Lily Plant Dangers and Pets
Plant Can Be Particularly Harmful to Cats
Lilies are very popular plants with large, prominent flowers that are often fragrant and come in a variety of delightful colors. These tall perennials typically flower during spring and are in high demand due to their beauty and affordable cost.
The plant is also well associated with the Easter holiday; you may notice the deluge of Easter lilies at grocery stores and greenhouses during this time of year.
What you may not know is that lilies can be extremely deadly to pets, particularly cats. Identifying which lilies are toxic is important to your pet’s safety.
Ingestion of Lilies is Life-Threatening to Pets
According to Dr. Ahna Brutlag, associate director of Veterinary Services and senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, exposure to any part of a toxic lily is dangerous and can cause sudden kidney failure in cats. This includes any part of the flowers, the pollen, the leaves and even the water from the vase in which the flowers are arranged.
The water in the vase may be notably tempting to cats that may be used to drinking from multiple sources throughout the house.
Ingestion of any part of the plant and water, says Brutlag, is a true emergency and pets should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.
Identifying Toxic Lilies
So, which lilies are toxic and which are safer to bring home? According to the Pet Poison Helpline, “true lilies”, those in the Lilium family, and daylilies, those in the Hemerocallis family, are extremely toxic to cats. Ingestion of either of these types of lilies can cause sudden kidney failure in cats.
Examples of common toxic lilies are:
- Easter lily (L. longiflorum)
- Tiger lily (L. tigrinum or L. lancifolium)
- Stargazer lily (L. orientalis)
- Japanese show lily (L. speciosum)
- Asiatic hybrid lilies (variety of Lilium species)
While dogs do not appear to suffer kidney failure from ingestion, eating any part of one of these lilies can result in an upset stomach.
Heart Risks to Pets
While the name is deceiving, Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is not a "true lily", and kidney damage is not a concern. It is however a poisonous plant that can threaten the lives of both dogs and cats. This plant and its bulb contain cardiac glycosides, a toxin that can cause vomiting and life-threatening heart problems. This can lead to long-term, permanent damage in pets including changes in heart rate and heart rhythm. Most small ingestions will result in stomach upset, with larger ingestions causing a higher level of concern.
Less Dangerous Lilies
Most lilies can lead to some form of health concern for pets. Those listed below are considered much less toxic, as they are not a part of the true lily or day lily family, contradictory to what their names might imply. However, health issues may occur, so if you choose to bring one home it’s highly recommended it be kept out of reach of pets.
- Calla lily (Zantedeschia species)
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum species)
- Peruvian lily (Alstromeria aurea)
Calla and peace lilies have a unique defense mechanism whereby chewing of the leaves releases thousands of needle-like shards of calcium oxalate into the “predator’s” mouth. This can result in severe irritation and swelling inside your pet’s mouth, throat, and gastrointestinal tract.
In rare cases, says Brutlag, the swelling can be severe enough to impact breathing in small pets. Peruvian lilies do not contain this defense mechanism and, typically, only result in vomiting or diarrhea if ingested.
Signs of Possible Lily Plant Ingestion
While there are tell-tale signs of health failure due to toxicity in pets, there are also signs that can alert you to possible toxic plant ingestion before your pet is in dire straits.
Take Elsi, for instance. Elsi is a two-year-old Siberian cat from Atlanta, GA.* Her owners noticed something was awry when Elsi walked into the family room with what looked like bright yellow dust on her nose. At first they thought Elsi, a very curious cat, had gotten into turmeric spice in the kitchen.
Upon closer inspection, the owners realized Elsi had actually been eating part of their Asiatic lily plant. The pistol and stamen were missing. The yellow dust on Elsi’s nose was pollen, not turmeric.
They noticed Elsi was beginning to act lethargic and immediately rushed her to the vet. Elsi recovered and the plant was removed from the house.
If you have lily plants in your house or yard, watch for these clinical signs of toxic ingestion:
- Lack of appetite
- Inappropriate urination or thirst
If you are concerned that your cat or dog may have ingested any part of a lily plant, contact your veterinarian immediately. Calls can also be placed to the Pet Poison Helpline†, a 24-hour animal poison control center, where an animal poison expert can assist you.
*Elsi is a Nationwide pet insurance member; her plant toxicity treatment was covered by her Nationwide policy.
†A $59 USD per-incident fee applies when calling the Pet Poison Helpline. This fee is not affiliated with the Pet HealthZone or Nationwide pet insurance. Nationwide pet insurance members can contact the Pet Poison Helpline at no cost through a members-only phone number that is located in the Nationwide member portal.