Lily Poisoning in cats

Lilies are very popular plants due to their beautiful flowers, but unfortunately, they are highly toxic to cats. If your cat eats or licks a lily plant, they are likely to develop kidney damage which, left untreated, can lead to kidney failure and death.

All parts of a lily plant are dangerous, including the leaves, flowers and pollen (even in very small amounts). A common way for lily poisoning to develop is when a cat brushes past a lily, causing pollen to fall onto their fur (which they later lick off and ingest).

There are a number of different types of lilies and all of them can be poisonous including the Asciatic lily (Lilium asiatica), Stargazer or oriental lily (Lilium orientalis), Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigirnium) and Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum). Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum species) are slightly less dangerous, but are also toxic.

While the exact toxin has not been identified, exposure to any part of the plant can cause sudden kidney failure and even neurological signs in cats. Ingesting just small pieces of the petals, leaves, or even the pollen or water in the vase can result in severe, potentially irreversible and fatal kidney failure.

With true lilies and day lilies, signs of toxicity occur within 6-12 hours after ingestion, and fatal kidney failure can develop in less than 72 hours.

General signs of lily poisoning in cats:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Not eating, decreased appetite
  • Lethargy, decreased activity
  • Excessive thirst or lack of thirst
  • Excessive urination or not peeing at all
  • Disorientation
  • Dehydration – dry mouth, a dull coat, and sunken eyes
  • Tremors, seizures
  • Inability to walk, weakness
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth/gums
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Coma, death

Immediate signs of lily ingestion can be – drooling, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, pawing at the face, vocalizing.

Signs within 12 hours – diarrhea, decreased appetite, decreased activity, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure, ulcers or sores on the gums,

Signs after 12-24 hours – kidney damage starts to develop (daylilies and true lilies), Increased thirst, Increased frequency of urination, Dehydration, Depression, Tremors

After 24+ hours – kidney damage can be fatal, and neurologic signs develop (daylilies and true lilies), Seizures, Lack of urination, Disorientation, Inability to walk, Coma, Death

While there is no antidote for this poisoning, if it is detected early, your vet can provide supportive care to manage symptoms and provide your cat with the best chance of recovery.

If your cat recently ingested any part of the lily plant, generally within 2 hours, and has not vomited, your veterinarian will probably try to induce vomiting. Activated charcoal is also given by mouth to help absorb any toxins that might remain in your cat’s gut.

Baseline lab work, including a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry profile, and urinalysis are all important to evaluate your cat’s organ status, most importantly the kidneys. An abdominal ultrasound might also be recommended to see if there is any kidney damage.

IV fluids are the most important treatment, as they help prevent the kidneys from failing further and also prevent dehydration. These fluids should be given for a minimum of 48-72 hours while monitoring the amount of urine they are producing, which might require your cat to have a urinary catheter in place.

Supportive care and other treatments such as anti-nausea medications might be needed as well. While hospitalized, you cat will also have regular blood tests to continue to monitor the kidney enzymes.

Unfortunately, even with aggressive treatment, there is no guarantee that your cat will survive a lily ingestion toxicity. Early veterinary treatment significantly improves your cat’s prognosis.

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