By Katherine Saenger, DVM for The Island Connection
Playing with and chewing on the beautiful Easter bouquet that just arrived is all fun and games, until someone gets sick, really, really sick.
As Easter traditions near, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) and many other forms of lilies will begin to appear in bouquets, so this is a good time to spread the word; flowers in the Lilium family are extremely toxic to cats.
They are fairly non-toxic to dogs, although they can cause some stomach upset when munched on by a canine, but only the felines respond to these plants in such a way as to result in acute kidney failure.
If you have a cat, it is important to know what kind of lilies you have in and around your house. Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum), Peruvian Lilies (Alstroemeria) and Calla (Zantedeschia aethiopica) Lilies are all benign. Peruvian Lilies are very common and often make up the bulk of a “last minute” bouquet of flowers, like the ones you can pick up at the grocery or drug store. If a cat chews on these, they might vomit, like they would from any non-toxic plant, but these lilies do not have the toxin that causes the kidney failure in cats.
All plants in the genus Lilium and Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) are toxic to cats. These include Tiger (Lilium lancifolium), Easter and Stargazer (Lilium orientalis) Lilies. Every part of these plants are toxic to the cat, even the vase of water has enough toxin to cause kidney failure. Lily of the Valley is another can of worms all together.
Lilly of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a cardio-toxin so can cause serious heart problems in BOTH dogs and cats. It doesn’t bother the kidneys.
If you are ordering flowers for a friend or loved one who has a cat, please ask the florist to avoid all “true lilies”. If you are a florist, please ask the client if this bouquet will be around cats. And, if you receive a beautiful bouquet of lilies, keep it far away from your cat. My cats will chew on all kinds of plants and flowers, and they will go to great lengths to reach them.
If someone sends me flowers, I immediately put them on the outside patio table. They are still easy to see and enjoy from the kitchen windows, but my cats are safe.
The first symptom that a cat has eaten a lily is vomiting and the cat may become dull and lethargic, but by the time they have these symptoms the kidney failure has already started. It is hard to reverse kidney failure once it starts, so if you have seen your cat chewing on your flowers, immediately identify the flowers with their scientific name. In the world of Google, this is easy to do. Your veterinarian can look up the scientific name and let you know if any action needs to be taken. If the scientific name includes the word Lilium OR Hemerocallis, your cat has just ingested a very toxic substance and even a tiny amount can have dire consequences. Get to the veterinarian right away.
Your veterinarian will try to decontaminate your cat by inducing vomiting and then giving activated charcoal, a black substance that delays absorption of the toxin from your cat’s stomach. If there is pollen on the face of fur, the cat will need to be bathed to remove it before the cat starts to groom it off. Fluid therapy in the hospital with close monitoring of kidney function will be necessary. If the kidneys start to fail, even despite aggressive care, many of these cats die.
This is not a good way to celebrate the season of warming and re-birth, so stay vigilant about plants in your home and help spread the word about lilies.
For a complete list of plants that are poisonous to both dogs and cats, visit the ASPCA web site at ASPCA.org/ pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/ pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants.