Lilies and Your Cat

April 21, 2011

The genesis of this week’s blog did not come from one my patients at The Animal Medical Center, but from a trip to my local Food Emporium. As I walked in through the produce section, the smell of lilies wafted towards me. They were beautiful…and deadly, at least to cats.

The entire lily family, including Easter lilies, Asian lilies, the elegant calla lily and even the feline named tiger lily should be off limits for cat owning households. The toxic substance in lilies is unknown but the toxin appears to affect only the cat and not the dog. In addition to finding a freshly mangled plant on the windowsill, cat owners will see vomiting and diarrhea following lily ingestion. Blood tests often reveal kidney failure which in some cases can require treatment with dialysis and may be fatal.

Photo: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

Lily ingestion is a year round problem because some cats cannot resist sampling the vegetation used to decorate the house — and the problem is not just with lilies. Many other ornamental plants can be toxic to cats. Common springtime flowers on this list include amaryllis, crocus, narcissus, daffodil and azalea. Cat owners must carefully select their houseplants to avoid a trip to the emergency room following unplanned consumption of a toxic cat salad.

If your cat inadvertently ingests one of these plants or any other plant for that matter, contact your veterinarian’s office to determine if treatment is necessary. You may also contact one of the animal poison control services included in the links below. These services are open 24 hours a day to advise pet owners and veterinarians on optimal management for pet poisonings.

Animal Poison Control Center

Angell Poison Control Hotline

Pet Poison Helpline


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Keeping Rabbits as Pets

April 7, 2009

Rabbits have become one of the more common pets in the U.S. today. As recently as 25 years ago, rabbits were most popular around Easter (see and then relegated to the hutch in the backyard. No longer. Rabbits are now moving into the niche once occupied solely by cats – pets that are self-sufficient, can be litter trained, are relatively small and have a distinct personality. Of course, unlike cats, rabbits are not animals that are naturally aggressive and they rarely bite; their natural instinct is for flight when faced with potential danger.

Where Did Rabbits Originate?
jackrabbit200Rabbits that we keep as pets are descended from the European wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculi. Wild rabbits native to the U.S. are in a totally different genus, Sylvilagus, whereas the wild jackrabbit (see picture, right) is in the hare genus, Lepus. Because pet rabbits in the U.S. are never in contact with their wild counterparts of the same species, they are not exposed to many of the diseases endemic to rabbits in Europe, such as myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease.

How Many Breeds of Rabbits are There?
There are over 44 distinct rabbit breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, and other breeds are common in Europe. Rabbit lionhead-rabbitbreeds can be divided into 3 categories: small, medium and large. Small breeds include the Netherland Dwarf, Polish, Dutch, Mini Lop, Mini Rex and a newer breed, the Lion Head (see picture, left). In general, rabbits of these breeds weigh less than 5.5 lbs and tend to be quicker and sometimes a little more skittish than larger breeds. Medium breeds are the Dwarf Lop, Angora, Rex, Californian, Cinnamon, and New Zealand. These breeds generally weigh between 5.5 to 9 lbs. The very large breeds, such as the Flemish Giant and the British Giant, weigh over 9 lbs and are not as common in the U.S. as they are in Europe. Many of these breeds come in a variety of colors. In general, the lifespan of most pet rabbits ranges from 6-12 years, with the smaller breeds tending to live longer.

What Should I Feed My Rabbit?
Rabbits are easy to keep, but it is critical that they are fed a proper diet. There are 3 components to a healthy diet in pet rabbits: hay, vegetables and pellets. Hay is a necessary source of fiber, which is essential to normal rabbit rabbit-haydigestion and gastrointestinal health. The grass hays, such as timothy, brome and orchard grass, are now widely available for pet rabbits and are preferred to legume hays such as alfalfa because of the lower calcium content in the grass hays. Leafy greens and other vegetables provide fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Pellets should be fed as a balanced source of protein, fat and fiber and to provide essential minerals and vitamins that may be lacking in hay and vegetables. Timothy-based, high fiber pellets are now readily available in pet stores and online and are much healthier for adult pet rabbits than the alfalfa-based pellets formulated for commercial and laboratory rabbits. Avoid sugary treats such as yogurt drops; simple sugars are not good for rabbits and will upset the normal intestinal bacteria.

Do Rabbits Need  Checkups?
rabbit-vetAll rabbits should have a routine annual health examination in which their teeth, ears, heart, lungs and abdomen are checked. Spaying female rabbits will prevent the development of uterine cancer, which is common in intact females older than 3 years of age. Similar to cats, male rabbits are often neutered for behavioral reasons to prevent marking and aggressive or sexual behavior. As rabbits age, many tend to develop problems with overgrown cheek teeth, and twice yearly examinations may be recommended.

Signs of illness in pet rabbits are a decreased appetite, loose stool, discharge from the eyes or nose, flaky skin, constant shaking of the ears, labored breathing, reluctance to move, weight loss and blood in the urine. If any of these signs are present, you should call your veterinarian. If your rabbit has not produced stool for 24 hours or more, this could be a true emergency and a veterinarian should see your rabbit as soon as possible.

About Katherine Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, ABVP

dr-q2Since 1984, Dr. Quesenberry has been the Service Head of the Avian and Exotic Pet Service at the The Animal Medical Center. Dr. Quesenberry has co-edited several books, including Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, which is a best selling veterinary textbook, Avian Medicine and Surgery, and Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Pet Medicine I and II.

Dr. Quesenberry is the Scientific Editor for the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, an international journal published by the Association of Avian Veterinarians. She has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe about the medicine of birds and exotic pets.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Quesenberry, please call 212.838.7053.

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