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Lily poisoning in cats

Lilies are one of those everyday items we keep in our homes and gardens that are potentially deadly for our pets. Read our article to learn what you need to know to keep your cat safe.

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Beautiful as they are, the true lily plants (Lilium sp. and Hemerocallis sp.) are extremely poisonous to cats. This includes all parts of the plant, petals, leaves, stems, pollen and even the water from the vase.

Please bear in mind that many plants also called ‘lilies’ (e.g. the Peruvian lily, Peace lily, Calla lily, Impala lily, lily of the valley, Clivia lily, Barbados lily, Glory lily) are not true lilies. Thus they may be mildly toxic in other ways to cats and dogs, irritating their stomachs and guts, causing drooling and vomiting, but are rarely fatal.

Cats are unlikely to eat lilies on purpose, but they can play-bite into petals and leaves or accidentally brush against the pollen-laden stamens, then absent-mindedly lick it off their fur. Depending on the amount of pollen, plant juice or water ingested, kidney injury or even complete kidney failure can quickly develop. It is not very clear what lily substances damage their kidneys or how exactly they do it. This only happens in cats, and not in dogs.

Symptoms of lily poisoning

Depending on the amount swallowed, age, size and general health of your cat, these symptoms can be seen hours to several days later after the contact with the plant material. These are, in a possible order of appearance:

  • Drooling and vomiting

  • Drinking much more than usual

  • Not eating

  • Urinating more than usual, then not passing any urine at all (if kidney failure sets in)

  • Being lethargic and depressed

  • Having a ‘dry’, easily tenting skin despite drinking a lot

  • Having seizures and dying

What can you do to avoid lily poisoning in your cat?

The absolute best is to prevent it altogether and not keep lilies in the house if you have a cat.

If you got lilies in house and you suspect your cat might have touched them, but not gotten any in their mouth:

  • Brush off as much pollen as possible from their fur with a cloth/paper towel

  • Wash the fur and paws thoroughly, or wipe with a damp cloth

  • Clip any fur too heavily contaminated for washing

  • Keep a close eye on your cat’s behaviour, eating and drinking

  • Get rid of the lilies

If you have seen your cat biting or licking at them, bite marks on the plant or any other signs of possible ingestion:

  • Call your vet immediately to have your cat seen, the sooner your cat starts treatment the better the outlook

What will my vet do? Treatment of lily poisoning

Sadly, there is no antidote to lily poisoning. Even with prompt veterinary care, unfortunately there is no guarantee that a cat with lily poisoning will survive. Cats starting treatment within six hours of eating lily have better odds. If a cat does not receive treatment for more than 18 hours after ingesting lily, the prognosis is very poor.

Your vet will likely:

  • Induce vomiting to reduce absorption of the toxins (if the suspected ingestion happened less than 4 hours before)

  • Give them activated charcoal for the same reason (reduce toxins absorption in the gut)

  • Start intravenous fluid therapy (together with certain drugs) to encourage urine output, ‘flush’ the circulation and the kidneys and reduce the risk of kidney damage

  • Do regular blood tests to monitor kidney function

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