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Are Lilies Toxic to Cats? What You Need To Know

Quincy Miller

Owning a pet can bring with it all sorts of wondrous experiences, but it also drives home a terrifying point: So much of this world seems specifically designed to kill your beloved animal.

That’s the case with lilies, anyway. These flowers are gorgeous and uplifting, but if you have them in or around your house, you’ll need to make sure that your cat doesn’t eat them because they’re incredibly toxic to cats. In fact, even a single lick or bite of a lily plant can kill your cat.

To learn more about why these plants are so deadly and what to do to make sure your cat never has a run-in with a lily, read on.

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Can Cats Eat Lilies?

There are two species of “true” lily plants: Lilium sp. and Hemerocallis sp. Both of these are incredibly toxic to cats and should be avoided at all costs.

Don’t think that there are certain parts of the plant that are safe. The entire plant is full of toxins, including the stem, leaves, flowers, and pollen. In fact, lilies are so deadly that your cat can die if they simply drink the water that’s in the plant’s vase.

For some reason, cats are the only species that are affected this seriously by lilies. Dogs shouldn’t eat them either, but the worst that’s likely to happen to your pooch is that they’ll get an upset stomach. Your cat, on the other hand, can die — and quickly.

It’s also worth noting that some plants are commonly called lilies but aren’t actually “true” lilies. Some of these — like lilies of the valley and flame lilies — are just as deadly, but they use different toxins.

There are also some “fake” lilies, like calla lilies and peace lilies, that aren’t as deadly to cats, but they can still cause issues for your cat. These issues include irritation of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing problems.

cat on wood table with house plants
Image Credit: Foto2rich, Shutterstock

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What Happens to a Cat That Eats Lilies?

The toxin inside lilies attacks a cat’s kidneys, and it does so aggressively. In fact, a cat can experience renal failure in as little as 24 hours of ingesting the toxin.

Kidney failure isn’t the first sign that a cat is experiencing lily poisoning, however. Look out for these symptoms if you think that your cat has eaten or licked a lily:

  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
Lilies
Image Credit: pixel2013, Pixabay

After about 12 hours, you may also notice increased urination and dehydration; these are signs that kidney damage has already begun.

It should also be noted that not all cats react to lily poisoning the same way. All cats will experience kidney problems, but some recover fully with minimal intervention, while others will never fully regain proper kidney function and will need to be euthanized.

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What Should I Do If My Cat Has Come in Contact With a Lily?

cat bath
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

The most important thing to do is act quickly. You may have less than a day to get help before irreversible kidney damage starts to set in.

Remember that the entire lily is toxic, so even if you didn’t see your cat ingest any of the plant, they still may get poisoned from the pollen. Wipe your cat’s face with a warm cloth to remove as much of the pollen as possible, then look for any evidence that the lily has been chewed on.

After doing that, it’s time to head to your vet’s office. Take the plant with you if you can (keep it as far away from your cat, though), as this will help the vet make a diagnosis and figure out the best treatment plan.

Call ahead to let your vet know that you’re coming. This can allow them to prepare for your arrival, including clearing out less-urgent patients if necessary and collecting all the necessary supplies for treating your cat.

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Vet looking for swelling in cat paws
Image Credit: Motortion-Films, Shutterstock

If you managed to get your cat to the vet within a few hours, they may try to induce vomiting, followed by administering activated charcoal to soak up any toxins that may be lingering in their stomach.

IV treatment will probably be started because your cat’s kidneys will need plenty of fluid to prevent them from becoming damaged. This will also help flush the toxin out of your kitty’s system. Their urine output will be closely monitored, as this is one of the most important indicators of how your cat is faring.

If you weren’t able to get your cat to the vet immediately and the poisoning has progressed to an advanced stage, dialysis may be required to keep the kidneys functioning. This dialysis may be needed for a few days or even longer, although in many of those cases, the prognosis is grim enough that euthanasia will likely be recommended.

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What Is the Prognosis for a Cat Suffering From Lily Toxicity?

This is a hard question to answer. It depends on how much toxin your cat ingested and how long it took to get them treatment. Also, some cats seem to recover quicker and more completely than others.

If you get your cat to a vet promptly, your cat has good odds. After about 18 hours, though, the kidney damage will likely be irreversible. The key factor will be their ability to produce urine; if they can’t, then the cat will likely die in 3 to 7 days.

Even cats that can survive after the first 18 hours will have a hard road ahead of them. Long-term dialysis may be needed, but that’s expensive and isn’t available everywhere. In many cases, your vet will recommend euthanizing the cat.

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How Do I Prevent Lily Poisoning in My Cat?

The best and easiest way to prevent your cat from experiencing lily toxicity is to simply never let them come near the plants. Don’t plant them in your garden and don’t bring them into your home.

You won’t have control over whether other people plant lilies, of course, but you can ensure that your cat won’t come in contact with your neighbor’s lilies by keeping them indoors. This is just good for your cat in general, even not taking into account potential lily exposure — indoor cats live much longer on average than outdoor ones do.

Even if you keep your cat indoors at all times, you still shouldn’t plant lilies if you care about the neighborhood cats.

Don’t think that you can bring lilies into your house and keep your cat safe by putting them out of your cat’s reach either. Remember, the pollen is just as deadly as the rest of the plant, so if that happens to blow onto your cat, you could kill them just as surely as if you let them gnaw on the leaves.

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What’s the Verdict? Are Lilies Toxic to Cats?

Lilies are among the most toxic plants to cats on Earth, and you should do everything in your power to ensure that your cat never comes in contact with one. Every part of the plant is deadly to cats, so you shouldn’t let your cat anywhere near one of these flowers.

If your cat does happen to encounter a lily, time is of the essence. Rush them to the vet immediately, as their chances of survival drop precipitously after 18 hours.


Featured Image Credit: zossia, Shutterstock

Quincy Miller

Quincy has been around mutts his entire life and has been writing about them for the past nine years and now consists of sharing a house with three spoiled pups who couldn’t hold down a job to save their lives. Quincy never intended to be a cat person. When his wife brought home a kitten one day, he told her she had one week to find it a new home. That week turned into 10 years (his wife moves very slowly), and that kitten turned into three (they got two more, the kitten didn't self-replicate). After a decade of sharing his home with the dogs and three cats, one horrifying realization finally set in: oh God, he's a cat person now too, isn't he???