Spring is my favourite season of the year. The increasing day length and abundance of bright vibrant flowers can only act to lift one’s spirits after the bleak and cold days of Winter! However, many of the seasonal flowers that bloom in the UK at this time of the year, will be toxic to cats.

In this article we will explore which are the most fatal species and which flowers should you avoid to prevent harm to your cat.

Lilies

Partly perhaps, in response to the successful publicity drive by the veterinary cat charity International Cat Care (ICC), the most well-known toxic flower known to cats, are lilies. Any lily, from either the Lilium or Hemerocallis species, are exceptionally dangerous for cats. This includes day, Asiatic, easter, tiger, wood and Japanese show lilies.

Which parts of the lilies are toxic to cats?

Furthermore, ALL parts of the lily plant are equally as toxic. This is in stark contrast to some of the other toxic plants that cats may be exposed to. 

The flowers, leaves, pollen (which may easily stick to your cat’s fur and then be inadvertently consumed through the grooming process) are all poisonous. Even the water from a vase containing lilies, if consumed, can be potentially fatal. 

ICC have campaigned through their lethal lilies message, to get florists, supermarkets and garden centres to label lilies as toxic to cats. They have also tried to encourage and ensure that other poisonous plants are highlighted too.

Once ingested, lilies can cause a rapid decline in kidney function and irreversible acute kidney injury may result. 

My cat has only eaten a small amount of lilies, will it be ok?

There is no exact correlation with the quantity of the plant eaten and this toxic effect. Your cat may show marked lethargy, weakness, anorexia with excessive thirst. Unfortunately, death or the need for euthanasia (based on welfare and prognostic grounds), may develop thereafter. It is vital that if you think your cat may have chewed on, or ingested a lily AT ALL, that you seek immediate veterinary care without delay. 

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service identifies lily intoxication as amongst the top five reported serious intoxications of cats. This toxic flower generates a large number of enquiries into their service every year. Personally, as both a cat owner and veterinarian who has seen the devastation these flowers may cause, I would never even contemplate having them in my house! It’s just not worth the risk in my opinion.

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Daffodils

Perhaps lesser-known, daffodils, another popular and readily available spring flower, can also be toxic to cats. The bulbs are the most potently toxic region. The substances lycorine and alkaloids within this part of the flower have the potential to cause serious cardiac and respiratory illness. Hopefully, most cats would not have easy or ready access to the bulbs. 

The flowers are also toxic, however, containing a poisonous substance too that can cause vomiting. So these are best avoided, where possible.

Tulips 

Another favourite flower at this time of the year are tulips. However, whilst these flowers are also toxic to cats, again, it is the bulbs that are the most potently toxic region. Causing vomiting, diarrhoea and depression, you should avoid your cat from coming into contact with them. 

Other bulbs

The crocus plant is also toxic to cats causing gastrointestinal upsets, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, if ingested. Hyacinths are also toxic, the highest concentration of toxin being found in the bulb. Ingestion will cause drooling and potentially also vomiting and diarrhoea. Amaryllis and iris also have toxins found within the bulb of the plants.

So why are cats prone to flower toxicity? 

Cats are inquisitive animals. They are renowned for showing curiosity and are happy to investigate new plants and flowers within their environment. Additionally, indoor cats, particularly kittens, who lack exposure to plants or grasses, may enjoy interacting with new vegetation within their homes. They can easily, through this exploratory behaviour, seek out and inadvertently consume new flowers within the home.

In addition, free roaming cats, whilst not necessarily exposed to toxic flowers within the home, do have the potential to access them within the wider outdoor space. 

Signs of intoxication

The clinical signs of poisoning in a cat can be widespread and variable. They may commonly include salivation, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea. Additional symptoms involving the cardiac or respiratory systems may also feature with breathing difficulties and cardiac arrhythmias (abnormalities in heart rhythm and beat) being seen. Some toxins may cause neurological abnormalities. Twitching, seizures/convulsions, along with collapse and even coma may be witnessed.

If you know the flower type that your cat has been exposed to then, it would be prudent to inform your vet about this; even take a sample along to the appointment as well. Alternatively, any vomit that your cat may have produced, may also help with identifying and diagnosing the type of flower or plant that your cat has eaten.

Toxin treatment

Unfortunately, there are very few (if any) antidotes for many common poisons that we see in veterinary medicine. Certainly, none exist for plants or flowers. Any treatment undertaken for toxic flower ingestion will be supportive and symptomatic. 

The main aim of treatment is to rid the body of toxin where possible. As a result, decrease contamination of the gastrointestinal system, minimising absorption through the gut wall. 

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Firstly, induction of emesis (making the cat sick) can be tried. Unfortunately, the drugs that cause emesis in dogs cannot be used in cats and their substitutes, often do not seem to work reliably as well. Variable success will therefore be seen. 

The provision of intravenous fluid therapy (a drip) will also be recommended. This supports the systemic circulation, enhancing the perfusion (blood supply) to both the liver and kidneys. The organs through which the toxins will be dealt with (with the processes of metabolism, detoxification and excretion). 

Finally, the oral administration of activated charcoal will help “coat” the lining of the intestines. The aim here is to reduce any absorption of the toxin and decontaminating the bowel. 

And what else can you do?

If you do own an inquisitive cat or one who likes to nibble on plants and explore their taste, consideration should be given to growing cat-friendly plants within your garden, home or flat. Catnip, mint and cat thyme are all readily available and safe for your cat to nibble on and consume. Arguably they will also provide a great form of environmental enrichment for your cat and beneficially, pose no toxic threat to them whatsoever!

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