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Pig lily (also known as 'calla lily') is a species of flowering perennial that is native to southern Africa. Nowadays, it can be found all over the world, cultivated to be used in an ornamental role in a variety of gardens due to the fact that it blooms throughout the entire year. However, despite its popularity with many gardeners, the pig lily contains chemicals that are quite toxic to most animals, including cats and humans alike.
Thankfully, the symptoms resulting from pig lily poisoning are quite visible. This means that whilst the cat will experience a considerable degree of discomfort, owners can clearly identify that there is a problem and seek veterinary help.
Within just a couple of hours of ingesting the pig lily, the cat will begin to show the usual signs of nausea. Owners can identify this via the cat trying to isolate itself so as not to be disturbed, refusing any food that is offered to it and being unwilling to let itself be touched by others. Eventually, this will develop into repeated bouts of retching and gagging before the cat will eventually start vomiting in order to void the contents of its stomach. It is worth pointing out that as distinct from the normal regurgitation of indigestible material, this vomiting will be quite prolonged due to the irritation caused by the toxins within the pig lily. The owner should make sure to provide the cat with plenty of fluids in order replace those lost to repeated vomiting. Without this replenishment, the sheer loss of water can eventually lead to dehydration, which can, in turn, cause serious side effects.
Almost immediately after coming into contact with the pig lily, the cat will begin to experience significant irritation of the mouth and digestive tract. An owner will typically notice this due to the cat drooling as it produces extra saliva in an attempt to wash the pig lily toxins out of its mouth. This irritation will also cause a large amount of redness around the nose and lips of the cat, which is typically accompanied by varying degrees of swelling. The swelling can also be an extremely visible marker of pig lily poisoning, as it can range in severity from slight inflammation around the mouth to affecting the whole face. Swelling can sometimes prove dangerous as the tongue increases in size, which can cause difficulty swallowing as well as potentially blocking the cat's airway. The severity of these symptoms will depend on the exact amount of pig lily that the cat has chewed and swallowed.
The pig lily contains chemicals referred to as 'insoluble calcium oxalates'. Insoluble calcium oxalates are, as the name would suggest, a solid form of oxalic acid. Similar to oxalic acid, which is found in a large variety of plants, these solid oxalates are produced as a means of defending the pig lily against being eaten by herbivores. The mechanism by which they work is predicated upon their crystalline structure; once ingested by the target animal, these crystals will dig into their tissues and produce large amounts of irritation. This produces discomfort, swelling and redness in the mouth as well as vomiting once the crystals reach the stomach and start to dig into its lining.
Once the cat has been brought to the vet, they will first perform a physical examination of the animal in order to assess their symptoms. They will also have some questions for the owner regarding the circumstances surrounding the poisoning (such as the order in which the cat's symptoms presented themselves) and might also want to discuss the cat's medical history. At this point, the vet may already be able to make a diagnosis due to the distinct features of poisonings caused by insoluble calcium oxalates. However, they may still wish to take a blood sample from the cat in order to rule out other conditions.
In order to help move the oxalates out of the cat's system, the vet may feed them a yogurt-based diet for a few days, as this will both soothe the irritation and dislodge the crystals embedded in the gut. The vet may also wish to start the cat on intravenous fluid therapy in order to get more fluids into the animal’s system, thereby nullifying the effects of dehydration.
The majority of cats will recover fairly rapidly from pig lily poisoning, with most only requiring under a week to regain their health. Older cats, however, may need longer for their digestive systems to fully recover. In any case, owners should make sure that their cat gets plenty of rest and is fed a bland, simple diet so that their stomach is not placed under a strain by needing to digest overly rich food.
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