Killer Lilies

Cat owners should be cautious about the danger of the common lily, a plant that many of us have in our homes and in our gardens. When eaten by cats, lily plants can cause severe and often fatal kidney disease.

What lilies cause problems?

Many lily species can cause the malady including the tiger, Easter, day, glory and stargazer lilies, as well as the Japanese show lily, the Asian lily and the Rubrum lily.

The peace and calla lily also cause kidney disease but through a different mechanism and the lily-of-the-valley is also dangerous but is different again as it causes heart disease.

All parts of the lily plant are dangerous, including the flowers, stamens, stems, leaves and roots.

How dangerous are lilies?

While the toxic dose is unknown, only small quantities of the plants need to be eaten to cause disease. The outocme of ingestion is a severe, irreversible renal failure within three to seven days of exposure.

While outdoor cats can be affected, those that are more likely to suffer are cats confined to houses and units with little access to vegetation. This is because lily plants brought into the home present a novel feature for house-confined cats. Young, curious kittens are especially likely to investigate such arrangements.

Cats also seem to be unique in their susceptibility to the toxin in lilies. Dogs can eat large quantities of the plants and only develop mild gastroenteritis while rats and rabbits show no effect at all.

What effects do lilies have?

Cats affected by lily intoxication will initially show gastritis which manifests as vomiting, a lack of interest in food and lethargy. These initial signs appear within two hours of ingestion and disappear after 12 hours, and then the cats may improve briefly before the condition progresses to serious acute renal failure within 24 to 72 hours.

Cats at this time will show a variety of effects ranging from increased thirst to the production of large amounts or urine or, alternatively, to the cessation of all urine production. Affected cats are likely to be dehydrated and they will appear dull and inactive.

If lily intoxication affects your cat, the quicker you seek treatment, the better your cat's chances of survival.

What should I do if my cat is affected?

If you see your cat chewing a lily plant or if your cat develops sudden-onset vomiting then get to your veterinarian quickly, especially if your cat has access to lily plants. Be sure you tell your veterinarian that you have lily plants present, so that he or she can determine if that is a possible cause of any disease your cat is showing.

If your veterinarian suspects that lily intoxication caused your cat's illness, he or she is likely to give medications to make your cat vomit so that any remaining plant material in your cat's stomach is removed. Your vet is then likely to place your cat onto a drip to support its circulation and to flush toxins from the kidneys. Your veterinarian may choose to flush your cat's stomach to remove any remaining plant material and may give other medications by mouth or stomach-tube to inactivate any toxins.

If you have a house-confined cat, you should not select Lilies as indoor plants or floral arrangements and homeowners who have lilies in their gardens need to be cautious to ensure their cats will not chew on the plants.

Other plants to watch for

  • Amaryllis
  • Annum
  • Azaleas
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Boston Ivy
  • Buttercup
  • Cacti (physical spines)
  • Caladium
  • Calla Lilly
  • Christmas Rose
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Clematis
  • Common/Cherry Laurel
  • Creeping Charlie
  • Creeping Fig
  • Crocus
  • Crown of Thorns
  • Daffodil
  • Daphne
  • Delphinium
  • Dumb Cane
  • Easter Lily
  • Elephant Ears
  • Emerald Duke
  • English and Glacier Ivy
  • Foxglove
  • Heartleaf
  • Holly
  • Hyacinth
  • Hydrangea
  • Impatiens
  • Iris
  • Ivy (Hedera)
  • Jade Tree
  • Jerusalem Cherry
  • Larkspur
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Lucky Bamboo
  • Majesty
  • Marble Queen
  • Mistletoe
  • Morning Glory
  • Nephthytis
  • Oleander
  • Parlour Ivy
  • Philodendron
  • Poinsettia
  • Pot Mum
  • Potos
  • Red Princess
  • Rhododendron
  • Saddleleaf
  • Schefflera
  • Snowdrop
  • Spider Mum
  • Sprengeri Fern
  • Sweet Pea
  • Tulip
  • Umbrella Plant
  • Weeping Fig
  • Wisteria
  • Yew

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 16 November 2012

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