends. These include Japanese show lilies, Tiger lilies, Stargazer lilies, Day lilies, Asiatic hybrid lilies, Rubrum lilies, Red lilies, Western lilies, Wood lilies, and Easter lilies. Every part of these lilies can be lethal: from the flower, to its leaves, stem, pollen, or water from the vase, even small ingestions can have grave consequences and lead to death.
Symptoms of intoxication
Early signs (2-4 hours after ingestion) that your cat may have ingested part of a lily of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species include vomiting, loss of appetite, drooling, hiding, halitosis, lethargy, disorientation, and tremors.
If you observe these clinical signs and think your cat may be suffering from lily poisoning, don’t waste a single second before rushing him to the veterinarian for medical care. If you are worried your pet may have been poisoned but are not sure, you can call your veterinarian or, alternatively, a pet poison helpline. In the UK, the number for Animal Poison Line is 01202509000.
1-3 days after ingestion of a lily are enough to result in severe acute kidney failure in your cat. The sooner you bring your cat to the vet’s, the more efficiently lily poisoning can be treated. If not treated immediately, within 24-72 hours of ingestion, your cat will begin to suffer from dehydration, exhaustion, abdomen pain, and will no longer be able to urinate. Death can follow in just a few days.
What to do if the plant is ingested by your cat
There is no antidote for lily poisoning. You can, however, decontaminate your cat in time to save his life. Time is of the essence when it comes to toxicosis. You will have to bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for emergency care.
Inducing vomiting will empty the gastrointestinal tract and can therefore be extremely effective in fighting the poison if it is done soon after ingestion of the plant. Your veterinarian will also be able to provide your cat with activated charcoal, which, once ingested, will prevent absorption of the plant’s toxins.
Hospitalisation is often necessary in order to flush out the poison and prevent renal failure with intravenous fluid. This kind of treatment should be started within an 18-hour window for the best outcome. It will usually take about three days of treatment before your cat is out of the woods. Your vet can perform several blood and urine tests during this process to keep an eye on your cat’s kidney damage, and determine if the treatment is successful.
In short, it’s better to be safe than sorry. These plants and cats do not mix: if you have a cat at home, do the reasonable thing, and don’t purchase lilies this Easter! You can purchase plenty of other flowers that are suitable both for Easter and for your cat, including orchids, daisies, and violets!