Visiting Vet: No lilies for kitties

And no chocolate for dogs.

Lily flowers should be kept out of a vase if a cat is around. —Sabina Sturzu

Easter is right around the corner. For religious Christians, Easter is a time for celebrating their faith. For more secular folks, it is still a time of celebration. It’s spring. It’s a time for family, for fun, for Easter egg hunts and marshmallow Peeps … and for Easter lilies. This means that, for veterinarians, it is a time for anxiety. Let’s talk about lilies and cats.

In case you haven’t heard this before, here’s a public service announcement: Lilies are lethal to cats. Seriously. Even the tiniest exposure to pollen falling off a stamen can be deadly. This means if Bunny, the Burmese cat, likes to hop on the table and explore the floral arrangement in the vase, you could be putting his life in jeopardy if you have lilies on display. I have written about this many times before, but every year we still get calls about cats with lily exposure. And we still get well-meaning but uneducated owners who assume that if Bunny seems fine after chewing on the lily, that all is well. It is not.

Although we still don’t know exactly what substance in lilies is toxic to cats, we do know that any ingestion can result in acute kidney failure. Fatal kidney failure. The flowers are the most toxic portion, but all parts of the plant are extremely dangerous to cats, including leaves, blossoms, pollen, even water from the vase. It doesn’t take much. Playfully biting the leaves. Rubbing up against the bloom and getting pollen on fur or whiskers, then grooming it off. Even such minor exposures can be deadly. This is why you must contact your veterinarian immediately if Bunny licks the lilies. Do not wait. If you get to your vet soon enough after ingestion, it may be possible to induce vomiting, and purge Bunny’s system of the plant before it is too late. In addition, the recommended treatment is to try and prevent kidney damage by starting Bunny on round-the-clock intravenous fluid therapy for at least two days. For Islanders, this means a trip to the mainland for hospitalization at a 24/7 facility such as Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists.

In case I have confused you, lilies are not toxic to actual bunnies of the Peter Rabbit variety (or any other kind of rabbit, for that matter). Nor are lilies toxic to dogs, or any other species of animal, to the best of our knowledge. A dog might get a little upset tummy if he ate the Easter lily arrangement, but it’s nothing major to worry about. But for Bunny the Burmese cat, even lack of visible signs of illness is not reassuring. After lily exposure, Bunny may be completely asymptomatic at first, or he may drool, vomit, and seem lethargic. These mild signs may then resolve temporarily, leading you to believe the danger has passed, but then symptoms return as the kidneys start to fail. This can occur anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure, and may include depression, incoordination, tremors, crying, inability to stand, excessive drinking and urination, sometimes seizures, and death.

Waiting as little as 18 hours after ingestion to seek treatment can seal Bunny’s fate. One study reported that if left untreated, 50 to 100 percent of cats died. A more recent report indicated that with early intervention followed by aggressive fluid therapy, 90 percent of all cats will survive. Thus our goal must be to treat Bunny while she still looks fine, in order to prevent the kidney damage, because once kidney failure occurs, it is irreversible.

So are all lilies toxic? The Liliaceae family contains more than 160 genera, but the ones we are concerned about are just the genera Lilium (true lilies) and Hemerocallis (daylilies). Here is a list of the most toxic: Asiatic lily – including hybrids (Lilium asiatica), daylily (Hemerocallis species), Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), Japanese show lily (Lilium speciosum), Oriental lily roselily (pollen-free hybrid of Oriental lily), Rubrum lily (Lilium speciosum var. rubrum), Stargazer lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer’- a hybrid), Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum or lancifolium), Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum or umbellatum). Many of these are common in arrangements from florists, so be vigilant. Please do not bring these flowers into your home if you have cats. Don’t think it’s safe to just put these blooms on the mantel, where you think the bouquet is out of reach. Cats seem to be attracted to lilies, so Bunny may go to acrobatic lengths to investigate them. There are also flowers commonly called “lilies” that technically are not. Some of these are also toxic, like lily of the valley, which contains cardiotoxins. Others are not toxic, like calla and peace lilies. These contain microscopic oxalate crystals that can cause oral and gastrointestinal irritation, but not life-threatening issues.

If you are not sure what kind of flower is in a bouquet, ask a florist, consult your local garden center, or use a flower identification app. Better still, remove any flowers you can’t identify from the house. While you’re at it, do the dog (and your veterinarian) a favor, and also put all the chocolate Easter candy out of reach. Chocolate toxicity is what endangers dogs during this holiday (along with things like foreign body obstruction from ingestion of ham bones, or pancreatitis and gastroenteritis from binging on rich leftovers). Like lily ingestion, there is no antidote for chocolate toxicosis if you wait too long after ingestion. Inducing vomiting as soon as the dog eats the chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs is key. Be educated. No chocolate for dogs. I see at least one dog every year with serious chocolate toxicity, including the occasional death. Be educated. No lilies for kitties. The Pet Poison Hotline is doing an educational campaign with that slogan. Go to for more information, and to see pictures of some of the toxic lilies to avoid this season. And for those of us who celebrate Passover, all I can say is that gefilte fish is not toxic, though my children may disagree.