Few of us realise when we plant our bulbs and bedding plants at various times of the year that we could be planting a time-bomb with regard to the lives of our cats. 

Recently in the UK, a 13-year-old cat endured a terrible death as a result of brushing up against a vase of Stargazer lilies. Then she licked the pollen from her coat. Within a couple of hours she was dead. She suffered blindness, liver failure, sickness and dehydration.

Her owners are naturally devastated and are calling for warnings to be put on all lilies sold in the UK. In the US there is a great deal of coverage warning owners of the dangers of various plants, both houseplants and plants for the garden.

An RSPCA spokesperson said that the danger of lilies isn’t widely known and that an emergency campaign would be launched.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service in London had 63 enquiries about lilies last year, 40 of which involved cats. Three cats died and two had to be euthanised. 

All parts of the lily are toxic and it would seem that cats are the only animals to be affected by lilies in this way. The first symptoms likely after ingesting lilies are depression, lack of appetite, and sometimes vomiting. If left untreated, the symptoms will worsen and include bad breath, dehydration, diarrhoea, and breathing difficulties. It is likely the cat will eventually suffer from acute renal failure and if medical treatment is not sought within hours the cat will probably die. 

If you think your cat has eaten any part of a lily, you should get him to a vet as quickly as possible. The cat will probably have to go on to dialysis to improve his liver function.

Although there are many poisonous plants, it is unusual for them to cause harm to pets. Most at risk is the bored kitten or puppy that is left alone and starts to chew houseplants or picks up plant trimmings unnoticed while in the garden.

Other plants to be wary of include Diffenbachia (dumb cane or leopard lily), hemerocallis (day lily), cyclamen, poinsettia and amaryllis. Laburnum, some berries and toadstools can also occasionally be the source of a problem.  The answer is to be vigilant about what your cats are doing while you’re working in the garden and try not to plant anything that could cause any harm to your pets.

For more information, contact the Feline Advisory Bureau, which has a leaflet with details on plants that are poisonous to cats. Call 0870 742 2278 for a copy or visit the website at http://www.fabcats.org/owners/poisons/plants.html 

© Pauline Dewberry July 2005



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