Easter is right around the corner and while it is a time of celebration for many people, there are hidden dangers for our pets. In particular, lilies are one of the classic symbols of Easter but true lilies are very toxic to cats, causing kidney failure quickly even when very small amounts are chewed or ingested.
There are two different groups of lilies, “true” lilies and “benign” lilies. Benign lilies include Peace lilies, Calla lilies, and Peruvian lilies. These contain oxalate crystals that are extremely irritating to the mouth when chewed or eaten. They may cause drooling, pawing at the mouth, foaming, or vomiting but do not cause kidney damage like true lilies do. These symptoms are usually short lived but offering milk, canned food, or broth can help dilute and speed recovery.
The true lilies are Lilium and Hemerocallis species. These are the lilies that are so dangerous and include tiger lilies, day lilies, Asiatic/Asian lilies, Japanese show lilies, Easter lilies, Stargazers, Rubrum lilies, red lilies, Western lilies, and wood lilies. Every part of these plants is highly toxic and rapidly cause severe, life-threatening kidney damage in even very small amounts: Leaves, flowers, even pollen and water from the vase.
It isn’t known what the exact damaging compound in lilies is. We do know that whatever it is directly kills cells that make up the filtering units of the kidneys, causing the kidneys to fail. In the very early stages, there is a chance that with immediate, aggressive treatment the kidneys can recover. Treatment includes hospitalization and IV fluid diuresis for at least 48 hours both to help protect the kidneys and to speed elimination of the toxin.
It is best to skip lilies altogether in households where cats live. However, if your cat is exposed – even if they lick or chew just a few petals or leaves – it is vital that you seek veterinary attention immediately. There is a very short window of time where recovery is possible.
Karen Christopherson DVM CVA