Lilies are a popular flower for decorating around Easter and in the Spring. Curious cats tend to investigate with their mouths and enjoy chewing on plants. Depending on the species of lily, ingesting even a small amount can lead to anywhere from mouth irritation to kidney failure and death. Cats are far more sensitive to the toxin than dogs, which may only experience gastrointestinal upset.
Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are the most dangerous. The whole plant is toxic including the stems, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water they are put in. The exact toxin in the lily has not been identified.
Species highly toxic to cats:
- Asiatic lily (including hybrids)- Lilium asiaticum
- Daylily- Hemerocallis species
- 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
Species highly toxic to cats & dogs:
- Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)- Contain toxins called cardiac glycosides that cause heart arrythmia (abnormal beating), vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.
- Gloriosa or flame lily- The roots of this species contain toxins that can cause multi-system organ failure.
Mildly Toxic Lilies:
- Calla lilies (Zantedeschia species) & Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum species) – Both contain insoluble (don’t dissolve in water) calcium oxylate crystals. The crystals are released when the pet bites the plant and can irritate the mouth, throat and esopahgus. Pets may paw at their mouth, drool, foam at the mouth, and cry or whine. Rarely, swelling in the mouth or airways can cause breathing issues. Ingestion can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms resolve on their own without treatment.
- Peruvian Lilies (Alstroemeria species)- Ingestion of large amounts can cause mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms will resolve on their own.
Symptoms of lily toxicity can start immediately after ingestion or up to 12 hours after. Early signs include lethargy, drooling, vomiting and loss of appetite. Damage to the kidneys is irreversible and signs including increased urination and dehydration can be seen within 12 to 24 hours. If left untreated, cats can develop kidney failure within 24 to 72 hours.
The veterinary team’s ability to diagnose most toxins depends heavily on the client. Be aware of the possible dangers around your house. Know the species of plants in your house and around your property. Supplying pictures of the plant your pet chewed on, or bringing in part of it, can be extremely helpful. Depending on the time from ingestion, blood work may already show a significant change in kidney values.
Swift treatment is imperative to a positive outcome. Depending on the species, vomiting may be induced to remove any plant parts from the stomach. Be sure to consult with the Pet Poison Helpline or an emergency veterinarian before inducing vomiting at home. Activated charcoal may be administered to bind any remaining toxins. Intravenous fluids may be needed to flush the toxins out and support kidney function. Kidney supporting supplements or prescription diets are available to slow the progression of renal disease.
The best prevention is total avoidance of any lily species in your household or on your property. If that is not an option, monitor your pets closely around these plants. Discourage chewing on any plants, whether they are toxic or not.
If you think your pet may have eaten any part of a lily or any other toxin, contact an emergency veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately. Always have the plant, toxin, or packaging available when you call and bring it with to the veterinarian.