Cats and humans are often best friends, but their bodies are different, and things that are harmless to humans can be hazardous for cats. People with home gardens or free-roaming outdoor cats are often concerned about the plants their pets might get into. Lilies are a popular flower in bouquets and home gardens that can cause serious health problems for cats.
Every part of the lily plant is highly toxic for a cat. Cats can be poisoned by licking lily pollen off their coat, nibbling on leaves or petals, or licking any part of the plant. Even drinking water from a vase that held cut lilies can be fatal. Exposure to lilies causes kidney failure. Left untreated, this can cause serious illness, lifelong disability, or death.
There are many varieties of lily, and every one of them is toxic to cats. Some varieties are particularly dangerous. Asiatic lilies, Stargazer lilies, and Easter lilies need to be kept far away from cats as their pollen is highly toxic and plentiful. Peace lilies and Calla lilies are less poisonous but should still be kept away.
A cat who has ingested any part of a lily will quickly become very sick. They may begin vomiting, drooling, peeing excessively, twitching, or having seizures. Symptoms come on suddenly and are often severe. They usually start within hours of contact and then progress over several days. Cats who show these symptoms after potential contact with a lily need emergency treatment.
Early treatment is crucial for a cat with lily poisoning. Soon after exposure, the vet may give the cat charcoal to help absorb the toxin, try to induce vomiting, and give fluids and medicine to protect the kidneys. If the cat's kidneys are already damaged, the veterinarian may be able to manage the disease and save the cat's life. Even with treatments, however, kidney damage in a cat is usually irreversible.
Most indoor cats come into contact with lilies through bouquets. Cat owners receive flower arrangements and leave them out on the table, not realizing the danger. Cats love flowers, and any interesting new thing in their environment is likely to attract them to investigate. Outdoor cats are more vulnerable to lily poisoning as they may encounter lilies growing wild or in local gardens.
Ideally, cats should be kept indoors, and lilies should be kept away from the home to avoid exposure. If lilies are in the house or garden, they should be kept somewhere out of the cat's reach or covered with chicken wire. Repellent sprays or automatic air canisters could keep cats away. For outdoor cats, owners should look out for lilies growing in the area and watch the cat carefully for signs of poisoning.
If a cat has any exposure to a lily, they should see a vet as soon as possible, even if they seem unaffected. Symptoms of lily poisoning are severe and progress quickly. Some cats can even die before major symptoms start. A cat that has brushed up against a lily will need to be bathed immediately and not allowed to groom until any pollen is removed.
Every cat is at risk of lily poisoning, but some cats are particularly vulnerable. Kittens tend to be more curious than older cats, and even a very small dose of lily toxin can be fatal to them. Very old cats are already at risk of kidney failure and may have a harder time recovering.
It's not entirely clear why lilies are so poisonous. It's suspected that there is a toxin in lilies that causes cat kidneys to fail, but studies have not uncovered what the specific substance is or why it affects cats so severely. Dogs also have an upset stomach if they eat part of a lily plant, but their kidneys do not fail. Many animals, including rabbits, rats, and humans, don't get sick at all.
With emergency veterinary treatment, many cats recover completely from exposure to lilies. After 18 hours of exposure, however, the outlook is less hopeful. Irreversible kidney damage starts to occur within a day of poisoning. Cats may need specialized diets, medications, and additional treatments for the rest of their life. Sudden death can happen within days of exposure if cats don't receive proper treatment. This is why early intervention is so important.
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