Last week, I gave some hints on how to avoid a spring-time visit to your veterinarian. As the Easter holiday approaches, I wanted to hammer this point in … especially for you cat owners.
This time of the year makes veterinarians cringe. That’s because with Easter comes Easter lilies, and with that, we veterinarians see the number of cats poisoned by lilies increase exponentially. I particularly hate this time of the year, as it hits home for me.
Years ago, I presented my sister with the gift of an orange and white tabby kitten (named "Oscar"). One day, she called me stating that he wasn’t eating or moving; Oscar was just sitting in the litter box but not urinating. I had my sister rush Oscar to Animal Medical Center in New York, as I suspected he had a feline urethral obstruction.
Little did I know the true story behind it — my sister’s housemate had received a bouquet of flowers a few days prior, and unfortunately Oscar found the one Easter lily in the huge bouquet and chewed on one of the leafs. Sadly, after several thousand dollars of aggressive IV fluid therapy, he died of anuric kidney failure — both his kidneys had shut down completely from the lily poisoning.
For cats, really dangerous lilies include the "true lilies" (Lilium or Hemerocallis species), including the Asiatic, Tiger, day, Easter, and Japanese Show lilies. Eating as little as one lily leaf, petal, or stem — even the pollen — can result in signs of fatal severe, acute kidney failure in cats.
In most situations, signs of poisoning will develop within 6 to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration, with symptoms worsening as kidney failure develops. Some cats can even experience disorientation, staggering, seizures, and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) from lily poisoning also.
Cats can die within two to three days despite aggressive medical treatment. As there is no antidote, the best treatment is decontamination and aggressive IV fluids. If IV fluids are not started within hours of ingestion, or if a cat stops urinating, the changes of survival are low. When in doubt, get to your vet stat or call Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) for assistance.
Why are cats so exposed? First, curiosity literally killed the cat. We know that because of their curiosity, cats will chew on anything green or scrumptious in the household (and no, pets are never "smart" enough to avoid poisonous plants). Secondly, lilies are so prevalent. Because lilies are easy to grow, inexpensive, fragrant, and preserve well in a bouquet, they are a florist’s first choice to use in a bouquet. Lilies are also perennial (meaning they come back every year in your garden or yard without any green thumb required), making them a low-maintenance choice by landscapers or gardeners.
If you (or your neighbor) have any lilies in the garden, keep your cat on a leash so he avoids chewing into these plants. And certainly avoid bringing in any fresh cuttings from your garden if you can’t identify what type of flower or plant it is!
What else can we do about it? Spread the word. The next time you order flowers from a florist, make sure to tell them that lilies are deadly to cats.
My dream? Florists creating a pet-friendly flower bouquet, based on expert consultation with Pet Poison Helpline.
Any ideas on how to increase awareness of this horrible, deadly plant to cats? (A huge class action lawsuit? Boycotting bouquets? Digging up your neighbors lilies at night?)
Dr. Justine Lee