Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Lilies - Beautiful Flowers and Very Poisonous For Cats

An orange lily
Photo by Linda Crampton
I love lilies. The cultivated ones have such large, showy and often colorful flowers and look so lovely in a garden or landscaped area. Many have beautiful scents as well. Unfortunately, lilies are very poisonous for cats. All parts of the plant are toxic - flowers, berries, leaves, stems and roots. Even the pollen is poisonous!

I don’t allow lilies in my home or garden. I have three cats, whom I love very much, and I don’t want to risk their lives. I enjoy looking at lilies in parks and photographing them there, but the plants get nowhere near my home.

A lily flower has only three petals, but the sepals, which are located below the petals, are large and colorful and look like petals themselves. The center of the flower has six stamens (the male reproductive structures) surrounding one pistil (the female reproductive structure). A lily's leaves are long and slender.

Since lily poisoning is so serious, one might think that the toxin (or toxins) had been studied in detail. However, the poisonous substance hasn’t even been identified. It’s known to be water-soluble, though, which means that water in a vase that has held lilies might be poisonous.

A cat may experience serious effects after eating only a small amount of a lily plant. The problem is especially serious for kittens, for two reasons. Their bodies are very small and aren't as capable of diluting poisons as an adult cat's body. In addition, kittens are very inquisitive and like to investigate everything, often with their mouths. 

One of my cats enjoying a stroke
Photo by Linda Crampton
Lilies produce a large amount of pollen, which spreads widely. If a cat has pollen on its coat, the pollen should be washed off. The cat may be poisoned by the pollen as it cleans itself.

The timeframe for symptom development from lily poisoning is variable, but the first signs generally appear about two to four hours hours after plant consumption. Some vets report that symptoms can appear as early as thirty minutes after ingestion, however. 

Early symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy or depression. Later, tremors and seizures may develop. The lily poison has especially serious effects on the kidneys and can permanently damage them. Thirst. dehydration and increased urination will eventually appear and are signs of kidney damage. If the damage is very severe, urination may decrease and even stop.

If treatment begins within six hours of lily consumption, there is a good chance that a cat will survive. By eighteen hours after consumption it may be hard to save the cat. This is a very good reason why pets shouldn’t be left alone for long periods without a human observer. It's also a good reason why they shouldn't be allowed to wander unattended out of doors, where they might encounter lily plants.

Without treatment, kidney damage will kill the cat as soon as thirty-six hours after consumption. Even if the cat receives veterinary treatment for lily poisoning and survives, the kidneys may be permanently injured.
Another of my cats
Photo by Linda Crampton

Prevention of poisoning from lily ingestion is much easier than a cure. If a cat does eat part of a lily plant, it's very important to get it to a vet as soon as possible. There isn't an antidote for the poison, but if the cat reaches a vet soon after he or she has swallowed plant material the vet may be able to use techniques to empty the stomach or to neutralize the toxin in the stomach. If this isn't possible, prompt administration of intravenous fluids may save the cat's life.

Even if your cat has never shown any interest in chewing, mouthing or smelling lilies, it's not worth having lilies in the home or garden (if the cat has access to the garden). Lilies are poisonous to dogs too, but to a lesser degree. For some reason cats are especially susceptible to the toxin.

If kind friends or relatives give you flowers as a gift, take out any lilies and give them to someone who doesn't have cats or dogs in the family. If you are given flowers in water, remember to empty the water as soon as the flowers enter your home. Also look for loose pollen on the flowers and remove it, since it may be lily pollen. This may seem like a nuisance, but it's definitely worth it if you have a cat in the family. The thought of lily poisoning in a beloved pet is a horrible one.


  1. Thank you Linda for sharing this post. We have many Lilies growing in our garden and have also been adopted by two gorgeous cats. thankfully the cats cannot go out until they have had their vaccinations but I never knew these lilies were poisonous for them .
    We can now make sure they are removed before they go outside.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Eddy. I really think that the fact that lilies are poisonous to cats should be publicized more. It's a very strange situation when lilies are poisonous to our pets, yet the toxin hasn't been identified. Have fun with your new cats!

  2. Thanks for the information Linda as I didn't realise that lilies were poisonous for cats. Beautiful picture of the orange lily as well.

    1. Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for the comment. There may be many people who don't realize how dangerous lilies are for cats!