Easter Toxicity Reminder: Lilies, Tulips and Chocolate
Easter is here! Easter is a time for flowers and chocolates, but be careful as some of these spring flowers and goodies can be toxic to your pets!
Lily toxicity is a problem generally associated with cats. This is because the majority of lily species are severely toxic to cats, but there are some species that are toxic to both cats and dogs.
Members of the Lilium and Hermerocallis genera are toxic to cats (but not toxic to dogs). There are many different species of plants called “lily”: Easter lily, Stargazer lily, Day lily, Asiatic lily and Tiger lily, to name a few. These plants are very toxic to cats and they can die of kidney failure if they should eat any part of the plant. All parts of the lily, including the stem, leaves, petals, stamens and pollen are toxic to cats. It only takes a small ingestion to make your cat sick, and if left untreated it can become fatal in as little as three days. Witnessing your cat chewing on a lily plant, finding a chewed on lily plant or pieces of plant in vomit allows for a definitive diagnosis and your cat should be taken to see a veterinarian right away. If you suspect your pet may have eaten some lily plant and is showing symptoms of drooling, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased urination, followed by lack of urination, or dehydration they should also be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
If your cat has only recently ingested the plant material and has still not vomited, your veterinarian will try to induce vomiting. Activated charcoal will be given orally to absorb any toxin that might remain in the gut. The treatment needed for survival is high volumes of fluids given intravenously (IV) to try and prevent dehydration and prevent the kidneys from shutting down. The fluids will be given for 1 to 2 days, while monitoring your cat's kidney chemistry as well as urine output. Cats who are treated within 18 hours of exposure to a toxic lily generally recover and do very well post recovery. However, in cases where treatment is delayed, the prognosis is generally poor and these cats do not survive even with aggressive therapy. Unfortunately, there is no home treatment that is successful in saving the lives of cats who are poisoned by lilies.
Please take note of these other lily species. These are toxic to BOTH dogs and cats, ingestion can result in the following symptoms:
Calla or Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum sp.) contain Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals that are extremely irritating to the mouth and digestive tract. Ingestion of these types of lilies can cause burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing in both dogs and cats.
Lily of the Valley (Convalaria majalis) contains cardenolide glycosides. Cardenolides are a plant derived steroid that are considered toxic and heart arresting. Ingestion of these types of lilies can cause vomiting, irregular heart beat, low blood pressure, disorientation, coma, seizures in both dogs and cats.
The toxic substances found in tulips and other members of the Liliaceae family are called tulipalin A and B. The highest concentration of these substances are found in the bulb portion of the plant. Mild toxicity from chewing the leaves or flowers can result in irritation of the oral cavity and esophagus and may cause vomiting or diarrhea. With large ingestions or bulb ingestion more severe symptoms such as depression, an increase in heart rate, changes in respiration, and difficulty breathing may be seen. This toxicity is more common in dogs who have either dug up a flower garden or have gotten into a bag of bulbs.
Chocolate is derived from the roasted seeds of Theobroma cacao, which contains certain properties that can be toxic to animals: caffeine and more importantly, theobromine. If ingested, these two ingredients can also lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal.
Theobromine causes the release of norepinephrine and epinephrine, which cause an increase in your pet’s heart rate and can cause arrhythmias. Other signs seen with chocolate toxicity can include increased urination, vomiting, diarrhea or hyperactivity within the first few hours. This can lead to hyperthermia, muscle tremors, seizures, coma and even death.
The amount and type of chocolate ingested are the two determining factors for the severity of the toxicity. The amount of theobromine varies in different types of chocolate. The order of least to highest levels of theobromine in chocolate is as follows: white chocolate, milk chocolate, semi-sweet and sweet dark chocolate, unsweetened (baking) chocolate, ending with dry cocoa powder containing the highest levels. There is a pet chocolate toxicity meter available online. This meter is only to be used as a guideline, if your pet has ingested chocolate, please contact your veterinarian.