Lily Toxicity – Which lilies can kill your cat?

Many people, including cat owners, still do not know lily plants can be very toxic to our cats.  Lilies in the true lily (of the Lilium genus) and the day lily families are extremely dangerous if ingested by our feline friends, while some other types of “lilies” are less harmful. It is important to know the signs of lily poisoning, in addition to which lilies/lily-like plants pose the biggest threat to our animals.

Signs of Lily Poisoning

Early signs of lily toxicity in cats can present the following clinical signs: inappetence, depression, vomiting, and drooling.  These symptoms of decreased kidney function typically start anywhere between 0 to 12 hours after ingesting a dangerous lily. Signs of kidney damage typically start around 12 to 24 hours after ingestion and include dehydration and increased urine output. Acute kidney failure occurs between 24 to 72 hours, resulting in death if your animal isn’t treated.

Early diagnosis and treatment greatly improves your animal’s prognosis as a lot of animals can be pulled out of the kidney failure through aggressive emergency medical management and hospitalization on IV fluids for at least 3 days and often up to 7 days. However, irreversible kidney failure will most likely occur if treatment is delayed for 18 or more hours after ingesting the plant.

Tiger Lily
Tiger Lily

Dangerous Lilies for Cats

The most dangerous types of lilies that can cause kidney damage or in severe cases result in fatal kidney failure are as follows: the day lily (of the genus Hemerocallis), Asiatic lily, Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium), Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), Stargazer lily, Rubrum lily, Oriental lily, Wood lily, and Japanese Show lily. While all of the above lilies are extremely dangerous to cats, the Easter lily, Stargazer lily, and Asiatic lily are believed to be the most toxic.

Kidney failure in cats has been reported from ingesting as low a dose as one lily leaf or petal, and even drinking the water from the vase they reside in. In fact, the entire plant is toxic from the lily pollen all the way down to the stem. While the lily toxin only affects cats, the toxin has not yet been identified. If your dog ingests any of the above plants this may result in an upset stomach, but will not result in kidney failure.

Stargazer Lily
Stargazer Lily

Other Dangerous “Lilies” for Cats and Dogs

Some plants have “lily” in their name but do not belong to the “true lily” or the “day lily” families, so they do not cause kidney failure for your animals. However, this does not mean they are not toxic to our feline friends if ingested. In fact, the lily of the valley and the flame lily are very dangerous for both cats and dogs.

The lily of the valley does not cause kidney failure but can still be lethal to both dogs and cats as it can cause serious life threatening heart problems such as low blood pressure and/or an irregular heartbeat. Vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness are all signs of possible ingestion.

The flame lily can cause serious multi-system organ failure for both dogs and cats if your animal chews on the roots and tubers of this plant.

Less Dangerous “Lilies” for Cats and Dogs

Other types of plants that are commonly mistaken for lilies but do not belong to the true lily or day lily families such as the Peruvian lily, peace lily, and calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), can all be toxic to both dogs and cats.

Fortunately the toxicity of the Peruvian lily is not lethal and will usually only cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, anorexia, and tremors. These gastrointestinal signs can be reduced greatly with timely IV fluid support and anti-nausea medications, or even go away on their own.

Calla lilies and peace lilies are also not lethal and usually cause drooling or foaming at the mouth, pawing at the mouth, and even transient vomiting. These signs are due to the insoluble oxalate crystals that cause oral/pharyngeal irritant and the signs can be greatly reduced by oral decontamination or oftentimes signs stop persisting on their own.

Preventative Measures

The easiest way to prevent lily toxicity is to keep your animal away from all of the plants mentioned above. Do not bring these plants into your home if you have a cat or dog and do not plant them in your garden if your animals have access to it. If your neighbors have cats that have access to the outdoors keep this in mind as well before planting any of the above in your garden.

Contact Us

If you believe your animal has ingested any of the plants listed above or any other potentially toxic plants, please do not hesitate to contact us at the Blue Sky Veterinary Clinic, the Animal Emergency Center of Central Oregon, and/or the pet poison helpline.  If you are uncertain of the flower type – please bring the plant or a photo of the plant ingested. Both clinics have access to pet poison hotlines and can help assist in identification and prognosis while initiating the decontamination process for your animal.