What to Know About Lily Poisoning in Cats

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on December 17, 2021
4 min read

There’s one crucial fact about lilies that every cat owner needs to know: consuming any part of the plant — in almost any amount — can be deadly to cats. There’s a toxin present in most “true lily” and “daylily” species that causes nephrotoxicity in cats, which is kidney damage that can end in complete kidney failure and death if not treated quickly and aggressively.

Cats are a curious species and often like to investigate new objects in their home with a couple of bites. It doesn’t take much to be toxic to a cat; vets have seen extreme toxic reactions when the cat has eaten as little as part of one lily or a couple of leaves.

The parts that are deadly include: 

  • The flower petals
  • The pollen
  • The leaves 
  • The stem

Even the water that cut lilies soak in is toxic, so even if your cat isn’t an inquisitive biter, they could still be in danger from lilies in your house.

Some cats seem to be more susceptible to this toxin than others. Even the degree of kidney failure varies from cat to cat.  

Dogs, on the other hand, will only experience mild intestinal discomfort — possibly with vomiting and diarrhea — when they eat a lily. Researchers don’t currently understand the reason for this dramatic difference in response. 

It’s important to note that not all lilies will cause kidney failure in cats — but they can cause other issues like intestinal distress. For example, calla lilies, peace lilies, and lilies of the valley will cause less deadly complications if your cat happens to eat them.  

On the other hand, all “true” lilies (Asiatic lilies, Easter lilies, stargazer lilies, tiger lilies, and daylilies) contain a toxin that causes kidney failure in cats. These are known as “true” lilies.   

If you can, you should bring the eaten lily — or a picture of the plant — with you to the vet as soon as you’ve noticed any bite marks or toxicity symptoms. This way, they can know for sure whether or not it’s a kind of lily that’s toxic to cats. 

Lilies, like most plants, produce molecules called secondary metabolites. These can help the plant with any number of processes from fighting off insects to communicating with their environment. Some of these molecules can have unintended evolutionary effects, though — like toxicity to animals they were never meant to come into contact with. 

The exact toxin that causes kidney failure in cats is unknown, but it could easily be some form of secondary metabolite. More research is needed to determine what makes these plants so dangerous to cats. 

For lily poisoning in cats, symptoms come in three different stages. Within the first 12 hours after ingesting the lily, your cat can have any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Decreased activity levels
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

After the first twelve hours, the kidney damage begins. Within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion, symptoms can include increased urination and dehydration. 

About 18 hours after ingestion, the kidney damage becomes irreversibly severe. Cats that survive this stage will need some kind of medical assistance for the rest of their lives. 

If the toxin is stopped before irreversible damage happens, then your cat is likely to make a full recovery — but expensive dialysis might be needed for a time. 

If your cat does not receive any treatment, their kidneys will fail. This leads to death around 24 to 72 hours after ingestion.  

The treatment for lily poisoning will depend on how quickly you notice the problem. The sooner you seek treatment, the greater the chance that your cat will survive. 

Since symptoms are relatively mild at first, the best way to know that your cat has ingested a lily is by noticing bite marks on — or pieces missing from — a lily plant.  

If you get treatment within the first few hours of your cat eating the lily, the first step will be to induce vomiting. You should never induce vomiting on your own unless your vet recommends it. 

Your vet may also give your cat activated charcoal to soak up any toxins that are still in their stomach. 

If more time has passed, your cat may need to be treated with intravenous (IV) fluids to help support the kidney. 

Dialysis is the most expensive and extreme form of treatment, but it can save your cat’s life if the kidney damage has progressed too far. The dialysis will keep your cat alive and give the kidneys enough time to heal themselves after the toxin has cleared.  

If your cat doesn’t receive any treatment — and has eaten enough of the toxin — they’ll die. 

The best prevention for lily poisoning is to never bring lilies into your home or garden if you own cats. Since even small amounts of the pollen can kill a cat, it’s dangerous to keep lilies anywhere near them — even if they’re high up and out of your cat’s reach. 

If you believe that your cat has ingested any part of a lily, you need to call your vet or a pet poison control hotline — like the ASPCA poison control center (888-426-4435) — immediately.