Well, somehow time has gotten away from me without blogging for a couple weeks….. Lots of distractions, like attending the 26th annual Genesis Awards at the Beverly Hilton. The Genesis Awards is sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, and honors major news and entertainment media for producing outstanding works that raise public awareness of animal issues. It was a wonderfully inspiring evening seeing the good work so many are doing to make life better for animals. I also got to meet and rub elbows with people like Angela Kinsey (The Office) and Cloris Leachman. This week I had the honor of visiting with my Vet School classmate, Dr. Patty Khuly, who writes for vetstreet.com. She is doing such amazing things to promote and discuss veterinary care. And it was especially fun spending time with her. But let’s get back to talking about pets and poisons. Though Easter was a couple days ago, it’s still important to talk about Easter lilies.

The true lilies (Easter lilies, Stargazer lilies, etc.) are very toxic to cats. They are so toxic that some cats have reportedly been poisoned by simply lapping water from a vase containing lilies, or walking through the pollen and then grooming the pollen off their paws. If you live with cats, you should not keep lilies in the home or yard.

The toxin and its mechanism of toxicity have not been identified. What we know is that they damage the kidneys by causing acute tubular necrosis of renal tubules. Kidney failure ensues. First affected cats my lose their appetite and begin vomiting. They may also produce larger amounts of urine than normal. If left untreated they may eventually stop making any urine at all, which is not compatible with life.

The very best treatment is prevention. Again, if you live with cats, please do not ever keep lilies inside. If someone brings you flowers, remove any lilies. If a cat nibbles on any parts of the flowers, leaves, or stems, he/she needs to be taken to a veterinarian immediately for treatment. Treatment might include decontaminating the stomach (which might include making the cat vomit and/or giving activated charcoal), and giving large volumes of IV fluids. If these measures are done soon after exposure, many cats will recover fully. But if treatment is delayed for any reason, kidney damage may occur. It is possible that the kidney damage will not be permanent, but the cat might need prolonged treatment with hemodialysis over several months while the tubules regenerate. But unfortunately for most cats, the damage is usually permanent. For most cats this would be a fatal ending. There is one last treatment option that is not readily available everywhere. And that treatment is giving the cat a kidney transplant. There are probably only a few veterinary surgery specialists who are able to perform transplants, so unfortunately many cats will perish after being exposed to lilies.

Now the confusing part…. Not all flowers with lily in the name are true lilies. For example, peace lilies do not cause kidney failure. They are also toxic, but by a completely different mechanism, and they are not usually life threatening.

To be safe though, don’t keep lilies if you have cats. And if you are unsure what lilies look like, have flowers identified and verify their safety before keeping them in the house or yard.