Veterinarian - San Diego
1540 Morena Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92110



By Heather Beeson of Morena Pet Hospital
April 11, 2012
Category: Pet Safety
Tags: Untagged


Case Study: Lily Toxicity

Most cat owners don’t know it, but lilies are lethally toxic to cats!

Unfortunately, one of our patients had this in common—animals that have consumed a leaf of a lily flower arrangement. To bring attention to the seriousness of this plant, here is more information about this beautiful, but very toxic flower (a must-read for all pet owners). 

All members of the Lilium group produce a chemical (present in all parts of the plant) that can damage cat kidneys, including: 

Tiger lily (Lilium Tigrinum)

Rubrum lily (Lilium Speciosum)

Asian lily (Lilium Asiatica)

Stargazer lily (Lilium Orientalis)

Easter lily (Lilium Longiflorum)

It should be noted that any part of the plant is toxic and only a tiny amount (less than one leaf) needs to be eaten to cause poisoning!  Lilies are so potent that a cat can suffer fatal kidney failure just from biting into a leaf, licking lily pollen from its paws, or drinking water from a vase of lilies!

Symptoms of lily ingestion in cats

The initial stages of lily toxicity typically occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion of the plant and common symptoms include vomiting, lethargy & depression, and loss of appetite.  Although vomiting can subside after a few hours of the exposure, this does not necessarily mean your cat is out of the woods.  As the toxin starts to take affect on the kidneys, your cat will show severe signs of depression, extreme thirst, and lethargy.  Acute renal failure usually occurs within 1-3 days after ingestion, and fatality usually follows within 5 days if left untreated.

How can veterinarians diagnose this toxicity?

Your veterinary team will get a detailed history about your pet, including any possible exposures to poisons around or near the house that he/she could have ingested.  A complete physical examination will be performed.  In addition, your veterinarian will want to run some diagnostic tests to determine the condition of the kidneys. Two key indicators used to evaluate kidney function are blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine.  A urinalysis will be able to provide additional information on the extent of kidney damage and urine-concentrating ability.  Performing these diagnostic tests are important because they signal to your veterinarian that a pet may suffer from an underlying health problem that isn’t clearly visible by physical examination alone.

How can lily toxicity be treated?

Prompt veterinary attention is of the utmost importance!  The sooner your cat sees the vet, the quicker treatments can be started.  Even with veterinary care, your cat may have a guarded prognosis, but the chances greatly decline if treatment is not started within 6 hours of exposure.  Some poisoned cats recover with minimal therapy, while others require costly dialysis to live long enough for the kidneys to repair themselves.  Sadly, many cats never recover kidney function following toxicity, and either die or are euthanized within days of becoming ill. 

Advanced treatment options

Often the animals need hemodialysis because of the severity of toxicity.  If your pet is not showing signs of improvement after administration of medical and fluid therapy, your veterinarian will likely refer you to a hemodialysis specialty center for pets.  Hemodialysis provides a new standard of care for a variety of diseases and clinical conditions for which there are no effective medical alternatives.  It is an advanced therapeutic application to remove toxins from the patient’s blood and establish normal body fluid composition. 

Take Home Message

Prevention is the key!  If you live with cats, be sure to keep lilies out of your home and gardens!