High RiskPlants

Lilies are life-threatening to your cat!

Let’s tackle a common topic and see if we can’t get you some new information!

The basics of lily toxicity

Lily toxicity in cats, why you should avoid lilies

Why are lilies toxic?

No one knows why they are toxic to cats.  However, we do know that any contact with lilies puts kitties at risk of developing kidney failure.  Even small oral exposures to the lily pollen or having the pollen sprinkled down on their fur is potentially enough to kill a feline. While lilies are my favorite flower with their gorgeous coloring, it is a bad idea to have them in the territory of your cat.

What are the signs of lily exposure?

If your cat has had even casual contact with a lily, immediately take them to the vet for treatment.  Some of the following are signs we might see in association with lily poisoning:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Unwillingness to eat and drink
  • Increases in thirst (and possibly urination) for the first two days
  • Kidney failure in 1-2 days
  • Decreases in the amount of urination as the kidneys shut down
  • Eventual cessation of urination
  • Death in 4-7 days

Since these are classic signs of kidney damage in a cat, an owner who sees these signs should be hasty in seeking veterinary care as well even if the exposure was not witnessed.

Which lilies are toxic?

All “true lilies” are toxic to cats.  But not all flowers with “lily” in the name are “true lilies”. Peace lilies, calla lilies,  and Peruvian lilies are great examples of lilies that aren’t from the Liliaceae family. These do not cause the same signs of kidney failure (though oral and tummy irritation are still possible). Daylilies are the only exception to non-true lilies being safe. They DO cause damage to a kitty’s kidneys.  Always take the appropriate prevention measures before bringing any plant into your household.

Peruvian lily: not as toxic to catsThe peruvian lily:  beautiful alternative to true lilies, and a weed in Australia

While most of us are not botanists, there are a couple of things you can look for in a lily plant to tell a true lily from a “fake” lily:

  • All true lilies have six petals – This is actually three fat petals, and three thinner “sepals” underneath.  The sepals protect the petals.
True lily petal arrangement
  • Leaf shape – the alstroemeria (“fake” lilies) have leaves that “twist” coming from the stalk of the plant. This is a great way to tell your Peruvian lilies from the rest.
alstroemeria aurea16
Twisting leaves of a Peruvian lily
How do you treat lily exposure in cats?

If your cat was exposed, be prepared for some lengthy treatments:

  • Your cat will need IV fluids for 48 hours or more to flush and protect the kidneys as the lily passes through your cat’s system.
  • Medications will help stop vomiting and stimulate the appetite.
  • The vet will do repeat blood tests to check on kidney function.
  • For ingestion of plant material, sometimes a vet can induce vomiting. Never do this at home with a cat.
  • Lifelong diet changes and subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids at home are necessary if kidney damage is sustained.

When in doubt, always seek treatment.  Since damage to the kidneys is permanent unless treated with immediate and aggressive care, if there’s any question about what your cat got into, call poison control or your vet.  Have pictures of the flower and the leaves ready to share via email to better identify the plant.

Better yet, completely avoid bringing lilies into your home. (Sorry lily enthusiasts.  I feel your pain).

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