lily toxicity in cats

I recently visited a florist looking for some beautiful flowers for a friend (who happens to have a cat).  After a few laps of the store I walked out frustrated and empty handed. Why? Because there were lilies in every single arrangement on display that day.  Very pretty, but deadly to our feline friends.

If you didn’t realise lilies are toxic to cats, you’re not alone.  It’s a surprisingly little known fact, yet veterinarians treat cats for lily toxicity regularly.  It’s the most common feline toxicity seen in our veterinary hospital and I’ve seen two very recently.  My cat Loki (pictured above) is fairly safe because I’m not lucky enough to receive flowers (hint, hint, husband), but many of you probably have some in a vase on the table right now. Lilies are especially popular at Christmas and Easter, but are commonly found in flower arrangements all year round.

Which lilies are dangerous?

The name Lily gets used a lot and it can get confusing.  Lilies of the genus Lilium and Hemerocallis are toxic to cats. Some of these include the tiger, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese show, stargazer, rubrum, western, wood and day lilies.

lilies that are poisonous to cats

 

On the other hand, peace lilies, Peruvian lilies, Calla lilies and lily-of-the-valley are not true lilies and do NOT contain the toxin. Importantly, lily-of-the-valley is still very poisonous to our pets, just in a different way.

lilies not toxic to cats

What makes lilies dangerous?

Cats are curious and they like to chew on things.  Ingesting any part of a lily can lead to severe, acute kidney injury.  It only takes a couple of petals or leaves or even a little bit of pollen to cause severe illness or death. If you suspect your cat may have eaten part of a lily (or even drunk any of the water the lilies are in!) it’s absolutely crucial that you speak to your vet immediately.

What does lily intoxication look like?

Early signs of lily toxicity include:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • excessive salivation
  • refusal to eat
  • abdominal pain
  • Increased or decreased urination

Some cats also experience neurological signs such as:

  • loss of balance
  • head pressing
  • tremors
  • seizures

Any of the above signs warrant an urgent visit to your vet.  For the best chance of survival these kitties need early and aggressive veterinary treatment. Waiting until tomorrow is not an option.

What is the treatment?

Treatment of any toxicity involves the basic steps of decontamination, antidote, and supportive care.  Since there is no antidote for lily toxicity we need to rely on decontamination and supportive care.  In cats that are seen early enough, vets will normally give them something to induce vomiting to try and remove any toxin from the stomach before it is absorbed.  Sometimes it’s not possible to make cats vomit, and in these cases gastric lavage (i.e. pumping their stomach) may be necessary.

Blood and urine testing need to be performed early to assess the degree of damage already done, particularly to the kidneys.

Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy is the most important part of treatment, and needs to be started the same day as the lily is eaten for the best outcome.  This means putting kitty on a drip and introducing fluid directly into the bloodstream.  Cats are likely to require several days of hospitalisation for IV fluids, ongoing monitoring, and support.

lily toxicity in cats

So if you’re thinking of giving a beautiful bunch of flowers to someone you care about, remember to avoid those lilies if they have a cat.  Please tell your friends, and feel free to share this post or any of the images in it.

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 6 comments
  • Reply

    Your cat doesn’t even have to chew on them. If the pollen falls on the floor and the cat walks through it the cat can get quite ill.

    My friend just lost her cat when it chewed on a sprouting sweet potato. That is one I never heard of before..

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hi Connie,
      You’re absolutely right. Cats are generally such fastidious groomers that if they get a little pollen anywhere on their body they are likely to groom it off and so ingest it. I didn’t know about the sweet potatoes either – I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s cat.

  • Julie
    Reply

    I beg to differ on the peace lily. Have seen a cat take three weeks to die from chewing the leaves. The vet did everything he could but the poor thing succumbed to both kidney and liver damage.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hi Julie,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I’m so sorry to hear your tragic story. Peace lilies are not completely harmless but they are not known to be dangerous in the same way as lilium and hemerocallis I do appreciate your input and will amend the post to advise cats not to be allowed contact with peace lilies either. For further information see the Pet Poison Helpline website – http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/mauna-loa-peace-lily/

  • Joan Noonan
    Reply

    Are lilies toxic to dogs & children too?

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hi Joan,
      Excellent question! The lilies discussed in this post that cause acute kidney injury in cats are not known to be toxic to dogs. Lily of the valley is very toxic to both dogs and cats, and can cause abnormal heart rhythms and death. Unfortunately as a vet I can’t advise on children. I would suggest getting in touch with your local poisons information centre (13 11 26 in Australia) for the most accurate information.

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