Easter lilies have traditionally symbolized the Easter holiday and the coming of spring, leading many people to decorate their homes with the trumpet-shaped flower each year. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a reminder to owners of felines that a seemingly innocuous lily could be very harmful, and could possibly kill, a housecat. Fortunately, there are signs to watch for to ensure that Fluffy has not been nibbling what he should not be.
In addition to the symbolic white Easter lily, cats can also be hurt by ingesting other lilies, such as Asiatic, Day, Japanese Show, and Tiger lilies. Calla and Peace lilies will not hurt a feline’s kidneys, but they will irritate the cat’s esophagus and mouth. Lilies of the Valley are very poisonous to the heart of a cat and will cause the heart to have an abnormal rhythm. It has not yet been determined exactly what substance in lilies is responsible for its toxicity to cats.
Cats are often drawn to houseplants or grass and it is common to see them munching on the leaves or branches of plants. This behavior makes Easter lilies especially dangerous, as the entire lily, including the flower, leaf and pollen, is poisonous to felines, states FDA veterinarian Melanie McLean. Eating a few leaves from the plant or even licking a couple of grains of pollen from their fur can cause cats to experience sudden kidney failure in a short amount of time.
According to McLean, a cat who has eaten a part of one of the lilies mentioned will soon begin vomiting, which will slowly decline in frequency within two to four hours. They may also exhibit signs of depression or a loss of appetite. Within a half-day or a day, the feline will begin to frequently urinate. Should the kidneys begin to fail, they will stop making urine and the cat will cease urinating. If left untreated, a cat will pass away between four to seven days after ingesting a lily.
McLean advises that owners of cats contact their veterinarian immediately if they only suspect that their cat has ingested a lily. If necessary, the cat should be brought to an emergency animal clinic. The mortality rate from ingesting lilies is reported to be as high as 100% if the cat is untreated or if treatment begins more than 18 hours after the cat has been exposed to the toxin. If it is suspected that the cat only recently ate part of a lily, the vet may try to induce vomiting. The cat will also be given intravenous fluids in order to save the kidneys and to prevent dehydration.
Veterinarians are trained to first consider poisoning when they are presented with young cats, who usually have well-functioning kidneys, who exhibit any symptoms of sudden kidney damage.
It is preferable that cat owners do not bring Easter lilies into their homes, but if they absolutely must, the plant should be placed somewhere that is inaccessible to their felines, bearing in mind how high cats can jump and how curious they can be. Cat owners can consider decorating their homes with other plants such as Easter Daisy, Easter Orchids, Easter Lily Cactus or violets instead of Easter lilies.
By Jennifer Pfalz