Beautiful but Deadly, Spring Lilies can be Fatal to Felines.

Gorgeous flower bouquets marking the long-awaited return of spring can be purchased in flower shops, grocery stores and sidewalk vendor stalls. Lilies of various species are usually part of these refreshing seasonal floral arrangements, including the Easter lily, a beautiful trumpet-shaped flower with waxy white petals and a distinctive scent.  (A photo of an Easter lily is posted with this story. Photo credit: Wikipedia.)

But what many florists and pet owners may not know is that ingestion of these plants is often fatal to cats. Unfortunately, these bouquets rarely come with a warning label. If you have lilies in the house don’t assume your cat will leave them alone. We may never know what motivates cats to eat things they shouldn’t, but boredom, curiosity and interesting texture or flavor are likely reasons.

A review of the National Animal Poison Control Center data showed a correlation between consumption of Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) and acute kidney failure in cats, but not dogs. Additional reports have implicated the following varieties:

  •  Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium, formerly tigrinum)
  • Rubrum Lily (Lilium rubrum
  • Stargazer Lily (Lilium orientalis)
  • Red or Wood Lily (Lilium umbellatum)
  • Asiatic Lily (Lilium asiatica)
  • Japanese Show Lily and other Asian hybrid lilies (Lilium hybrids)
  • Day Lilies (Hemerocallis species)

Current data indicate that any Lilium or Hemerocallis species should be considered potentially toxic to cats. These groups include hundreds of lily species and countless hybrids. The common houseplants Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia spp) and Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum spp) belong to a different classification and can cause irritation to the mouth and GI tract. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), commonly seen growing outdoors in spring, can cause heart arrhythmias.

If your cat has eaten lilies, clinical signs are likely to develop rapidly. The initial signs you may notice within two hours of ingestion include vomiting, refusal to eat and lethargy due to stomach irritation.

The initial symptoms may subside, but then cats will become symptomatic again within 24-96 hours as kidney failure develops. Later signs can include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Oral ulcers and uremic breath
  • Hypothermia
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Slowed heart rate

Aggressive treatment within six hours of ingestion can prevent the development of kidney failure.  Treatment includes induction of vomiting and administration of activated charcoal products followed by intravenous fluids for at least 48 hours. If treatment is delayed for longer than 18 hours, kidney failure will develop. If not treated, death will occur within three to seven days.

Treatment after kidney failure develops is mostly supportive as there is no specific medication that will heal the kidneys. Treatment is focused on trying to reduce the accumulation of waste products in the blood that are normally excreted into the urine by the kidneys.

Prognosis for cats that have ingested lilies depends on time until treatment.  If treatment is implemented within six hours the prognosis can be excellent.  However, if treatment is delayed and kidney failure develops the prognosis is guarded.

If you think your cat may have ingested lilies seek emergency veterinary medical attention immediately!  Newtown Veterinary Specialists is open 24 hours 7 days a week, including holidays, at 203-270-VETS (8387).  You may also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline (1-888-426-4435) on your way to the veterinary hospital.

If you’re a cat owner and want to have flowers in your house or yard this spring, don’t purchase lilies of any type. Please consider educating your florist or grocer about the dangers lilies present to cats. Ideally, these plants should come with warning labels so that pet owners can make informed decisions.

Even if you don’t purchase lilies, keep all flower arrangements out of reach of nosy felines. Non-toxic fresh “cat grass” (usually sprouted wheat or oats) or fresh catnip plants are available at most pet stores if your kitty likes to chew on plants.

Newtown Veterinary Specialists wishes you and your kitty a safe and healthy spring!