Lily Plant Poisoning in Cats

One of the most common causes is the pollen. When a cat bumps against a floral display containing lilies, pollen dusts his coat.

By: Ivan Anotnov
Lilies are common around Easter. By: Ivan Anotnov

Did you know that lilies are toxic to cats?

As someone who has a cat, I never allow lilies in the house. The risk to your pet is too great because each part of the lily plant (leaves, petals and pollen) is potentially lethal to cats.

In my experience as a veterinarian, I’ve found that the most common cause of poisoning is lily pollen. When a cat bumps against a floral display containing lilies, pollen dusts his coat. The cat grooms himself and ingests the pollen, which then damages his kidneys.

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If you find your cat with lily pollen on his fur, take the following actions immediately:

  • Stop him from grooming.
  • Wash the pollen off his fur.
  • Call your vet for advice.

Symptoms

Renal damage is done within a few hours of ingesting lily parts, but sometimes the signs take a few days to show. The early symptoms range from salivating heavily to vomiting and loss of appetite.

The signs to watch for are:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diminished appetite
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Being quiet and withdrawn
  • Not grooming
  • A dull coat
  • Dehydration
  • In rare cases, seizures
  • Eventual loss of consciousness and death

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Causes

The problem lies in plants from the genus Lilium, including Easter lilies, Asiatic lilies and tiger lilies as well as those from Hemerocallis sp, including day lilies. The exact mechanism of toxicity is not known.

Lilies come in different colors and do not all look the same. By: C.K.H.
Lilies come in different colors and do not all look the same. By: C.K.H.

Diagnosis

Lily toxicity is suspected if a cat becomes sick after recent contact with lilies.

Most vets do not wait for clinical signs to develop before starting aggressive supportive treatment to try to protect the kidneys from damage.

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There’s no point in running tests straight away — there is a delay of 36–72 hours before the damage to the kidneys will appear on blood tests. After known exposure to pollen, it’s best to treat first and run tests a few days later to see if treatment helped.

Treatment

Prompt action may save your cat’s life.

If you see your cat eat part of a lily plant, contact your vet immediately. She may make your cat vomit and bring up any plant left in his stomach. This is effective only if done within a couple of hours of the cat eating the lily.

If it is too late for this, your vet may put the cat on a drip to protect the kidneys. However, even the most aggressive supportive care is sometimes not effective, and sadly some cats die.

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Prevention

When it comes to lilies and cats, prevention is definitely better than cure. In my opinion, no one with a cat should allow lilies in the house.

Even if the flowers are put on a high shelf, there is the risk of a cat either jumping up to them or the pollen dusting down onto the cat— so don’t take that risk.

Reference

  • Small Animal Toxicology and Poisoning. Gfeller & Messonnier. Publisher: Mosby.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed and updated Dec. 17, 2018.

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