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Easter lilies are a danger to cats, veterinarian warns

April 7th, 2004, 03:27 PM
By Bonnie L. Cook

Inquirer Staff Writer

Veterinarian Paul J. McGough has seen it happen every Easter.

Cat owners decorate their homes with green and white Easter lilies, unaware that just one bite of the fragrant plant can cause kidney failure in their pets.

After treating five poisoned cats last year - two of which died - McGough, 26, has embarked on a crusade to educate owners about the holiday danger.

"If you have cats, don't get lilies, because they'll find them," he said. "It takes a small amount to kill a cat. You really just can't mess with it at all."

McGough, based in Valley Forge, said lilies contain an unknown toxin that cats cannot metabolize.

When they ingest it, cats vomit, become lethargic, and refuse to eat.

If not treated aggressively within the first 18 hours, cats go into kidney failure - something most owners don't realize.

"Once they go into it, it's so severe that we can't help them," McGough said.

Other than suffering mild stomach discomfort, dogs are not adversely affected by lilies. But a single nibble of the stems, leaves or blooms will bring a cat to the emergency room, McGough said.

There they are treated with medicine to induce vomiting and to prevent further absorption of the toxin, McGough said. The kidneys are also flushed with intravenous fluids.

If treatment occurs before kidney failure sets in, the animals survive, McGough said. If not, dialysis is needed. Most cats die and the few who survive suffer permanent kidney damage.

Last year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' poison control center received 35 reports of cats exposed to Easter lilies in the United States and Canada.

Three of the cats died or had to be euthanized, spokeswoman Dana Farman said.

The call-in center in Urbana, Ill., also managed 130 cases of exposure to other deadly plants, including tiger, rubrum, day, or Oriental hybrid lilies.

Of those, Farman said, 15 cats died or were put to sleep.

When illness strikes, cat owners do not always know that Easter lilies are the cause. That inspired McGough to send a letter to 18 businesses, including groceries, nurseries and pet-supply stores, asking owners to post warning signs about the plant's toxicity.

Although McGough heard back from a half-dozen store owners, it was not clear how many posted warning signs.

Onyx, a cat belonging to McGough's parents, survived lily poisoning.

The cat spent two days at McGough's clinic, where he was cleansed of the toxin and put on intravenous fluids.

"It was stressful, but he did all right," McGough said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Online