Lily Toxicity and Cats

black cat sitting on a chair outdoors surrounded by lilium pelargonium,vegetables in dish similar to image in the book al fresco on page 100

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Stargazer lilies are bold, beautiful, fragrant and ... poisonous, especially to cats. Still, this type of lily—and its botanical relatives like Easter lily, Daylily, Asian lily, and Tiger lily—is a popular choice for holiday bouquets and garden beds. All parts of the plant, including its pollen, are soluble in water and can be deadly to feline pets. After ingesting even a tiny amount of this plant or its flower, a cat can suffer from digestive upset, nervous system damage, and potentially, kidney or liver failure.

Identifying the Toxic Parts

All parts of the lily plant are toxic, but the most toxic component is the flower itself. As little as one or two ingested plant petals have been known to cause death in animals. It's important to note that the pollen, too, can be deadly. A vase of cut lilies will shed copious amounts of pollen from the flowers' stamen and onto tabletops and into the water—it can even transfer onto your clothing (when sampling their smell). The pollen is yellow or orange (depending on the variety) and gets on everything, including the paws and fur of a cat that walks by. If this happens, immediately bathe your cat before he grooms himself and ingests the pollen.

Diagnosing Lily Toxicity

The first signs of lily toxicity develop 6 to12 hours after ingestion and may mimic grape or antifreeze (ethylene glycol) poisoning. At first, your pet becomes lethargic, loses his appetite, and may even vomit. Tremors and seizures may result from prolonged exposure. And kidney failure—identified by increased thirst and urinary output—can occur as early as 36 to 72 hours after ingestion. If you notice the early signs of poisoning, catch a urine sample (if you can) and rush your cat to the vet. Microscopic examination of the urine will reveal epithelial casts, noting extreme kidney disturbance. And a blood test may show increased levels of BUN, creatinine, and potassium, assuring the need to act quickly. Prompt veterinary care is essential, as cats treated after 18 hours of 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 the pollen, consult your veterinarian immediately. Early, aggressive treatment by a vet yields a good prognosis. Treatment includes IV fluid therapy, decontamination of the gastric tract, and hospitalization for several days. In extreme cases, dialysis and hemodialysis may be necessary. There is no antidote available for lily poisoning, as the toxic element of lilies is not fully understood.

Keeping Cats Safe

Maybe you can't resist the look and smell of fresh lilies in your home. However, the only way to keep your cat totally safe is to ban the flower from the house. While most animals have a natural instinct to avoid plants that are toxic, those known to nibble might be tempted by your tabletop centerpiece. Your best bet is to keep lilies out of your house and garden beds, as even one bite or a drink from pollen-laden water can be a death sentence for your cat.

Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only. If your pet shows any sign of illness, please consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.