Lilies are commonly kept flowering ornamental plants that are used in holiday celebrations, weddings, and various other floral arrangements. Lilies of genera Lilium and Hemerocallis (day lilies) have been shown to cause kidney failure in cats. As little as 2 leaves or part of a single flower have resulted in deaths. The Lilium genus contains approximately 100 potentially toxic species and innumerable hybrids. Confusion arises because so many different plants are called lilies. Members of the genus Convallaria (lily of the valley), while sparing on the kidneys, causes toxic effects because they possess potent cardiac glycosides similar to digitalis 2. The majority of the cat owners does not know that lilies can be dangerous to cats and, in fact, cannot correctly identify the plants in their own homes. Owners who are unaware of lily toxicity frequently leave the flowers where the cats have access to them, whereas in households where the toxicity is known the cats actively seek out the flowers. 2.
Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) poisoning in cats was recognized as a problem by the National Animal Poison Control Center. Since then, many other lilies in the Lilium genus have also been associated with poisoning. Some of these include: Tiger lilies, Asiatic hybrid lilies, Japanese lilies, Red lilies, Rubrum lilies, Stargazer lilies, Western lilies, and Wood lilies. The toxin in lilies is unknown, so is the mechanism of action. There is currently no specific test to identify the presence of the toxin in the body. All parts of the plant should be considered toxic. Recent research has shown that the flower is especially toxic. As little as a single bite of the plant may cause a problem. All suspected ingestions of any plant in the Lilium or Hemerocallis genera should be treated as possible poisoning for cats.
The onset time for the initial gastrointestinal signs is usually within 3 hours of ingestion and may include vomiting, salivation, dehydration, and depression. Increased urination and urine abnormalities are evident. Increased thirst has also been noted in some cases. Cats who receive prompt veterinary care usually do not develop any signs or have brief signs that resolve quickly 1. Less commonly reported signs include disorientation, incoordination, facial and paw swelling, difficulty breathing, and seizures 4. If no emergency care is provided, initial signs may be followed by vomiting, lack of urination, weakness, low temperature, kidney failure, and, in severe cases, death within 3-7 days. Some cats die despite aggressive medical management, including hemodialysis. Cats who survive the acute poisoning, may develop chronic renal failure.3
- Slater MR, Gwaltney-Brant S. Exposure circumstances and outcomes of 48 households with 57 cats exposed to toxic lily species. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2011 Nov-Dec;47(6):386-90.
- Fitzgerald KT. Lily toxicity in the cat. Top Companion Anim Med. 2010 Nov;25(4):213-7.
- Langston CE.. Acute renal failure caused by lily ingestion in six cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002 Jan 1;220(1):49-52, 36.
- Michael Schaer. Clinical Medicine of the Dog and Cat