Lilies Are Deadly to Cats; I Learned This the Hard Way


Spring and Easter should be times of celebration, not disaster. But if you don’t keep your feline friends away from — and I mean let them nowhere near — Easter Lilies, the season could mean death or irreparable physical harm to your cat.

I learned this lesson firsthand with my Little Yellow. He was about a year old when I brought my summer plants inside for the fall. Many could survive inside if they were out of the snow.

The plants came in off the deck into an inside enclosed, unheated area, away from the cats, who didn’t have roaming access to this area.

It was a beautiful fall day. The temperatures were up into the 70s, and that’s quite unusual for October in rural New England. I decided to open up the doors and let some fresh air inside the house while I straightened up and did that overdue housework.

I was quite engrossed in cleaning when all of a sudden I spotted Little Yellow, up on the table, nibbling on the very few lily leaves. I’d mistakenly left the door ajar, and he had snuck in. I was horrified, yelling at him to get away. He begrudgingly leaped down to the floor. The minute I turned my back, he was back at the plant, only this time, it looked like he was nibbling on the leaves. I immediately grabbed him and locked him in the living room.

I did know lilies could be toxic to cats. I was concerned. I was pacing and walking in circles. Had he just sniffed the lily? There really wasn’t any evidence of teeth marks. But one little nibble could be bad news.

He wasn’t acting like his playful self. Was he scared because I had yelled at him? Was he scared because I had reacted with haste to get him away from that plant? Or was it something more?

I immediately grabbed the phone book to get my vet’s number. It was Saturday, and I knew they’d be closed. The emergency pet clinic’s number — some 70 miles away — was on their machine. I called and took down the number.

Yellow was huddled in the corner. He was quiet, lethargic. Cats don’t have very long memories. It seemed very abnormal for him to just lay there. Was he trying to tell me something?

It wouldn’t be right not to do the best by him. I called the emergency clinic. They said, "A lily — bring him in as soon as possible."

I packed Little Yellow into a cat carrier and placed him on the passenger seat where I could keep a close eye on him. We began our 70-mile journey. It would take close to an hour and a half. I couldn’t get there fast enough.

Little Yellow was scared. He began crying with little meows. They grew louder till they became almost screams. I tried to comfort him, but he’d have no part of it. Then he started to hyperventilate. Saliva was coming from his little mouth. Was he having a kitty anxiety attack, or was this the effects from the lily? I pushed on the accelerator a bit harder. I had to travel as fast as I dared on these winding country roads. All the while, I had an eye on Little Yellow.

The trip seemed endless. I had lost two cats — one from old age and kidney problems, the other to FIP — over the past two years. I could not bear to lose another.

At the clinic, I could hardly think. I rushed in with Little Yellow and a debit card in hand. They were expecting us.

His vital signs were good, but they wanted to run some blood tests just to make sure. I retreated to the waiting area. It seemed like hours before I heard my name.

The vet: I’ve got good and bad news for you. It appears that Little Yellow is stable and has no outward signs of kidney failure. However, there are some antibodies in the blood that indicate otherwise. We’d like to put on intravenous fluids and keep him here overnight.

Yellow looked very fragile. His little arm had been shaven from his paw to his elbow. There was a big bandage on it. They put in the IV and started the drip.

Little Yellow seemed comforted by my presence. I really hated to leave him. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to be back by 7 a.m. sharp the next day, to pick him up and take him to his regular vet the next morning.

I went to the car, feeling lost. How could I have let him get into that room near that deadly plant? Why didn’t I just trash it? Will he be OK? Will he have long lasting effects from this?

At 9 p.m., I called to find he was resting comfortably. I didn’t sleep well. I had to be on the road by 5 to guarantee I’d be on time. They are only open when the regular vet’s offices are closed — nights and weekends.

My Little Yellow seemed glad to see me. My regular vet kept him for observation for 24 hours.

It was a long 24 hours, but at least I knew he wasn’t going to die — at least not that day. But if I hadn’t taken him to the emergency clinic, he could have gone toxic, even with a tiny nibble of a lily leaf. The fluids helped flush his system. If that hadn’t happened, who knows what could have happened.

Little Yellow has doubled in size and become a gorgeous Silver Maine Coon mix. He is a Velcro cat, perhaps because of his brush with death.

Read more about cats and toxic plants and foods:

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