Tufts Veterinarians Remind Public: Kitties and Lillies Don't Mix

Flowers Can Be Toxic to Cats, May Cause Kidney Failure
April 19, 2011

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Tara Pettinato

GRAFTON, Mass. —Although they make for beautiful bouquets, lilies in Easter flower arrangements can cause kidney failure—and even death—in otherwise healthy cats, according to Emergency and Critical Care veterinarians at Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals.

According to Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, associate professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and an expert in emergency and critical care, all vegetative parts of lilies, including the flowers, stems and leaves are toxic to cats.

Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, loss of appetite and depression, and can occur as soon as two hours after the cat has eaten the plant, Rozanski says.

“Each year, we see more than 15 cats with lily-induced toxicity, and about 20 percent will die,” Dr. Rozanski says. “Many more are euthanized by their family veterinarian due to the terrible toll it takes on the cats.”

Timing can mean the difference between life and death, and treatment must be administered within a few hours after the cat has eaten the plant in order to prevent kidney failure and/or death.

While the cat may stop vomiting within 12 hours after eating the plant, it may continue to suffer from anorexia, dehydration and depression as the toxic substance in the lily causes kidney damage. The result is kidney failure and often times death.

"If you know your cat has eaten vegetative parts of the lily plant or if it has any of these symptoms, go to your local veterinarian immediately," Rozanski advises. "Your veterinarian may administer an emetic to make your cat vomit the plant material, followed by intravenous fluid therapy for several days to prevent kidney failure. Once kidney failure from lily toxicity has occurred, it usually cannot be reversed." 

Cats suffering from lily-induced kidney failure may need a kidney transplant to survive. Hemodialysis is another option for cats suffering from renal failure. Both options are costly and may cause complications that could easily be avoided by taking simple steps to protect your cat.

Rozanski says the best ways to protect cats when lily plants are in bloom are to move the plants out of your cats' reach, keep your cats indoors, and, if indoor restriction isn't possible, closely monitor their outdoor activity. When sending flowers, ask for a “cat-friendly” or “lily-free” bouquet if the recipient has cats.

As a referral and specialty hospital with 24-hour emergency and critical care services, the Foster Hospital for Small Animals treats nearly 30,000 animals each year, some of whom need advanced supportive, surgical, and medical care.

 Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; three hospitals and two clinics that combined treat log than 80,000 animal cases each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.

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