Sniffing lilies: Curiosity can kill your cat!

Let’s tackle a common topic and see if we can’t get you some new information!

The basics of lily toxicity

Lily toxicity in cats, why you should avoid liliesA stargazer and a "true" lily

No one knows why they are toxic to cats.  But we do know that any contact with lilies puts kitties at risk for going into kidney failure.  Something so small as getting pollen on their faces, or walking under a lily and having the pollen sprinkle down on their fur is potentially enough to be lethal to a feline.

Lilies are my favorite flower with their gorgeous coloring and exotic looks.  I once received one as a gift from an admirer, and it was relegated to the garage (I kept the man, though).  With four cats in the house, having a lily anywhere within their territory is just a bad idea.  Any cat that has had even casual contact with a lily should be immediately rushed to the vet for treatment.  Some of the following are signs we might see in association with lily poisoning:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Unwillingness to eat and drink
  • Increases in thirst and urination in 1-2 days
  • Kidney failure in 1-2 days

Since these are classic signs of kidney damage in a cat, if an exposure is not witnessed, an owner who sees these signs should be hasty in seeking veterinary care as well.

Which lilies are toxic?

All “true lilies” are toxic to cats.  But not all flowers with “lily” in the name are “true lilies”. Peace lilies, calla lilies,  and peruvian lilies are a great example of some lilies that aren’t from the Liliaceae family and do not cause the same signs of kidney failure (through oral and tummy irritation are still possible). Day lilies are also not part of the same family, but they DO cause damage to a kitty’s kidneys.  Always take the appropriate prevention measures before bringing any plant into your household.

Peruvian lily: not as toxic to catsThe peruvian lily, or alstroemeria, is not as toxic to cats

While most of us are not botanists, there are a couple of things you can look for in a lily plant to tell a true lily from a “fake” lily:

  • All true lilies have six petals – This is actually three fat petals, and three thinner “sepals” underneath.  The sepals protect the petals.


  • Leaf shape – the alostroemeria have leaves that “twist” coming from the stalk of the plant. This is a great way to tell your peruvian lilies from the rest.

alstroemeria aurea16

A beautiful alternative to true lilies, and a weed in Australia


If your cat has been exposed, be prepared for some lengthy treatments for your cat:

  • IV fluids will likely be needed for 48 hours or more to flush and protect the kidneys as the lily passes through your cat’s system.
  • Medications to help stop vomiting and stimulate the appetite.
  • Repeated blood testing to check on kidney function.
  • For an ingestion of plant material, sometimes vomiting can be induced. This should never be done at home with a cat, though.
  • If kidney damage is sustained, lifelong diet changes and subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids at home may be necessary.

When in doubt, always seek treatment.  Since damage to the kidneys is permanent unless treated with immediate and aggressive care, if there’s any question about what your cat got into, call poison control or your vet.  Have pictures of the flower and the leaves ready to share via email to better identify the plant.

Better yet, completely avoid bringing lilies into your home. (Sorry lily enthusiasts.  I feel your pain).

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