As a man, I’ve never been a fan of flowers. However, even I can appreciate the beauty of lilies. Stargazer lilies, especially, with their vibrant hues, captivate the eye. But as an animal lover, I’ve come to learn a disturbing truth – lilies are toxic to cats.
These delicate flowers, so alluring that many cats are named Lily, can prove fatal. Among them, Stargazers are particularly dangerous. It’s like naming your child Cyanide. With spring approaching, lilies will soon be in full bloom, especially around Easter when Easter lilies take center stage.
The Silent Danger
Every part of the lily plant is toxic to cats. While cats typically consume the leaves, the flowers themselves are poisonous too. Merely walking through lily pollen and then grooming their paws puts cats at risk. The exact toxin, or toxins, remains unknown.
Lily ingestion often causes cats to vomit, which, in the best-case scenario, helps eliminate the plant from their system. However, the toxicity also affects the kidneys. Initially, cats may experience excessive drooling, loss of appetite, and decreased activity. As the toxicity progresses, kidney function declines. This can lead to increased urination, followed by a sudden absence of urination – often a point of no return. Kidney failure is the devastating outcome.
Treating lily ingestion is a frustrating and delicate process for all involved. If your cat has recently been exposed to lilies and hasn’t vomited, the veterinarian will attempt decontamination by removing the plant matter from the stomach. However, this proves difficult in cats, as they can’t be reliably induced to vomit.
Some cats may not react to commonly used vomiting-inducing drugs like apomorphine. Hydrogen peroxide may cause ulceration of the esophagus and stomach, while salt can be fatally toxic. Xylazine, a medication for inducing vomiting in cats, is effective only about half the time, based on my experience.
Vets equipped with endoscopy can remove plant matter from the stomach using this technique, but not all clinics have access to it.
Hope Fades, but Options Exist
Even if you manage to decontaminate your cat promptly, there is still a significant risk. Lily toxins are quickly absorbed, often requiring several days of hospitalization and intravenous fluids. In some cases, veterinarians monitor central venous pressure to administer fluids up to the heart’s limit. It’s a complicated and daunting process.
Treatment is generally successful, though it comes with its fair share of stress, as long as your cat reaches the vet before kidney function is irreversibly compromised. Once the point of no return is reached, options become limited. Hemodialysis and other advanced techniques may offer a glimmer of hope, but even they can fail.
Prevention is Key
The only foolproof solution for cat owners is to keep their homes free of lilies. This means no Easter lilies, no stargazer lilies, and not even supposedly less toxic hybrid varieties. The risk is simply too great. While my wife often jokes that I use this as an excuse to avoid buying flowers, I assure you, my intention is pure. Lilies are lethally toxic to cats.
If you have any questions for Dr. Barchas, our esteemed vet, feel free to ask in the comments below. Your question might even be featured in an upcoming column. Remember, if you’re facing an emergency, please consult your own vet immediately.