Spring blooms can be beautiful but deadly to pets. Here's what you should know
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Lilies have been associated with rebirth and renewal for millennia. Ancient Romans believed that lilies sprang up when the goddess Juno spilled milk while she was nursing the baby Hercules. Lilies also represent the renewal symbolized by Easter. For cat lovers, though, lilies mean just the opposite. Every part of them -- pollen, flowers, leaves, stems, even the water in which they're placed -- is deadly to felines.
What is it about lilies that make them so toxic to cats?
"That is the million-dollar question," says Tina Wismer, DVM, a veterinary toxicology specialist who is medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. "There was a researcher at Michigan State who was looking into the toxic component. He was able to find that it is throughout the plant, but couldn't quite characterize it."
When it comes to toxicity, cats are special -- in a bad way. They are uniquely susceptible to certain plants, medications and other substances. Dogs, for instance, may simply get a little stomach upset if they eat lily flowers, but cats can develop kidney failure if not treated within the first 18 hours after ingestion. They need intravenous fluids for 48 hours to help flush the toxins from the body. Cats treated after the 18-hour time frame don't do as well and may even die.
"The toxin kills off some of the cells that line the urine tubules in the kidneys, so that debris from the dead cells plugs up the kidneys," Dr. Wismer says. "As long as you keep the fluids going and keep that debris from building up, then we have a good prognosis."
How does lily toxicity occur? A typical call that APCC receives at this time of year involves a man sending flowers to a woman.
"In the bouquet many times are gorgeous stargazer lilies, and these are highly toxic to cats," Wismer says. "The owner gets home, finds that the cat has chewed on the bouquet and for a couple of days the cat gets to spend time in the hospital."
If you have lilies in your home or yard -- which we don't recommend -- signs of trouble you may notice include pollen on your cat's face, vomiting and pieces of the plant in the vomit. The kidneys start shutting down after the first 12 to 24 hours. At first, that causes increased thirst and urination, but within two to three days, cats stop making urine.
Dogs have their own issues with different plants. While cats usually prefer to nibble on foliage and flowers, dogs may go all the way to the other end of the plant. Bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are toxic to them. If your dog likes to "help" you garden, he can be at risk if he digs up and eats the bulbs of those flowers. The petals cause only mild stomach upset in dogs and cats, but the bulb itself can cause bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhea and low blood pressure.
Certain dog breeds can be more at risk. No one who is familiar with them will be surprised to learn that one breed in particular gets into trouble from eating bulbs.
"Labradors keep us in business here at poison control," Wismer says.
Dogs who dig up bulbs may be attracted by the bone meal that some gardeners place beneath the bulb to help nourish it. Dogs eat the bulb on their way to the bone meal.
"If you're going to plant bulbs in areas that your dogs have access to, don't use bone meal," Wismer says.
Want to send a cat-loving friend a bouquet? Ask the florist to send one that's pet-safe. That way you don't end up in the, er, dog house.
Why do dogs
Q: My dog loves to eat grass. She grazes so frequently that we have taken to calling her our little cow dog. Luckily, she doesn't vomit it up. Why do dogs do this, and can it be harmful? -- via email
A: Your dog isn't alone. I've met many dogs who enjoy nibbling on the green stuff with no ill effect. In most cases, eating small amounts of grass is a perfectly normal and acceptable behavior for dogs.
Dogs who frequently eat a lot of grass and then throw it up may benefit from a veterinary visit. A physical exam may bring to light the cause of an upset stomach, but sometimes we need further diagnostics. Blood work, a urinalysis and a stool sample to check for parasites can turn up problems that might relate to grass-eating.
Some dogs may eat grass because their body is seeking some nutrient that's not available in their diet. Dogs are individuals, so some may have nutritional needs that are met with a little serving of grass.
Can grass be harmful? Well, pets can ingest parasite eggs when they eat it, but as long as you give your dog parasite preventive regularly, that shouldn't be a problem. And, naturally, your dog should never nibble on grass that has been treated with herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals. Ingesting those substances isn't good for any dog, of course, but certain breeds -- Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, beagles, West Highland white terriers and wirehaired fox terriers -- have a higher incidence of invasive transitional cell carcinoma, the most common cancer of the urinary bladder in dogs. That type of cancer has been linked to exposure to lawns treated with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.
Dogs eat grass for lots of reasons, and the truth is, we don't always know why. In your dog's case, she may simply enjoy a nice salad once in a while. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
More support for health
benefits of dog ownership
-- Many people refer to special canine companions as "heart dogs," and new research has found that the description might refer to more than just a tight emotional bond. Oregon State University students presented research last fall to the Gerontological Society of America showing that older dog owners have significantly lower levels of systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) than people who don't own dogs. The research, which hasn't been published yet, looked at a nationwide group of 1,570 participants who were at least 60 years old. That's a larger representative sample than most such studies.
-- If you don't see enough pictures of cats on the Internet, be sure not to miss Cat Art Show LA 2 from March 24 to 27 at Think Tank Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibit drew thousands of visitors when it debuted in 2014 and will feature the works of more than 70 artists. Curator Susan Michals asked artists to depict what cats meant to them: "ally, domestic partner, enemy, frenemy, allergic reaction or guru." All of the artwork will be available for sale, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Kitten Rescue Los Angeles. Admission is free.
-- A cat who apparently had enough of the Wisconsin winter escaped from her home and was found two months later -- thanks to her microchip -- in sunny Naples, Florida. No one knows how Nadia made the 1,484-mile journey, but owner Cheri Stocker speculates that the gray cat may have hitched a ride on a semi at a nearby business. A Naples woman found Nadia and asked a friend to take her to Collier County Domestic Animal Services, where she was scanned for a microchip. Two women volunteered to fly the cat home from her vacation. No word on whether she got a tan. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.