Treacherous Spring Tradition

If I could ask the garden centers and big box stores of America for just one act of goodwill this holiday season, it would be to stop poisoning my patients. Every time I stroll through a greenhouse or flip through a sale flyer and lay eyes on an Easter lily, I cringe. These plants are highly popular in spring, sold everywhere (affordable!), and lethal to cats. Yet I’ve never seen one with a warning label on it.

Cats chew on plants; nobody really knows why, except it does help them keep a firm grip on your attention, in case you were starting to lose focus. They often feel ill and vomit afterwards. Some very common houseplants even contain sharp microscopic crystals that sting the mouth during such an escapade. Thus, chewing on vegetation is not a safe or rewarding hobby, but it is very common, especially when the plant is (a) kept indoors, and when it is (b) a seasonal or temporary addition to the household. Enter the Easter lily, grim reaper of cats. Every part of it is poisonous, from the crisp and crunchy leaves to the large, spellbinding blossom, even down to each discrete particle of pollen. Yes, your cat can be poisoned by snuffling the bloom and subsequently licking the dust off his own nose. Even the runoff from watering a potted Easter lily is harmful if consumed.

When it comes to poisoning potential, lily plants are top-notch. Their sudden appearance in the home makes them especially attractive to inquisitive pets. A minuscule amount of plant mutilation, invisible to the naked eye, can still wreak enough havoc in your cat to end his life. You won’t have a clue until after the damage is done. A potent compound in lilies rapidly destroys feline kidney tissue, causing irreversible harm within 24 hours after a single exposure. Until that specific compound is identified, creation of an antidote is out of the question. If you think your cat has had a run-in with your potted lily, go straight to the vet, no matter what the hour.

Please, if you own a cat, do us all a favor and leave Easter lilies out of your seasonal celebrations. Other plants in the same category are day lilies, tiger lilies, and the beautiful stargazer. Avoid all of these if your cat will have access; their scientific names begin withLilium or Hemerocallis. Peace, Peruvian, and calla lilies have a different botanical classification and do not contain the same potent chemicals, so do your research. Scientific names don’t lie.

Lots of things in your house have the potential to poison your pet. Nearly all of them (think chocolate, sugarless gum, batteries, and prescriptions) are intended for utility or human consumption and not “for display purposes only”. No ornamental houseplant is ever going to be hustled off to safety in the refrigerator, cupboard, or medicine cabinet, and that’s what makes this situation especially dangerous. Lily producers, please put a warning label on these plants.

If I win this one, the sago palm (liver failure) is next on my hit list.

Dr. M.S. Regan