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Lily Toxicity in Cats

Stargazer, Easter, Asian, and Tiger are a few of the common lilies

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Stargazer Lily / Wikimedia

Stargazer Lilies

By Tiffany825 / Wikimedia Commons

Stargazer Lilies (pictured here) are bold, beautiful, fragrant and... poisonous. Especially for cats. These lilies, and their botanical relatives, including Easter lily, Day lily, Asian lily and Tiger lily, are popular choices for holiday bouquets and are the favorites of many gardeners.

What makes lilies poisonous is still unknown, but it is known that the toxin is soluble in water and deadly. Cats suffer from kidney failure after ingesting even tiny amounts of this plant and flower. The gastrointestinal and nervous systems may also be affected.

What Parts Of The Plant Are Toxic?

The most toxic component is the flower itself, but all parts of this flower are toxic. As little as one or two plant pieces have caused deaths in animals. It is interesting to note that even the pollen is toxic. If you have ever been near one of these plants, you may have noticed the large amounts of pollen that fall from the stamen - on table tops, your nose, and clothing.

The pollen is yellow to orange (depending on the lily) and gets everywhere. Cats who have pollen on them should be bathed, as they ingest pollen as they groom themselves.

Clinical Signs Seen With Lily Toxicity

The first signs usually develop 6 - 12 hours after ingestion, and may mimic the signs seen with grape and raisin toxicity and antifreeze (ethylene glycol) toxicity.

The first signs seen are:

  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • tremors
  • seizures

Kidney (renal) failure follows usually follows, and the signs seen are:

  • increased thirst
  • increased urination initially, followed by lowered urine output, and finally, no urine output
  • dehydration
  • death

Kidney failure occurs as early as 36 - 72 hours after ingestion.

Diagnosing Lily Toxicity

Epitheial casts will be visible in the urine (by microscopic exam) in as few as 12 hours after ingestion of this plant. Increased blood levels of BUN, creatinine and potassium will be seen 18 - 24 hours after ingestion. Prompt veterinary care is essential. Cats treated 18 hours or longer after ingestion have a very poor prognosis.

Treatment For Lily Toxicity

If you suspect that your cat has ingested any part of the lily plant, including pollen, consult your veterinarian immediately. The toxic element of lilies is not known at this time, so there is no antidote.

Treatment goals are aggressive IV fluid therapy and protection of the gastrointestinal tract. Subcutaneous, also known as SubQ, fluids are not effective. Mortality rate has been reported as high as 100% with lily toxicity if untreated or treated later than 18 hours after exposure. Early, aggressive treatment by a veterinarian has a good prognosis.

Keeping Cats Safe

I love lilies, but have banned them from the house. My cat Barnie has been known to nibble on (non-toxic) houseplants before, and just a nibble of a plant from the lily family can be a death sentence. Your best bet is to not allow cats and dogs access to lilies, in the house or yard.

Many thanks to Justine A. Lee DVM DACVECC for assistance with this article.

Related: Dr. Lee's articles on About.com

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