Easter lilies are not catnip
I was stumped while hot on the trail to a diagnosis a few weeks ago. That's not unusual. So I did what any guy would do in a solo practice, I consulted an expert clinician.
I dialed up the local specialty clinic in Overland Park and spoke to a specialist at length. The patient in question was suffering from a kidney ailment of unknown origin. One possibly remote diagnosis was toxicosis, induced by the eating of an Easter lily. Although this patient was not near any Easter lilies, I was intrigued by the plant's possibility to harm cats.
With the upcoming holiday period, Easter lilies are a very common and popular plant found in both churches and homes. If this begins to concern you, and you have a cat or two -- read on.
Members of the "lilium" or true lily family and "hemerocallis" or day lily genera, can cause kidney failure and death if ingested by cats. All parts of the plant are toxic and only small amounts are needed; less than one leaf or a small amount of pollen can cause clinical signs.
Generally speaking, clinical signs include acute vomiting where the vomitus would contain plant parts. Although vomiting may or may not resolve, the cat will become more lethargic and refuse to eat. If you suspect your cat has eaten a lily, you should not tarry and act immediately to contact your veterinarian for care -- the sooner the better.
Treatment of lily poisoning is like all other causes of kidney failure and poisonings. Fluid therapy is indicated to keep the kidneys from shutting down. Treatment also involves attempts to decrease the amount of toxic substance actually taken in by the cat. This can be done by inducing vomiting early on or via activated charcoal, both accomplished at the veterinary clinic. Do not attempt these procedures at home. The sooner one seeks out a veterinarian for care of a sick cat who may have eaten an Easter lily, the better the outcome of saving its life.
Well, now I know I've upset all the florists or horticulturists currently peddling their Easter lilies. But, what if you have an Easter lily at home already and have a house cat? Obviously, the plant can stay, but place it in your home to assure the cat can't go browsing on it. Ironically, two of my aunts gave me an Easter lily a few years back after my mother passed away. This lily continues to stand in my waiting room at the clinic. I believe it will stay there so I can educate pet owners on its potential for harm and how to identify it.
At this time of year when spring is busting out all over, the beauty of an Easter lily with its all white, trumpeter-like blossoms is a hallmark of the season. I hope cat owners will take seriously the plant's potential for harm.
After 25 years of practice experience, I learned -- overnight -- the potential of this plant family -- now you know, too. By being careful this Easter season, you, your cat and the Easter lily can live in harmony and happiness.