Felines not a purr-fect match for Easter lilies and similar flowers

Teppo Lily (Photo: iStock - itasun)

A favorite spring flower, the Easter lily, should be kept away from cats. If ingested, it could kill them.

The perennial plant’s white, trumpet-like flowers might not sound the warning that all parts of it are highly toxic to felines.

Tim Evans, University of Missouri Extension veterinary toxicologist, said even small amounts of Easter lilies can be deadly to cats. Eating the leaves or flowers or licking pollen grains can cause cats to develop kidney failure in three to four days. Even drinking water from a vase containing lilies brings serious adverse effects.

Easter lilies are true lilies that grow from bulbs, not tubers. A member of the Lilium genus, the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), has a single stem with leaves whirling around it. True lilies bloom for a week or more. Other Lilium and Hemerocallis (daylily) species can also prove toxic.

“With spring planting, Mother’s Day and prom season, and graduation ceremonies right around the corner, it is important to know that other members of the Lilium genus and daylilies or Hemerocallis species also can prove extremely toxic to cats,” said Evans.

Early signs of poisoning include vomiting, lack of appetite and lethargy. Evans suggests pet owners consult a veterinarian if they suspect poisoning. Veterinarians likely will prescribe medications or give intravenous fluids, he said.

Also, keep cats away from outside areas where lilies grow. “Any evidence of damage to the leaves or flowers of ‘true’ lilies where cats might be roaming, the presence of lily pollen on the face of a cat with a guilty look on its face or cat vomitus containing lily parts are all potential causes for concern and require a call to your local veterinarian,” Evans said.

Easter lilies became popular in American homes after World War I, said MU Extension state horticulturist David Trinklein. They originated in Japan, where they are symbols of hope and purity.

Despite a sales window of only two weeks, lilies rank fourth in the wholesale potted plant market in the United States, behind poinsettias, mums and azaleas.

Potted Easter lilies can be planted in Missouri as soon as the ground can be worked, said Trinklein. They will bloom the following June.

Easter lily is not the only lily that can cause potentially deadly kidney disease in cats. The Food and Drug Administration lists the following true lilies as dangerous to cats: Asiatic lily, daylily, Easter lily, Japanese show lily, oriental lily, rubrum lily, Stargazer lily, tiger lily and wood lily. Other lilies that are not true lilies, such as lily-of-the-valley and the gloriosa, or flame lily, also may cause health issues.

In addition to your pet’s regular veterinarian, the Pet Poison Helpline (www.petpoisonhelpline.com) and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control) are both available for emergency consultations (fees may apply) as well as free online information about toxic household risks.