Many houseplants can be toxic to our pets, but at this time of year, we worry most about lilies. All species of lilies can cause acute kidney failure in cats. Other pets, such as dogs and rabbits, do not seem to be affected. The toxic principle within the plant is unknown, but all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stem and flower, appear to be toxic.
Shortly after ingestion, signs of stomach upset (vomiting, lack of appetite, or lethargy) may be seen. It is very important to seek emergency medical treatment as soon as possible to ensure the safety of your cat. Within 2-4 days of ingestion of the plant, signs of kidney failure may begin which may include, depression, vomiting, and decreased appetite and urine production.
Because the toxic principle is unknown, there is no diagnostic test to check for lily toxicity. Diagnosis is based solely on witnessing the ingestion of a portion of the plant by the cat, or seeing evidence of the plant in the vomit. Blood test will show elevations in BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine and phosphorus. A urinalysis will also be performed to look at the concentration of the urine and any abnormal cells that may be identified under the microscope that can indicate kidney damage or failure.
In order to be successful, treatment must be initiated early. It is very important to empty the stomach within 4 hours of ingestion of the plant, and administer medications to prevent absorption of the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract. When you call your veterinarian or an emergency clinic, you may be directed to induce vomiting at home using hydrogen peroxide or you may be advised to bring your cat into the hospital right away. It is also essential to provide intravenous fluid therapy for diuresis for at least 24 hours to make sure that the kidneys continue to function properly in the event that not all of the toxin was eliminated and some entered the bloodstream.
If the stomach is not emptied, and if medications are not given to prevent absorption of the toxin, signs of kidney failure can be seen within 2-4 days. The severity of the kidney damage can vary and if it is mild, the cat may be able to recover over time with aggressive therapy. In this case they may need to remain hospitalized for several days to receive intravenous fluid therapy and medications to ensure that the kidneys continue to produce urine. If they recover, the cat will need to be followed closely with routine blood work to monitor kidney function, and may require continued treatment at home with subcutaneous fluid therapy. In severe cases where the damage is extensive, there are few other treatment options, and the mortality rate from lily toxicity is high. Kidney transplantation can be a treatment option if the kidneys do not regain enough function for the cat to have good quality of life. Kidney transplants can only be performed by certain veterinary specialists at referral centers and can be very costly.
To read more about lily toxicity or seek information on other plants that may be toxic to your pets please go to the ASPCA web site and look for the National Animal Poison Control section. (www.aspca.org)