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Lilies and cats are a very bad combination!

By Brendan Howard
March 22, 2021
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Dogs have a reputation for eating a lot of stuff you wouldn't think an animal would want to eat. But cats get into some weird stuff, too, especially plants. A few petals fell off a rose bouquet at my mom's house once, and her cat wolfed down those petals like he was afraid they'd run away.

Rose petals are fine, aside from stomach upset if your favorite feline eats too many.

But lilies are toxic to cats according to Tina Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian and senior director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Lilies are bad for cats, from the petals and leaves to the stems and roots—even sniffing the pollen or drinking the water in a vase holding lilies can be harmful.

Here's why lilies are poisonous for cats and what to do if your cat has come into contact with some of these flowers.

Are All Lilies Poisonous to Cats?

While the exact reason for lilies' toxicity for cats is not fully known, doctors have proven the plant and its flowers are dangerous, says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.

"We know that the toxin is water-soluble and causes acute kidney failure and ultimately leads to the cat's death," Schmid says.

The most dangerous lilies are those of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Easter lily
  • Asiatic lilies (grown outside throughout the United States and commonly seen around Easter because of their festive, spring colors)
  • Daylilies
  • Japanese Show lily
  • Red lily
  • Rubrum lily
  • Stargazer lily
  • Tiger lily
  • Western lily

Other flowers with "lily" in their names may not be true lilies, but they present their own problems, sometimes fatal for cats. They can irritate a cat's mouth and throat or even cause heart abnormalities:

  • Calla lily
  • Glory lily
  • Kaffir lily (aka Clivia lily or Clivia minata)
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Peace lily

Lilies can top the list of plants most dangerous to cats, but they're not the only ones. It's important for cat owners to keep up on which plants are toxic to cats and which plants are safe to make sure your home is cat-proofed.

Calico cat sniffs bouquet of flowers
Credit: Valentyna Tymchenko / Getty

What Happens When Lilies Poison Your Cat?

Nothing good, says Wismer.

"Common signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and seizures," she says. "In severe cases, ingestion of this poisonous plant can lead to kidney failure."

A poisoned cat may seem sluggish and refuse to eat, or start drinking a lot and urinating frequently.

If you know your cat has eaten lilies or been exposed to lilies and exhibits signs like these, you want to call your veterinarian as soon as possible and may need to rush in for treatment. There is no good way to treat lily poisoning at home, so reach out to an expert as soon as possible.

"Catching exposures to lilies quickly is critical," Wismer says. "If caught early, kidney failure can be prevented by aggressive treatment at a veterinary hospital. However, it is often fatal if treatment is delayed longer than 18 hours after ingestion or exposure."

How to Keep Your Cat From Getting Lily Poisoning

If you have cats, consider saving yourself the trouble of identifying which lilies are which. Keep them all out of the house and your yard, if your cat ever ventures outdoors.

Can't live without flowers with "lily" in the name? As long as your cat won't eat mass quantities to induce a bad case of stomach upset, Pet Poison Helpline suggests the Peruvian lily, with a long shelf life and colorful flowers.

Consider catnip, cat grass, or another pet-safe plant (my mom would suggest roses—just remove the thorns) for a plant-nibbling feline. And run your next gardening selection by your veterinarian or check the ASPCA or Pet Poison Helpline's free database of poisonous plants to make sure what you're choosing isn't dangerous for your cat or dog.