The gorgeous lily makes its appearance each year, decorating church, home, and garden. This year, I brought one home myself—and promptly asked my husband to take it to his office. I didn’t want to risk having my Easter lily anywhere near my cat Seren. For cats, the fragrant blooms can mean death.
Many lilies are lethal to cats. Easter lilies, stargazer lilies, and Asiatic lilies are the most dangerous, and different cats react in various ways. The plants contain a chemical that can damage the kidneys, and kill your cat. Just biting a leaf or petal, or licking up the water from the vase can be enough to cause serious kidney disease.
Dogs often gnaw leaves, dig up the plant, or eat the whole thing. Cats aren’t as likely to eat plants, but just biting a lily leaf or petal can kill kitty. Felines more often paw-pat and shred leaves and stems during play, and may be poisoned when they later lick and clean their paws and claws.
Cats poisoned by lily toxin typically suffer kidney failure within 36 to 72 hours. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy or loss of appetite. Some cats suffer permanent kidney damage and lose their lives, while others can recover if treated in time with dialysis that gives the organs enough time to heal.
The easiest way to protect your cats is to keep toxic plants out of reach—or out of your house altogether. Besides lilies, other potential harmful plants include rhododendron, sago palm, kalanchoe and schefflera. Azalea can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, coma and death. Eating or chewing caladium, dieffenbachia or philodendron makes the tongue and throat swell up so breathing is difficult. Mother-in-law’s tongue (snake plant) causes everything from mouth irritation to collapse. Crown of thorns and English ivy will prompt thirst, vomiting and diarrhea, stomach pain, and death in one to two days. Holly also causes stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
There are many other plants that prompt mild problems, such as excess salivation or mouth discomfort. Keeping these out of reach of curious paws may be sufficient to protect your animals. But pet lovers should steer clear of the worst plant offenders, both inside and out.
If you see your pet with one or more of these signs, particularly if a suspect plant is within reach, get help immediately! First aid can save the cat or dog’s life. Then take the pet to see the veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Different poisons require very specific first aid. Usually that will be either 1) induce vomiting, or 2) give milk or water to wash out the mouth and dilute the poison. Making the pet vomit the wrong poisonous plant, though, could make a serious situation even more deadly, so you MUST know what to do for each type of plant.
Detailed advice for dealing with the most common plant poisoning is available in the book The First-Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats. The ASPCA Animal Poison-Control Center is available for telephone consultations (1-888-426-4435) in case of poisoning emergency.
You can keep your pet family members safe and sound by choosing only pet-friendly safe varieties for your garden and home. Callalilies and peace lilies, which don’t belong to the Lilium genus, are harmless to cats.
For an exhaustive list of nontoxic plants (as well as a listing of poisonous ones!), go to www.aspca.org to visit the Animal Poison Control Center page (halfway down the left side of the homepage). Listen to the online radio podcast Pet Peeves (at www.petliferadio.com) for more insight on Episode #6 titled “Deadly Temptations.”
Amy D. Shojai, an IAABC Certified animal Behavior Consultant, is a nationally known pet care specialist and author of 22 pet books including The First-Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats. Subscribe to her free monthly e-newsletter Pet Peeves at her website www.shojai.com