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What is Calla Poisoning?

Calla poisoning or calla lily poisoning occurs when your cat ingests any portion of the calla lily plant. Ingestion can cause severe irritation and upset for your cat. Calla lily poisoning is common since the flowers are attractive and popular in cut arrangements and are grown in many household gardens. Calla lilies can be identified by their long, trumpet like flowers that appear on top of green stems with leaves that are broad and palm-like in appearance. Flowers can come in a variety of colors but the most classic and common variety is white with a yellow stamen in the center. Calla lily poisoning is a serious condition that can cause a great deal of pain for your cat. You should seek immediate veterinary help if your cat has ingested any portion of the plant.

Symptoms of Calla Poisoning in Cats

Symptoms of calla lily poisoning in your cat typically occur immediately after ingestion and can be incredibly painful. Signs your cat may be suffering from calla lily poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Shaking of head or other signs of pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Ulceration of the mouth
  • Intense oral and throat pain
  • Severe cases are accompanied by swelling of the throat in response to irritation

Causes of Calla Poisoning in Cats

Calla lilies contain toxic compounds known as insoluble calcium oxalates. These crystals are released when your cat bites into any portion of the calla lily plant. The compounds penetrate the soft tissues of your cat’s mouth, throat and GI tract, causing intense pain and irritation. While all parts of the plant are toxic, the highest concentrations of the crystals occur in the bulb or rootstock area. Because of the severe irritation, most cats will not ingest large quantities of the plant.

Calla lilies are not true lilies and are not in the same family as stargazer, fire or other types of lilies. Calla lily poisoning should be distinguished from lily poisoning. Calla lily poisoning does not cause kidney or renal failure and, while incredibly uncomfortable for you cat, does not typically result in death.

Diagnosis of Calla Poisoning in Cats

Diagnosis of calla lily poisoning in your cat will begin with a thorough physical exam in your veterinarian’s office. Your vet will closely examine your cat’s mouth for signs of irritation. Depending on your cat’s level of discomfort, they may need to be given a mild sedative in order to allow the vet to perform the exam. In cases of a severe reaction your vet may wish to view the tissues of your cat’s throat. This will be done by placing a small, specialized camera into your cat’s mouth and down their throat. These pictures will help determine the extent of the poisoning and how aggressive treatment should be.

For this initial vet visit, you should be prepared to provide a thorough physical and medical history of your cat. If you witness your cat chewing on any household or garden plants you should bring along a sample of that plant. The sample should be large enough to allow your vet to easily identify which species of plant they ingested, which will help direct the appropriate course of treatment. 

Treatment of Calla Poisoning in Cats

Treatment of calla lily poisoning in your cat will address both the symptoms and the underlying cause. Your vet will first address any life-threatening symptoms. In some cats, irritation from calla lily poisoning can be so severe that it causes the tissues of their mouth and airways to swell making drinking, eating and breathing difficult. If this is the case, your vet will administer anti-inflammatory drugs to your cat, which will help ease the swelling. Drugs that open up the airway passages may also be given in connection. Finally, your vet may give injections of pain medication to help make your cat comfortable.

Since cats rarely ingest large quantities of calla lily plant, forcing your cat to vomit isn’t generally needed for this type of plant poisoning. Your vet will most likely perform oral, throat and, in some cases, stomach lavage of your cat in an attempt to rinse away any remaining crystals. This will involve squirting saline into your cat’s mouth via a needle-less syringe and allowing the fluid to drain out of their mouth. This will be done repeatedly to attempt to ease your cat’s reaction. IV fluids may also be given to help prevent dehydration until your cat is able to take fluids orally.

Recovery of Calla Poisoning in Cats

With proper care and veterinary attention, your cat has an excellent prognosis for full recovery from calla lily poisoning. Symptoms may persist for several days and your cat should be kept in a calm, quiet space to allow their damaged tissues to heal. Pet owners should either eliminate calla lilies from their home or yard, or remove the cat’s ability to come in contact with these plants in the future.