Patches was a normal, healthy, young adult cat. Nobody could have guessed that within a few days, she’d be in intensive care, fighting for her life. And if somebody had pointed to the beautiful Oriental Lilies on the table in Bronagh’s living room, very few people would have realised that the flowers were harbouring a toxin that’s commonly fatal to cats.
Bronagh first realised that there was something wrong when Patches suddenly started to drink much more water than usual. She finished the water bowl indoors, then drank all the water in a bowl outside, and then started lapping from a puddle. Bronagh put some more water out for her, and Patches sat with her head over the bowl, staring at the water. She was also dull and depressed and she refused to eat her normal dinner.
Bronagh brought her in to my clinic and a blood profile was run in the clinic laboratory. The findings were dramatic: Patches had kidney failure: she had sky-high levels of the toxic by-products that are meant to be filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. If her kidneys could not be successfully treated, her life was at risk.
Kidney failure can happen spontaneously, but there’s often an underlying cause. In a young, previously healthy cat, there are some common household substances that can cause kidney damage if ingested. Anti-freeze is perhaps the best known example: it has a taste that pets find attractive, and just a few laps of the substance can be enough to cause serious kidney damage.
I questioned Bronagh about any possible exposure to poisons, and this was when the subject of lilies came up. Bronagh loves lilies and she has a continual supply of them in her home, buying a new bunch every couple of weeks. She hadn’t realised that they were poisonous to cats.
Bronagh is not alone: most people do not know that the beautiful, sweet-smelling Lily contains highly toxic poisons that are present in the leaves, stems, flowers and pollen. Easter, Japanese, Stargazer and Tiger lilies can all cause fatal kidney failure in cats. The precise identify of the poisonous chemical is not known, but cats are uniquely sensitive, due to some quirk of their metabolism. If even tiny amounts are eaten, such as can happen if cats lick off the pollen that can land on their coat, cats can die from kidney failure. Rats and rabbits, in contrast, have been known to munch lilies without adverse effects. Dogs don’t seem to be as liable to the toxicity as cats, but there’s still a risk.
In some countries, the risk of cats being accidentally poisoned by lilies has been highlighted to the pet-owning public via the media and in other ways. In Australia, for example, most florists have posters on display reminding cat owners of the risk, and stressing the need to keep flower arrangements containing lilies out of the reach of cats. In Ireland, most people are completely unaware of the danger. It’s likely that many cats have died from lily poisoning with the cause not being identified. If owners don’t mention the presence of lilies in a home, and vets don’t ask the specific question, the information can easily be missed.
Patches was given, intensive treatment for kidney failure, having five days of intensive intravenous drips and other medication. So far, she’s been one of the lucky ones: she’s chirped up, she’s eating again, and her kidneys seem to be regaining their normal function.
Bronagh still loves lilies, but she loves cats more: she won’t be having any more lilies in her home.
- Lilies may be beautiful and sweet smelling, but they’re highly toxic to cats
- Even a light dusting of pollen on a cat’s coat can be fatal