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Killer Lilies

Cat owners should be cautious about the danger of the common lily, a plant that many of us have in our homes and in our gardens. Dr Jody Braddock, a lecturer in veterinary medicine at the University of Sydney recently published a detailed clinical review of the dangers lily plants in The Veterinarian and it makes interesting, and alarming, reading.

When eaten by cats, lily plants can cause severe and often fatal kidney disease.

When eaten by cats, lily plants can cause severe and often fatal kidney disease.

What Lilies Cause Problems?

lilliesMany lily species can cause the malady including the tiger, Easter, day, glory and stargazer lilies, as well as the Japanese show lily, the Asian lily and the Rubrum lily.

The peace and calla lily also cause kidney disease but through a different mechanism and the lily-of-the-valley is also dangerous but is different again as it causes heart disease.

All parts of the lily plant are dangerous, including the flowers, stamens, stems, leaves and roots.

How Dangerous are Lilies?

Dr Braddock says that while the toxic dose is unknown, only small quantities of the plants need to be eaten to cause disease. She reports of a case involving a 12 week-old kitten that had eaten small amounts of a lily plant. The plant formed part of a flower bouquet that was delivered to the owner?s apartment. This kitten made a full recovery but such is not always the case because the outcome can often be severe, irreversible renal failure within three to seven days of exposure.

She states that while outdoor cats can be affected, those that are more likely to suffer are cats confined to houses and units with little access to vegetation. This is because lily plants brought into the home present a novel feature for house-confined cats. Young, curious kittens are especially likely to investigate such plants.

Cats also seem to be unique in their susceptibility to the toxin in lilies. Dogs can eat large quantities of the plants and only develop mild gastroenteritis while rats and rabbits show no effect at all.

What Effects do Lilies Have? catoncouch200

Cats affected by lily intoxication will initially show gastritis which will be manifest as vomiting, a lack of interest in food and as lethargy. These initial signs appear within two hours of ingestion and disappear after 12 hours, and then the cats may improve briefly before the condition progresses to serious acute renal failure within 24 to 72 hours.

Cats at this time will show a variety of effects ranging from increased thirst to the production of large amounts or urine or, alternatively, to the cessation of all urine production. Affected cats are likely to be dehydrated and they will appear dull and inactive.

This is certainly a serious condition because death occurred in all affected cats in cases from 1989 to 1990 when this condition was first reported. In six later cases, three died of renal failure despite expert management. Of those that survived, all had permanent kidney damage.

If lily intoxication affects your cat, the quicker you seek treatment, the better your cat's chances of survival.

If lily intoxication affects your cat, the quicker you seek treatment, the better your cat's chances of survival.

What Should I Do if My Cat is Affected?

If you see your cat chewing a lily plant or if your cat develops sudden-onset vomiting then get to your veterinarian quickly, especially if your cat has access to lily plants. Be sure you tell your veterinarian that you have lily plants present, so that he or she can determine if that is a possible cause of any disease your cat is showing.

If your veterinarian suspects that lily intoxication caused your cat's illness, he or she is likely to give medications to make your cat vomit so that any remaining plant material in your cat?s stomach is removed. Your vet is then likely to place your cat onto a drip to support its circulation and to flush toxins from the kidneys. Your veterinarian may choose to flush your cat's stomach to remove any remaining plant material and may give other medications by mouth or stomach-tube to inactivate any toxins.

Dr Braddock concludes by saying that cats should never have access to plants of the lily family.

If you have a house-confined cat, you should not select Lilies as indoor plants and homeowners who have lilies in their gardens need to be cautious to ensure their cats will not chew on the plants.