Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats: A Dangerous Combination
Cats are curious creatures by nature. They love to play, jump, and roam around the house or yard, but sometimes their inquisitive personalities get the best of them. They’re just drawn to that beautiful bouquet of stargazer lilies on your kitchen table or the colorful cluster of daylilies in your garden.
Lilies are extremely popular around the world and are commonly seen in garden beds and borders and in bouquets. While their flowers are lovely to see and smell, lilies pose a significant safety threat for your cat.
Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are very dangerous for cats. The entire lily plant is toxic: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase. Eating just a small amount of a leaf or flower petal, licking a few pollen grains off its fur while grooming, or drinking the water from the vase can cause your cat to develop fatal kidney failure in less than 3 days. The toxin, which only affects cats, has not been identified. Dogs that eat lilies may have minor stomach upset but they don’t develop kidney failure.
Early signs of lily toxicity in cats include decreased activity level, drooling, vomiting, and loss of appetite. These symptoms start 0 to 12 hours after ingestion. Signs of kidney damage start about 12 to 24 hours after ingestion and include increased urination and dehydration. Kidney failure occurs within 24 to 72 hours, leading to death if the cat isn’t treated. Early veterinary treatment greatly improves the cat’s prognosis. However, if treatment is delayed by 18 hours or more after ingestion, the cat will generally have irreversible kidney failure.
Highly Toxic Lilies for Cats
The most dangerous lilies for cats include:
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Asiatic lily (including hybrids)||Lilium asiaticum|
|Easter lily||Lilium longiflorum|
|Japanese Show lily||Lilium speciosum|
|Oriental lily||Lilium orientalis|
|Rubrum lily||Lilium speciosum var. rubrum|
|Stargazer lily||Lilium ‘Stargazer’ – a hybrid|
|Tiger lily||Lilium tigrinum or lancifolium|
|Wood lily||Lilium philadelphicum or umbellatum|
Because these lilies are so dangerous for cats and there’s a high risk of death if they’re ingested, it’s best to not bring these plants into your home if you have a cat. It’s also best if you don’t plant them in your garden if your cat goes outside or if your neighbors have outdoor cats.
Other Highly Toxic “Lilies” for Cats and Dogs
Other plants may have the word “lily” in their name but they aren’t in the “true lily” or “daylily” families and don’t cause kidney failure in cats. However, these “lily” plants may cause other serious problems if ingested. Both lily-of-the-valley and the gloriosa or flame lily are very dangerous to cats and dogs.
Lily-of-the-valley contains toxins that cause the heart to beat abnormally. This abnormal heart rhythm can be life-threatening. Other signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.
The roots or tubers of the gloriosa lily may contain enough toxins to cause serious multi-system organ failure if a dog or cat chews on them.
Less Harmful “Lilies” for Cats and Dogs
Both calla lilies and peace lilies contain insoluble crystals of calcium oxalates (insoluble means the crystals don’t dissolve in water). When a cat or dog chews on or bites the plant, the crystals are released and directly irritate the mouth, tongue, throat, and esophagus. Signs may be seen immediately and include pawing at the face (because of the mouth pain), drooling, foaming, vocalizing, vomiting, and diarrhea. The signs usually go away on their own. Breathing problems due to swelling of the mouth and airways can occur but are uncommon.
The Peruvian lily contains a toxin that causes mild stomach upset (vomiting and diarrhea) if a cat or dog ingests a large amount. The signs usually go away on their own. The Peruvian lily can be mistaken for a smaller version of a “true lily” plant but doesn’t cause kidney failure in cats.
Get Quick Veterinary Treatment
If you suspect that your cat has eaten any part of a lily or its pollen or has drunk water from a vase containing lilies, immediately call your veterinarian or a pet poison control center. Depending on the type of lily, it may be a medical emergency and prompt veterinary treatment is critical. Try to bring the lily plant with you to the veterinary clinic (or take a picture of it on your cell phone). This will help your veterinarian determine if it’s one of the highly toxic ones.
Be Careful This Spring
Spring is a beautiful time of year, and springtime holidays, such as Easter and Mother’s Day, are times to celebrate with friends and family. Your feline friends want to celebrate with you. Please do your part to “cat-proof” your home and garden to keep your cat safe this spring season by choosing safer flower alternatives. (See the Pet Poison Helpline’s list of safer flower choices for cats.)
Pet Poison Control Centers
- Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661, www.petpoisonhelpline.com
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435, www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control