Veterinarian warns: keep your cats away from lilies

By Dr. Anna Kelton, Special to WiG

With Easter on the way and summer soon to follow, many of us will be buying potted lilies for our homes or planting them in our gardens. While they look beautiful, several types can be deadly to cats.

Easter lilies (Lilium longiforum) and other species of the genus Lilium — like tiger lilies, rubum lilies, Japanese show lilies, and Asiatic hybrid lilies — are among the deadliest of the Liliacae family, often causing acute kidney failure in cats. Some species of daylily (Hemerocallis species) are also believed to lead to kidney toxicity.

There are several other toxins that can cause the same acute kidney injury that lilies can, so a detailed history is critical for diagnosis with your veterinarian. Other kidney toxins include a variety of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, antifreeze, insecticides/rodenticides and certain other plants. Cats with pre-existing kidney disease are even more sensitive to acute kidney toxin damage. Clinical signs of pre-existing kidney disease include increased urination, increased thirst, decreased appetite, weight loss, muscle loss and accidents outside the litterbox. The older the cat, the more likely chronic kidney disease becomes.

This is one of many reasons to make sure your cat is up to date on veterinary visits.

All parts of certain lily plants are toxic and consuming even small amounts can cause severe poisoning, even death. It takes only a few hours after ingestion of the plant for the cat to begin to show signs of kidney failure, including vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite and pain along the lower back. As the kidney damage progresses, the symptoms worsen, and can include inability to produce urine, which is a true emergency. Without prompt treatment by a veterinarian, cats can develop kidney failure within 72 hours. Cats that are treated within 12 hours of ingestion with intravenous rehydration and rapid decontamination may survive. However, cats that do make it out of this acute phase often will have permanent kidney damage.

Cats are extremely inquisitive and may graze on plants in and around the house. Therefore, we encourage cat owners to avoid placing lilies where cats reside and substitute Easter lilies with other non-toxic plants, such as Easter orchids, Easter cacti, Easter daisies or violets.

Additionally, if you reside in an area with outdoor cats, consider skipping the lilies in favor of different flowers in your gardens.

If you suspect your cat has ingested a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian or the animal poison control center immediately. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be contacted at 888-426-4435.

Dr. Anna Kelton is a veterinarian at The Cat Doctor.