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Saturday, March 9, 2013


Lilies Deadly to Cats, Veterinarians Warn

Lilies, a floral reminder that winter has passed, frequently appear in homes during spring holidays as potted plants or cut flowers. But for cats, many lilies can be as lethal as they are lovely. 

Members of the plant genus Lilium produce a chemical, present throughout the plant, that can cause a cat to suffer fatal kidney failure. It can be deadly for a cat to simply bite into a lily leaf or petal, lick lily pollen from its paws, or drink water from a vase containing cut lilies. Easter lilies, stargazer lilies, and Asiatic lilies seem to be the most hazardous of this group of plants. “Some cats appear to be more susceptible than others to lily toxicity, and the severity of the resulting kidney failure also varies from cat to cat,” said veterinarian Julie Fischer of the UC Veterinary Medical Center-San Diego. “Some poisoned cats recover with minimal therapy, while others require weeks of dialysis to live long enough for the kidneys to repair themselves.” 

She noted that many cats never recover kidney function following lily toxicity and die, or are euthanized, within just a few days of becoming ill. “Symptoms of lily poisoning include vomiting, lethargy or loss of appetite,” said UC Davis veterinary professor Larry Cowgill, co-director of the UC Veterinary Medical Center-San Diego “If cat owners suspect lily poisoning, they should contact their veterinarian immediately because a cat that has consumed the lily toxin very likely will experience kidney failure within 36 to 72 hours unless it receives appropriate treatment.” 

The veterinarians note that while all plants of the Lilium genus should be considered extremely hazardous to cats, calla lilies and peace lilies, which don’t belong to the Lilium genus, are harmless to cats. Provided by UC Davis

Lily Toxicity in Cats

Stargazer, Easter, Asian, and Tiger are a few of the common lilies

By , Guide
Stargazer Lilies by steakpinball on Flickr
by steakpinball on Flickr
Stargazer Lilies (pictured here) are bold, beautiful, fragrant and... poisonous. Especially for cats. These lilies, and their botanical relatives, including Easter lily, Day lily, Asian lily and Tiger lily, are popular choices for holiday bouquets and are the favorites of many gardeners.
What makes lilies poisonous is still unknown, but it is known that the toxin is soluble in water and deadly. Cats suffer from kidney failure after ingesting even tiny amounts of this plant and flower. The gastrointestinal and nervous systems may also be affected.

What Parts Of The Plant Are Toxic?

The most toxic component is the flower itself, but all parts of this flower are toxic. As little as one or two plant pieces have caused deaths in animals. It is interesting to note that even the pollen is toxic. If you have ever been near one of these plants, you may have noticed the large amounts of pollen that fall from the stamen - on table tops, your nose, and clothing.
The pollen is yellow to orange (depending on the lily) and gets everywhere. Cats who have pollen on them should be bathed, as they ingest pollen as they groom themselves.

Clinical Signs Seen With Lily Toxicity

The first signs usually develop 6 - 12 hours after ingestion, and may mimic the signs seen withgrape and raisin toxicity and antifreeze (ethylene glycol) toxicity.

The first signs seen are:
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • tremors
  • seizures
Kidney (renal) failure follows usually follows, and the signs seen are:
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination initially, followed by lowered urine output, and finally, no urine output
  • dehydration
  • death
Kidney failure occurs as early as 36 - 72 hours after ingestion.

Diagnosing Lily Toxicity

Epitheial casts will be visible in the urine (by microscopic exam) in as few as 12 hours after ingestion of this plant. Increased blood levels of BUN, creatinine and potassium will be seen 18 - 24 hours after ingestion. Prompt veterinary care is essential. Cats treated 18 hours or longer after ingestion have a very poor prognosis.

Treatment For Lily Toxicity

If you suspect that your cat has ingested any part of the lily plant, including pollen, consult your veterinarian immediately. The toxic element of lilies is not known at this time, so there is no antidote.
Treatment goals are aggressive IV fluid therapy and protection of the gastrointestinal tract. Subcutaneous, also known as SubQ, fluids are not effective. Mortality rate has been reported as high as 100% with lily toxicity if untreated or treated later than 18 hours after exposure. Early, aggressive treatment by a veterinarian has a good prognosis.

Keeping Cats Safe

I love lilies, but have banned them from the house. My cat Barnie has been known to nibble on (non-toxic) houseplants before, and just a nibble of a plant from the lily family can be a death sentence. Your best bet is to not allow cats and dogs access to lilies, in the house or yard.
Many thanks to Justine A. Lee DVM DACVECC of the Pet Poison Helpline for assistance with this article.

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TigerLily said...

At our local vet, they have a poisonous plant poster on the wall, and the vet and I discussed that the only lilium species which are toxic to cats is Lilium longiflorum - the Easter Lily. There are many different varieties of lilies out there, and some of them are hybrids with L. longiflorum. Assuming that potentially, any lily hybrid with lilium longiflorum in it may be toxic as well. This would include LA hybrids, LO hybrids, etc.

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