Lilies: Lovely But Lethal


As we look forward to the warmer weather and the spring season coming our way, we see beautiful plants start to make their way to the supermarket and floral shops in anticipation of the Easter holiday. While many of these flowers are beautiful to the eye, potentially lethal dangers can lurk within their captivating colors.

Some of the main offenders I am referencing are the flowers belonging in the genera Lilium and Hemerocallis, as these flowers can cause severe and sometimes fatal problems for our feline patients. Although our canine patients can experience some gastrointestinal upset from ingestion of these flowers, our focal point today is our feline companion.

During this time of year, we hear many questions from owners regarding Lilium longiflorum (the Easter lily), however, it is important to note that several lilies in this genus are considered toxic — including but not limited to the oriental lily, Asiatic lilies, Turk’s cap lily, Asiatic hybrid lily, tiger lily, stargazer lily, rubrum lily, red lily, western lily and wood lily. The Hemorcallis spp also pose a significant problem and include the day lily, orange day lily and early day lily. It is important to note that although the flower portion of the lily is considered to be the most toxic, all parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

Ingestion of even a small portion of lilies in cats requires emergency intervention. Initial signs of toxicity may manifest as vomiting, lethargy and inappetence within hours of exposure. Owners may also note hypersalivation/drooling, stumbling gait, increased thirst/urination, tremoring, weakness and potentially seizures.

Acute kidney failure can develop within eight to 12 hours in cats with death occurring within days of ingestion. Cats who have ingested multiple lilies may succumb to toxicity within a matter of hours. Although studies have shown mortality rates can be 50% to 100% for this toxicity, recent studies have shown a survival rate of 90% to 100% in cats that received early intervention and intensive supportive care resulting in minimal long-term kidney damage.

In summary, if your cat does ingest a lily plant, please take the cat to a veterinarian immediately and be prepared that hospitalization, overnight care, and several days of treatment may be recommended.

If you're an avid plant enthusiast, I strongly recommend checking out the following resources that provide information on lilies and many other plants that can be problematic for both cats and dogs.

Poisonous Plants for Cats and Dogs:

Poisonous Plants – Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants from ASPCA Animal Poison Control:

No Lilies for Cats:

Safe Gardening for Dogs and Cats: 

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center – 1-888-426-4435

The best way to protect your cat from the dangers of lily and plant toxicity is to stay informed and prevent opportunities for exposure. The safest option is to avoid introduction of lilies into the home and to avoid using these in outdoor gardens that cannot be completely secluded from opportunities for ingestion. Even if your cat is indoor only, Maryland does have a large feral/outdoor cat population, and having lilies in an easily accessed part of the garden may also pose a potential threat to outdoor cats. Talk to the members in your community as having indoor/outdoor cats is a common practice in some areas, and educate your neighbors about their cat’s risk for potential exposure with the spring season on its way.

The veterinarians and staff at VCA Calvert Veterinary Center are available if you have further questions and we thank you for helping to create a safe environment for our feline friends in your community.


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