Are Lilies Toxic to Cats?

With springtime and the Easter flower gifting season right around the corner, this is a great time to talk about the hidden dangers of lilies. Cats are inquisitive creatures by nature. They love to explore, hopping up on tables and countertops, sniffing out novel items in the home.  Sometimes their explorations and curiosities get the better of them;  a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers can be just the thing to draw them in.

Lilies are a very popular and commonly available type of flower with a bright splash of colour and a lovely scent; despite their charm, lilies pose a significant safety threat for your cat.

Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are very dangerous for cats. The entire plant is toxic: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase. Eating just a small amount of a leaf or flower petal, licking a few pollen grains off their fur while grooming, or drinking the water from the vase can cause your cat to develop fatal kidney failure in less than 3 days. The toxin, which seems to only affect cats, has not been identified. Though the toxic effects of lilies can also affect dogs, most commonly an upset stomach after lily ingestion is the worst of it.

What Lily Toxicity Looks Like in Cats

Early signs of lily toxicity in cats include:

  • Decreased activity level
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite.

These symptoms start 0 to 12 hours after ingestion. Signs of kidney damage start about 12 to 24 hours after ingestion and include increased urination and dehydration. Kidney failure occurs within 24 to 72 hours, leading to death if the cat isn’t treated. Early veterinary treatment greatly improves the cat’s prognosis. However, if treatment is delayed by 18 hours or more after ingestion, the cat will generally have irreversible kidney failure.

Image of white lilies

Are All Types of Lilies Toxic to Cats?

The most dangerous types of lilies for cats include:

  •  Asiatic lily (and their hybrids) – Lilium asiaticum
  •  Daylily – Hemerocallis species
  •  Easter lily – Llium longiflorum
  •  Japanese Show lily – Lilium speciosum
  •  Oriental lily – Lilium orientalis
  •  Rubrum lily – Lilium speciosum var. rubrum
  •  Stargazer lily – Lilium ‘Stargazer’ 
  •  Tiger lily – Lilium tigrinum or L. lancifolium
  •  Wood lily – Lilium philadelphicum or L. umbellatum

Because these lilies are so dangerous for cats and there’s a high risk of illness and death if ingested, it’s best to not purchase and bring these plants into your home if you have a cat. Easter and springtime are wonderful times to enjoy cut flowers and there are lots of cat-safe options to brighten up your home. Consider sunflowers, Gerber daisies, freesia, roses or orchids, all beautiful choices to celebrate the freshness of spring.