You admire the recently gifted bouquet of lilies that you set in a vase in the middle of your dining room table, pleased with their aesthetic. You leave the room to throw away the wrapping and when you return a moment later you find that your cat has suddenly appeared and is sniffing around the flowers. A quiet alarm sirens in your brain as something jogs in your memory. Lilies: are they really that bad for cats? 

Whilst the lily, one of the most popular flowers in the world, offer a very lovely fragrance and make wonderful décor, both indoors and out, they are highly toxic to our ever-curious feline friends. Whilst we still don’t know the exact dose that induces toxicity, we do know that cats are extremely sensitive, and if they were to consume even just a small amount of any part of the plant. Including leaves, pollen, flowers, stem, perhaps even the water from the vase. Cats can go into acute renal failure within 24-72 hours, which can be fatal in up to 50-100% of cases. 

What types of lilies cause toxicity?

Several types of lilies are dangerous for cats. Species of the ‘true lily (lilium spp)’ and ‘day lily (hemerocallis spp)’ are the most toxic. This includes the Easter, Oriental, Stargazer, Tiger, Japanese Show, Rubrum, Wood and Asiatic lilies. 


What are the symptoms to look out for? 

Clinical signs occur quickly. These include vomiting, inappetence, drooling and lethargy. After some time, you may notice that your cat is drinking more water, urinating more, or not urinating at all. They may look painful in the abdomen and you may see signs of dehydration- a dull, ruffled coat and sunken eyes.  

What is the treatment? 

Immediately wash any pollen or residue that is on your cat and take them to your veterinary clinic. It is helpful if you also take a cutting of the plant so that your vet can assess the type of lily your cat has had contact with.

Depending on how soon your cat is presented at the clinic, the veterinarian may induce vomiting and provide activated charcoal. This will help absorb any toxin that is still residing in their gastrointestinal tract, minimising absorption into the bloodstream. If, however, some time has lapsed since your cat has ingested some of the lily and presentation at the veterinary clinic, they may skip this step, take some blood work and implement supportive treatment. This is to combat the onset of acute renal failure. The mainstay treatment for renal failure is fluid therapy, in which they will closely monitor the urine output to ensure that the kidneys are still functioning. If it has been greater than 18 hours since possible ingestion, the prognosis is poorer for irreversible renal failure. 

Unfortunately, even with treatment, there is no guarantee that there will be a positive outcome. As mentioned previously, a prompt visit to the veterinary clinic after lily ingestion will result in a better prognosis. However, even with rapid treatment, there is still a chance that there could be permanent kidney damage or death. 

Prevention is better than a cure

As always, we are always there to help you when your animal gets into trouble. It is what keeps the doors of our veterinary clinics open. But we would much prefer it for your pet if it could have been avoided altogether. So if you are a cat owner, and you see a bouquet of lilies at the florist, walk right past them, or perhaps go for some roses. And if you are gifted them, maybe pass them to somebody who needs a pick-me-up; with the quick, polite question: ‘You don’t have a cat, do you?’ 

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