Understanding the toxicity of lilies

Posted March 29, 2014 @ 1:21pm | by Beth Ross, DVM

Although lovely to see and smell, and a strong reminder of spring and the Easter religious holiday, lilies remain one of the most common plant toxicity we see in the animal ER. The result is heartbreaking, as many cat owners remain unaware of the life-threatening danger of this beautiful and common plant and its flower.

All lilies are not toxic, but many common lilies are extremely toxic to cats (and possibly dogs, though studies have failed to reproduce toxicity in dogs). Plants in the genera Lilium and Hemerocallis are toxic. This includes (but is not limited to): the common Easter lily, tiger lily, stargazer lily (very common in floral arrangements), wood lily, rubrum lily, day lily (stella d’oro), red lily, western lily, Asiatic show lilies, and Japanese show lilies. All parts of the plant are toxic – leaves, stems, pollen, the dish of water that contains the plant roots or fallen pollen, and the flowers. While we still don’t know the exact toxic agent, we do know that death can occur after the ingestion of even a single plant piece!

The key to treatment is rapid identification of the problem, and aggressive intravenous support to try to prevent illness. We typically see kidney failure (often irreversible if ingestion occurred more than 18 hours prior to presentation in the ER), accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Some cats will develop tremors or seizures. Regardless of the signs, treatment must begin quickly and without any delay. There is no antidote, and success depends on timing and access to rapid, aggressive treatment in a veterinary hospital. These cats cannot be treated as outpatients, and are typically hospitalized for 2 – 5 days before it can be known for certain if they will survive.

Bottom line? Do not bring any lilies into a household containing cats (especially in floral bouquets) and always inquire about bouquets containing lilies when sending a bouquet to a loved one who might have a cat in the household. Be especially vigilant during the Easter season, as Easter lily toxicity is especially fatal (approaching 100%!). Furthermore, if your cats go outside, be aware that they may wander into neighbors’ yards containing lily plants. If you suspect that your cat may have even sniffed at a lily plant, seek veterinary intervention immediately, as even a few grains of the pollen can be toxic. And let all your cat-owning friends know about the dangers of lilies!

References

Small Animal Toxicology, Osweiler, Hovda, Brutlag and Lee, pp 705 - 710
VIN Case Rounds, Wismer, 2/22/2010
Veterinary Internal Medicine, Ettinger and Feldman, pp561-562

 
 
 
 
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