If you are a cat owner, it is important to be aware of the dangers of Lily toxicity. This is because Lily plants (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.) can cause acute renal failure in cats, leading to death in some cases. In fact, lily toxicity in cats resulted in the most calls of any toxin to Animal Poison Control Centers in North America from 2005 to 2014. If you think your cat has ingested a lily plant, contact your veterinarian immediately.
What species of lilies are toxic and poisonous to cats?
Only plants in the Lilium (i.e., true lilies) and Hemerocallis (i.e., daylilies) genera are considered poisonous to cats. Some of the more common Lily plants that are poisonous to cats include:
- Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)
- Tiger lily (Lilium columbianum)
- Rubrum lily (Lilium speciosum)
- Japanese show Lily (Lilium lancifolium)
- Asiatic Lily (Lilium asiatica)
- Stargazer Lily (Lilium Orientalis)
- Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
There are other flowers known as "lily" that aren't actual lilies, such as Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley), Spathiphyllum spp. (peace lily), and Zantedeschia spp. (calla lily). Although some of these plants may have some form of toxicity, they do not cause renal failure in cats.
What causes Lily toxicity in cats?
The poisonous element in lilies has yet to be identified. Flowers are the most toxic part of the plant, but all parts are poisonous. Veterinary attention is required even when cats are exposed to a small number of lilies. Cats may die as soon as a few hours after consuming multiple lily flowers; however, most cases of lily intoxication, if left untreated, cause acute renal failure within 12 to 36 hours.
Lily toxicity in cats occurs when they chew or ingest flowers or leaves of a lily plant. Renal failure has also been reported after exposure to lily pollen or ingestion of water from a vase of lilies. Even if the plants or flowers have been put in inaccessible locations, some cats appear to be drawn to lilies and actively seek them out.
What are the clinical symptoms of Lily toxicity and poisoning in cats?
Vomiting, depression/lethargy, and anorexia are some of the most common symptoms of poisoning and can occur within two hours of exposure. Clinical signs may go away temporarily, but they usually return within 12-24 hours as renal damage advances. Symptoms are therefore often related to renal failure and can include:
- Depression and lethargy
- Anorexia (lack of appetite)
- Ataxia (lack of coordination)
How is Lily toxicosis in cats diagnosed?
If you think your cat has been exposed to a lily, bring them to the vet immediately. Lily toxicity can rapidly progress to renal failure, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Your veterinarian will take a history and perform a physical examination. They may also recommend some or all of the following diagnostic tests:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Biochemistry panel
- Abdominal ultrasound
Based on the results of these tests, your veterinarian will be able to make a diagnosis and start treatment.
How is Lily toxicosis in cats treated?
The goal of treatment is to remove the toxin from the cat's system and support its renal function. There is no specific antidote for lily toxicity, so treatment is symptomatic and supportive. If your cat has been exposed to a lily, the first thing you should do is remove them from the area and bring them to the vet immediately. Do not try to make your cat vomit unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may administer activated charcoal to absorb the toxin. They will also likely be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids and supportive care. With early diagnosis and treatment, most cats recover from lily toxicity if their kidney levels normalize after 48 to 72 hours. However, some cases result in death even with aggressive treatment.
What is prognosis for cats with Lily toxicity and poisoning?
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, the early intervention resulted in 90% of exposed cats surviving without evidence of renal damage. In general, veterinarians believe that cats that are treated early and aggressively with gastrointestinal decontamination and intravenous fluids have a good prognosis. A more guarded prognosis is associated with cats that are brought to the veterinarian later or have evidence of renal insufficiency.
If you have any of these plants in your home or garden, make sure they are kept out of reach of your cat. If you think your cat has been exposed to a lily plant, contact your veterinarian immediately. Lily toxicity can rapidly progress to renal failure, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Please contact your veterinarian for more information about Lily toxicity in cats.