Easter is quickly approaching, falling on April 5th this year. It's the time of the Easter bunny, painted eggs, chocolate and marshmallow sweets, and lovely Easter lilies. Though if you have cats living in your home, you should strike that last one because Easter lilies, and in fact essentially all lilies, are extremely poisonous to cats.
The beautiful white flowers that we call Easter lilies are native to Japan and Taiwan and have been popular in the United States for over a hundred years. They are decorative and are frequently given as Easter gifts as potted flowers or in cut flower arrangements. Unfortunately, all parts of the plant, even the pollen, can result in toxicosis if eaten by cats.
While it is unknown what toxin in lilies makes them so harmful to felines (lilies are not poisonous to dogs), it only takes a small amount to have serious effects. Here at the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital we know of a cat who went into kidney failure after eating just one petal which fell off a plant.
Early signs of toxicosis include vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy. However, even plants considered to be non-toxic may make a cat vomit or exhibit signs of gastrointestinal problems if eaten. The only real way to know that your cat may be suffering from lily toxicity (if you didn't see it eat the plant directly) is to see parts of the plant in its vomit. There are no known tests to detect it, and the next sign of trouble will be evidence of kidney failure.
If you suspect your cat may have ingested any part of a lily, it is imperative that you take it to a veterinarian immediately for emergency care, and tell the vet of your suspicions.
Treatment usually starts with a focus on decontamination and neutralizing the poison—activated charcoal is used because its extremely porous nature allows it to bind to poisons, preventing further absorption by the body. This is followed by fluid therapy for the next 48 hours; if fluids are delayed more than 18-24 hours after ingestion, it is likely that acute renal failure will occur. Monitoring done through blood work profiles and urinalysis will be conducted at 24, 48 and 72 hours after initial treatment begins. Finally, supportive care may include drugs to control seizures, nausea and pain.
When caught in time, the problems can be arrested and renal function restored; if not, permanent kidney damage can result and death becomes likely.
Prevention is always better than cure!
The best way to avoid poisoning is to make sure a cat doesn't have access to any lilies to begin with. Fortunately there are many other flowers and plants that can be given to or received by households with cats. Some suggestions for safe Easter plant gifts include Gerbera daisy, African violet, catnip, chia plant (most commonly seen in Chia Pets), hyacinth, purple passion plant, waffle plant and spider plant. As always, prevention is the best medicine.
Case Study: Tasha & Tyler
Tasha and Tyler were brought in by their owner, Maureen M., after they ingested several leaves and petals from an Easter Lily. Maureen, who is usually vigilant about plants in the house, was decorating for an Easter dinner with family when her cats ate some of the plant. When the cats became ill, she brought them into our emergency room.
"I am so grateful for the entire staff at AAAH. My two cats ingested Easter Lillie leaves and flower pollen last week. This was potentially lethal. The veterinarians, vet techs and receptionist were wonderful. I was able to call day or night and visit several times a day while my cats were in the hospital. I was informed of necessary procedures, test results and conditions as needed. They were a godsend during this very difficult time for both my cats and myself. I came one day with a heavy heart thinking I may have to euthanize my one-year-old, and was relieved when two vets came to tell me of good test results. I really believe that they too were relieved and understood my angst. Many, many thanks to everyone involved with the care of my two beloved cats. I am grateful that our community has the AAAH."
We're glad everything worked out for Tasha & Tyler, and hope that spreading the word about the dangers of Easter lilies might save our readers the heartache and expense of emergency treatment!
—Janet Figarra, DVM