Lily poisoning in cats

Curiosity may not kill the cat, but lilies may prove to be fatal

Acute renal failure in cats caused by ingestion of parts of the family Lilaceae was first described in 1989 in the USA. Since then an increasing number of reports have emerged that underline the severity and frequency of this intoxication.

Pretty much all Lilium and Hemerocallis species are potentially toxic to cats. Lilium species may be found both outdoors and as houseplants, but cut flowers kept indoors generally pose the greatest risk to cats, perhaps because indoor cats have few other plant choices to munch on!

All vegetative parts of the plant have the potential to cause toxicity in cats, including the pollen, which can fall into the coat and be ingested after grooming.

Although it is well recognised that lily toxicity results in acute kidney damage, the precise mechanism of toxicity is currently unknown. The death rate is high, but there is a chance of recovery of damaged kidneys if supportive care can be provided early enough and for sufficient time.

Clinical signs and diagnosis

Initial signs of intoxication develop shortly after ingestion and predominantly reflect gastrointestinal irritation, with vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy often observed within a few hours of ingestion. In some affected cats, the severity of vomiting decreases after 12 hours and owners may feel the animal is improving.

More typically, lack of appetite and lethargy progress. Within 1-3 days of ingestion, acute kidney damage develops and the cat becomes dehydrated, gets smelly breath (and sometimes mouth ulcers) and enlarged painful kidneys.

Treatment and care of the patient

Unfortunately because the toxic agent is unknown, no specific antidote is available. If a patient is presented with a known history of lily ingestion, kidney support and and decontamination of the hair coat occurs. Once kidney failure has developed, treatment is symptomatic and supportive.

Early treatment is the best medicine

The outlook can be good if the cat is presented immediately following ingestion, and if decontamination can be carried out successfully. However, the outlook is generally very serious once kidney failure has developed, although cases presented earlier in the course of events tend to have a better chance.

Of course, the most dangerous lilies are the ones with the loveliest fragrance i.e the Day Lily, Tiger Lily and all Lilum species.

Information taken from the Centre for Veterinary Education