Lily Poisoning

by Dr. Francesca Matthews

Lilies can be lethal to cats


You might not think that your cat is at risk of poisoning from lilies. Why would they want to eat lilies? They are carnivores after all! Lilies are a common sight in floral arrangements however. Indoor cats and kittens in particular find them a novelty and thus they investigate closely. This investigation can include ingestion. In addition, outdoor cats may investigate lilies in the garden.  


Ingestion of only minute quantities of lily (any part including leaves, flowers, stamen, stem and root) can cause toxicity and lead to acute renal failure, which is often lethal. The actual toxic compound is unknown.


Plants in the Liliaceae family that cause acute renal failure in cats include:

  • Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum)
  • Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)
  • Rubrum (Lilium speciosum)
  • Day lily (Hemerocallis species)
  • Glory lily (Gloriosa superba)
  • Stargazer lily (Lilium orientalis)

What do you do if you think your cat has ingested lilies?


Even if it is only a very small amount of lily that has been ingested, seek urgent veterinary attention. References show that the only chance of survival from lily toxicity is early and very aggressive therapy. Don't wait for clinical signs to become apparent.


Image source wikimedia commons


Signs of lily poisoning


The first signs seen usually include vomiting, depression and loss of appetite. The onset of these signs is usually within 2 hours, and may subside by 12 hours.

Although an affected cat is likely to remain depressed, the patient may appear to improve, as the vomiting and diarrhoea abates. The acute renal failure (which is the killer) will then develop within 24 to 72 hours. At this stage the cat will be critically ill.

Signs seen when a cat is in acute renal failure include:

  • drinking more than usual
  • dehydration
  • depression
  • either increased urine production or in extreme cases no urine production (which may over time be accompanied by fluid accumulation in the tissues).
  • vomiting
  • lack of interest in food
  • painful kidneys (which may also be enlarged) - you veterinarian will feel for this.


Cats that are untreated will die within 3 - 7 days. Even cats who received early and aggressive treatment may still not be able to be saved.

Diagnosis and treatment


In order to diagnose acute renal failure, your veterinarian will take blood tests and urine tests. If available, they may perform an ultrasound examination and possibly a needle biopsy of the kidneys.

There is no specific test that can identify lily intoxication as the cause with certainty, but there are characteristic laboratory findings that make the diagnosis likely if supported by evidence of lily ingestion.

Treatment centres around intensive intravenous fluid therapy for several days, requiring concurrent hospitalisation.

Toxicity in dogs

Lilies, including some of these species, have been shown to be mildly toxic to other animals including dogs.

Dogs that consume large amounts of lilies tend to develop only mild gastrointestinal signs and rats and rabbits show no signs at all.

Prevention is the best action


Reduce the presence of toxic lilies in your house and surrounds that your cat might access. This may include requesting that people do not send lilies or removing them from bouquets. Think carefully about planting the toxic varieties of lilies in your garden too.

Please pass this article on to anyone you know who has cats. Ensuring that this information is widely known will save more cats from acute renal failure which is often lethal.


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