Contributed by: Dr. Louis Sutton, Emergency Veterinarian

Every spring, Easter lilies are abundant, and we enjoy bringing them into our homes and giving them as gifts. However, many do not realize that these plants are lethally toxic to cats.  Every part of the plant (stems, flowers, leaves, and pollen) is toxic to them and even a small exposure such as chewing on the leaves or getting pollen on their face or paws can cause critical illness. While spring is a time when lilies are more commonly brought into our homes, they pose a hazard to cats year-round as a common part of floral arrangements and are often found growing around homes during the summer months.

True liles (Lilium spp) and Day Lilies (Hemerocallis spp) cause acute kidney failure in cats. Signs of toxicity can occur within a few hours of ingestion, but often, take 12-36 hours to develop. The signs can initially be subtle but quickly become severe and fatality can occur within a few days. If you suspect that your cat came into contact with lilies, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Other plants bearing the common name of “lily” may not be true lilies and do not cause acute kidney failure. Due to the serious toxicity of lily exposure in cats it is always best to contact poison control and/or your veterinarian if uncertain of the type of lily ingested.

Symptoms

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased or decreased thirst
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Stumbling
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Seizures (occasionally)

What To Do

  • If there is any pollen on your cat’s fur, wash it off.
  • Remove the plant from the household to prevent exposure to other cats in the household.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

What NOT To Do

  • Wait until your cat acts sick before seeking veterinary care. By the time clinical signs develop, serious kidney damage has already occurred. The prognosis can be better when treatment is started right after lily exposure.

Prevention

If you have cats, it is recommended to not bring any lilies (cut flowers or plants) into your home. Cats are often attracted to lilies and will usually seek them out even if they are placed in locations that might seem inaccessible. If you have outdoor cats, it is recommended not to grow them around your house. While they can cause gastrointestinal upset in other species, they have not been shown to cause kidney toxicity in any species other than cats.