Cats are renowned for their curiosity and interest in new additions to their space, such as a lovely bunch of flowers. And with Mother’s Day bouquets in many homes this week, it’s important to keep in mind the risk that flowers can pose to pets. For example, lilies are a spectacular and popular choice as cut flowers in bouquets and arrangements, but unfortunately, they’re extremely toxic to cats.
Sources of poisoning
Lilies that are toxic to cats include Tiger (Lilium tigrinum), Day (Hemerocallis spp), Asiatic (Lilium asiatic), Easter (Lilium longiflorum) and Japanese Show (Lilium speciosum) lilies. All parts of the plant appear to be highly toxic to cats including the petals, stamens, stems, leaves and even the pollen. And it’s not just curious cats that are at risk. Even cats that aren’t interested in nibbling on the flowers or plants can receive a toxic dose by grooming pollen off their coat after brushing up against the flowers. Ingestion of small amounts of any part of the plant or even water from the vase containing lilies can cause severe kidney damage, leading to kidney failure within 1 - 3 days and death within 3 - 7 days. The specific toxin responsible hasn’t been identified, but the renal tubular epithelium appears to be its target.
Initial signs of toxicity typically develop within 2 hours of ingestion and include vomiting, salivation, depression and inappetance. There may be some improvement in gastrointestinal signs by 12 hours post-ingestion, but by 24 - 72 hours signs of renal failure appear and as well as depression, vomiting and anorexia can include polydipsia (increased drinking), polyuria (increased urination) progressing to anuria (no urination) and dehydration. Kidneys may be painful on abdominal palpation. Untreated cats usually die within 3 - 7 days.
There is no antidote for lily poisoning, so treatment focusses on protecting the kidneys with aggressive intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and monitoring for 1 - 3 days. If the cat has only recently ingested the plant, vomiting can be induced and activated charcoal given to prevent further absorption of toxin. Early treatment is crucial, and the sooner IV fluids are started the better the prognosis. If a cat is seen eating or mouthing any part of a lily, both the cat and a sample of the plant should be taken immediately to a veterinarian for examination and treatment.
What about other types of lilies?
Other types of lilies such as Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies don’t cause kidney damage in dogs or cats, but do irritate their mouth, pharynx and oesophagus when eaten, resulting in discomfort and salivation.
What about dogs?
Fortunately lilies don’t cause kidney failure in dogs, but can cause gastrointestinal upset.
What about other flowers or plants?
Many plants and flowers are toxic to dogs or cats including the following popular cut flowers Baby’s breath, Hydrangeas, Iris, Jonquils, Tulips, Hyacinths and popular potted plants Cyclamens and Azaleas.