These flowers are now very popular in floral arrangements but while we may admire their beauty, they are deadly to cats. Cat owners need to be aware that having these flowers in your home can prove fatal. Lilies are a nephrotoxin (toxins affecting the kidneys) which causes acute kidney failure due to death of the renal epithelial cells.
If you suspect your cat has eaten any, immediate veterinary attention is absolutely vital.
Although any cat is at risk, indoor cats and kittens are particularly vulnerable. The exact toxin isn’t known, but what is understood is that it is water soluble and ingestion leads to renal tubular epithelial cell necrosis (death) through a mechanism which isn’t yet understood.
All parts of the plant are poisonous including the leaf, stamen, pollen, flowers and roots with only a tiny amount (less than one leaf) and even water from a vase the lilies have been in is enough to poison a cat.
Lilies of the genera Lilium and Hemerocallisare known to be toxic to cats. I am including images of some common toxic lilies to make identification easier.
Common species include:
What are the symptoms of lily poisoning in cats?
There are two stages of lily poisoning in the cat. The first stage occurs due to gastrointestinal upset. Symptoms occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion and include:
Vomiting (you may notice pieces of the ingested plant in the vomit)
If urination decreases, hyperkalemia (high blood potassium) can develop as it is the kidney’s role to remove excess potassium from the blood via the urine. Symptoms of hyperkalemia include:
How is lily poisoning diagnosed?
There are no specific tests available to diagnose lily poisoning, and diagnosis is based on a history of exposure to the plant along with signs of acute kidney failure. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat which may reveal painful and enlarged kidneys. He will need to run several tests to determine the condition of the kidneys. These will include:
A biochemical profile will be taken for testing. Elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine are both indicative of renal failure.
Urinalysis will be able to provide additional information on the extent of kidney damage and urine-concentrating ability.
How is lily poisoning treated?
Prompt medical treatment is absolutely vital, the sooner your cat sees a vet, the better. Even with veterinary attention, there is no guarantee that your cat will survive, but the chances greatly decrease if treatment isn’t commenced within 6 hours of exposure. Cats who are not treated within 18 hours generally do not survive, even with aggressive treatment.
There is no antidote for lily poisoning, treatment is aimed at removing any remaining plant material, preventing further absorption and fluid therapy.
Gastrointestinal tract decontamination by inducing vomiting and giving binders. This needs to be performed within 1-2 hours of ingestion. Activated charcoal will be administered to prevent further absorption of the toxin in the stomach.
Intravenous fluid therapy to maintain urine production is the mainstay of treatment. This treatment will be carried out for 48-72 hours. The purpose of fluid diuresis to maintain urine production to speed up the removal of toxins in the blood (known as uremic poisoning) as well as treating dehydration.
If the kidneys have stopped producing urine, then dialysis will be required to remove toxins from the blood. There are two types of dialysis.
Peritoneal dialysis is carried out by placing a tube (catheter) into the peritoneal cavity and using the peritoneal membrane as a filter. Dialysis solution enters the peritoneal cavity via the catheter, excess fluids and waste products from the blood pass through the peritoneal membrane and into the dialysis solution. After a period of time, the solution is then drained out of the peritoneal cavity.
Hemodialysis uses a dialysis machine which performs the functions of the kidney. Blood passes out of the cat’s body and into the dialysis machine where it is cleaned and then goes back into the body.
In addition to the above treatments, supportive care will be required, this may include:
Anti-nausea medication for cats who are vomiting.
Blood pressure monitoring.
Urine output monitoring.
Prognosis is good for cats who receive treatment before anuria (absent urination) has occurred, but it is guarded once the kidneys stop producing urine.
Avoiding lily poisoning in cats:
Cat owners must be aware of the risks associated with keeping lilies in their house and garden and avoid having these extremely dangerous plants around cats.
Most people are unaware of just how deadly these plants can be to cats, it is always a good idea to inform friends, family and florists of the risks lilies pose to their cats.
When ordering flowers for friends or relatives, make sure they do not contain lilies of the genera Lilium and Hemerocallis if there is a cat living in the household.