Lily Poisoning in Cats

Key Takeaways

Lily toxicosis is caused in cats by ingestion of a toxic dose of any form of the plants belonging to the Lilium genus (e.g. Asiatic, Easter, Japanese, Oriental, Stargazer, Tiger, and Wood lilies).  

• The precise mechanism of lily poisoning in cats is unknown

Ingestion of any part of the plant (stem, pollen, and petals) as well as drinking vase water is potentially life-threatening  

Feline ingestion of any quantity of lily species is an emergency

• Veterinary induction of vomiting immediately after ingestion has the best prognosis

• If treatment is delayed poisoning may develop into life-threatening kidney failure

• Treatment is supportive and includes IV fluids and anti-vomiting medication

• Prognosis is guarded and depends on the success of decontamination efforts, rapidity of treatment, and extent of kidney damage

• Left untreated, the prognosis is very poor

A Closer Look: What is Lily Poisoning in Cats?

Cats who never ingest lily plants or their pollen will not ever suffer from lily toxicosis. Lily toxicosis can result from drinking vase water or from the ingestion of ANY part of the plant. A number of other plants that are commonly called “lily” but which do not belong to the lily family do not cause kidney failure, but can cause many other problems if ingested.

Risk Factors

All plants belonging to the Lily genus are highly toxic to cats. No amount of lilies should be considered harmless to cats, as any amount can cause life-threatening kidney damage and as such must be treated as an emergency.

Possible Causes

Lily toxicosis in cats is caused by the consumption of any plant belonging to the Lilium genus, including: 

• Asiatic lily (Lilium asiaticum)

• Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)

• Japanese show lily (Lilium speciosum

• Oriental lily (Lilium orientalis)

• Stargazer lily (Lilium speciosum var. rubrum)

• Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum)

• Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

The underlying mechanism of Lilium toxicosis is unknown.

Main Symptoms

Clinical signs of lily toxicosis may be divided into early and late-onset symptoms. 

In the first 2 to 24 hours following ingestion, cats show the following symptoms:

Vomiting  

Lethargy  

• Loss of appetite

Signs of acute kidney injury and kidney failure appear within 24 to 72 hours after ingestion.  

Hypersalivation

Loss of coordination (ataxia)

Tremors

Collapse

• Vocalizing

• Weakness

Excessive thirst 

• Excessive urination

• Decreased thirst

• Decreased urination

Seizures (rarely)

Testing and Diagnosis

Early diagnosis relies on a history of exposure. The symptoms of lily poisoning are nonspecific, especially in the early phase of the condition. Most cats with the generalized signs of illness described receive the following work-up: 

• Serum chemistry profile 

• Blood work 

• Urinalysis

• Abdominal ultrasound 

 A cat with lily toxicosis shows characteristic changes on a complete blood count (CBC).

Steps to Recovery

There is no antidote for lily poisoning. If the ingestion is witnessed and the cat receives medical attention within 2 hours of ingestion, treatment focuses on gastrointestinal decontamination via induced vomiting. 

There is no way to safely or effectively induce vomiting in cats at home. 

Once symptoms start to appear, therapy is supportive and includes: 

• IV Fluid therapy: to support kidney function 

• Anti-vomiting medication  

Even with treatment, prognosis is guarded. If treatment is delayed for more than 18 hours from ingestion kidney failure is likely to develop. Left untreated for more than 24 hours, the prognosis is very poor.

Prevention

Lily toxicosis is prevented by eliminating contact with lilies. Strategies include:

• Avoid bringing any kind of lily into the house 

• Not planting lilies in the garden 

• Keeping cats indoors

Is Lily Poisoning Common in Cats?

Lily poisoning is common in cats. Outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed and exposure may increase in the spring and during times of year when lilies are more commonly found in the house and garden.

Typical Treatment

• Gastrointestinal decontamination

• Fluid therapy 

• Anti-vomiting medication

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