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With the Easter season approaching, it is a good time to spread the word about a potentially fatal toxin that surprisingly few pet owners are aware of: Asiatic and Easter lilies.

These flowers are beautiful and very popular in cut arrangements and in gardens. The most dangerous varieties are of the genus Hemerocallis and Lilium and also go by the names Tiger lily, Daylily, Stargazer, rubrum and Japanese Lilies.

All parts of the plant, including pollen, are toxic to cats and, since the toxin is water-soluble, even the water in the vase is considered poisonous.

Easter Lily   Calla Lily
Easter Lilies are potentially deadly to cats.   Calla lilies are oral and stomach irritants.

Both dogs and cats are vulnerable to the kidney-toxic effects of these flowers, but felines are especially susceptible. Cats are less likely than dogs to consume non-food items, but many cats chew on plant leaves and even one or two leaves or petals consumed could be fatal for an average-sized cat.

In addition, if a cat brushes against the plant or walks through pollen that has dropped from the plant, then the cat grooms that pollen off of its coat or paws, that minimal exposure could also impact the health of the pet's kidneys.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting (especially if pieces of plant are in the vomit)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination followed by decreased urination, then no urine produced as the kidneys shut down (Complete kidney failure could result in just three days.)

If you suspect recent ingestion (less than three hours), your cat should be brought to a veterinary facility immediately to induce vomiting, administer oral substances that will bind the toxins in the gut, and draw blood to check kidney function. Ideally, bring a piece of the plant your pet ate to help facilitate identification of the species.

If more time has passed or if decontamination procedures are unsuccessful (it can be difficult to make cats vomit), your pet will be hospitalized for aggressive intravenous fluid therapy and kidney monitoring. In some cases, more aggressive treatments such as dialysis will be required. Ideally, your cat should be admitted to a 24-hour care facility for round-the-clock monitoring. Prognosis is good as long as the ingestion is caught early. If more than 24 hours have passed or if you're noticing decreased urine production, the prognosis becomes more grave.

Ideally, Asiatic lilies should not be kept in homes with cats. If they are in the home, keep them high up and out of kitty's reach. Pluck any pollen-bearing stamens and clean up any dropped petals or spilled water immediately. If your cat goes outdoors, try to avoid planting lilies in your garden as well.

Other types of lilies tend to cause less severe toxicities: Calla lilies and Peace lilies contain substances that can cause oral and stomach irritation, sometimes leading to vomiting. Lily of the Valley contains digitalis-like toxins that can cause increased heart rates or arrhythmias; in high enough doses they can also cause seizures, coma and death.

If in doubt about any substances that your pet has ingested, always consult ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435). This 24-hour service carries a nominal fee (free if your pet has a registered HomeAgain microchip), but can save your pet's life.

For more information on plant toxicities in pets, visit the ASPCA website or call us at (978) 948-2345 to talk to one of our veterinarians.

Dr. Sylvia Reiser is an associate veterinarian at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center. A member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), she has an interest in feline care and behavioral medicine.