How to Spot Which Lilies are Dangerous to Cats & Plan Treatment
Most commonly, when we think of lilies, we think about nephrotoxicity in cats and that certainly is a primary concern. However, there are plants that go by the common name “lily” that can cause cardiotoxicity or irritation to the mouth.
Both of the true lily plants, Lilium sp. and Hemerocallis sp., can produce severe toxicosis and acute kidney injury (AKI). In fact, all parts of the plant are toxic and there are documented cases where exposure to the pollen alone has caused AKI.
According to one study, 73% of owners whose cats were exposed to a lily didn’t even realize the plant was toxic to their pets.
Here is how you can spot renal toxic lilies and what signs to watch for.
Asiatic Lilies (Lilium sp.)
These lilies can be grown outside throughout most of the U.S. The leaves radiate off a central stem and they often have large, trumpet-shaped blooms in a wide range of colors, including yellow, white, orange, pink and red. Members of the Lilium sp. can produce severe toxicosis and AKI. All parts of the plants are toxic and there are documented cases where exposure to the pollen alone has caused AKI.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.)
Daylily flowers will often appear similar to Lilium sp. flowers. The main difference is the foliage, which appears almost grassy. Hemerocallis sp. have the same concerns as Lilium sp. and can produce severe toxicosis and AKI. All parts of the plant are toxic and there are documented cases where exposure to the pollen alone has caused AKI.
Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum)
Peace lilies have green, waxy leaves. They also have a very distinct flower which is typically white, but can also be yellow or green. Peace Lilies contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. When chewed by an animal, there are immediate signs from the physical irritation of the crystals. You may see oral pain, hypersalivation, vomiting or diarrhea. Swelling may occur in the oral cavity, pharynx and tongue.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria sp.)
Lily of the Valley typically have two green, glossy leaves per plant. They grow in close groups, so it often looks like there are a large number of leaves. The flowers are white or pink and bell shaped. They grow on a single stalk and appear in early spring. While these lilies are not renally toxic, severe clinical signs may still be seen. They contain cardenolides and are cardiotoxic. The toxin is extremely potent, and all plant parts are toxic. There may be vomiting, arrhythmias, decreased CO, weak pulse, hyperkalemia and possibly death. Treatment is largely symptomatic and supportive. If signs are severe, Digibind (Digoxin Immune Fab) can be considered for treatment.
While it only takes a small exposure to potentially cause acute kidney injury, if the exposure is caught quickly, steps can be taken to ward off life-threatening problems. It should be noted that if treatment is started more than 18 hours post-exposure, the renal damage might be irreversible.
Any cat with an exposure to any part of a true lily should be on IV fluid diuresis for 48 hours to prevent acute kidney injury. Renal values and electrolytes should be monitored. The cat should be monitored for the development of pancreatitis as well.
Other supportive care for GI upset should be considered as needed. For cats who develop acute renal injury, a biopsy can be done to see if the basement membrane is still intact.
If it is intact, there is a good chance that the cat’s renal function can be saved, but it will require hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis until the kidney has had a chance to regenerate.
Unfortunately, dialysis is not always possible, as it is expensive and not widely available.