Extreme Mother’s Day danger if she has a cat and you gift flowers

This is a rather predictable warning about the forthcoming Mother’s Day on Sunday 10th March 2024 but necessary nonetheless. It is a day when family members might give mum (mom in the US) some flowers and most of the world now knows that:

  • Lilies are a firm favorite on Mother’s Day as they have striking, bold flowers in a variety of colours and;
  • Most lilies are potential cat killers. It is as simple as that.

I searched for flower varieties to give to mums on Mother’s Day and lilies were the first choice. One was the Peace Lily which is not as toxic as other Lily species and it can’t kill cats but the other site just recommended lilies in general.

They are gorgeous flowers but there are a bigtime No-No as a Mother’s Day present if mom lives with a cat companion.

The pollen is highly toxic to the domestic cat. The cat simply brushes against the flower and picks up some pollen on their coat. They lick their coat in the usual way when grooming themselves and ingest the pollen which can lead to catastrophic kidney damage, failure and ultimately euthanasia by the local vet.

A gift of lilies on Mother's Day can prove fatal to mom's cat if she lives with one
A gift of lilies on Mother’s Day can prove fatal to mom’s cat if she lives with one. Image: MikeB under license
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Here is a story about what can happen

It concerns Becca Eggleton, 28. She lived with a young cat at 18-months-of-age, Nova. She is urging people to be aware of the dangers of lilies as she bought herself a potted lily last Christmas. Remarkably Nova escaped the toxicity of the pollen until recently.

Becca said that, “I bought a potted lily plant last Christmas and I had no idea that they were harmful to cats. It was only when Nova staggered into our kitchen with yellow pollen all over her fur that I [searched using Google for lilies and cats]”.

She added:

My vet did everything they could to save Nova but unfortunately she had ingested too much of the poison and she gradually deteriorated. Her kidneys failed and she put on a lot of weight because she was retaining so much water. She became extremely lethargic and began vomiting. The vet had no option but to put poor Nova to sleep.

I have mentioned pollen but all parts of the plant are toxic including the water in the vase.


Symptoms of lily poisoning include:

  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • lack of appetite
  • lethargy
  • depression
  • for Nova the symptoms included ballooning is size (liquid rentention) and vomiting multiple times daily.

RELATED: Most popular houseplants are all poisonous to cats bar one

Warning sign

A survey by Cats Protection tells us that 53 per cent of cat owners are still unaware of the dangers of lilies.

Cats Protection want flower retailers to place a clear sign next to lilies in the shop telling customers that the plant is ‘toxic to cats’.

Annabel Berdy, Senior Advocacy and Government Relations Officer for Cats Protection said:

If all retailers could put a clear and prominent sticker on the packaging stating that lilies and lily plants are toxic to cats then it would help to save the lives of many cats and kittens out there. Some packaged lilies don’t carry any warnings at all or only have a warning in small print on the back of the label where a consumer wouldn’t necessarily see it.

Comment: I am surprised that this has not happened. About half the cat owning population are unaware of the dangers as mentioned. There needs to be a warning.

Mother’s Day is arriving. There will be lilies in cat owner’s homes as I type this. There will be dead cats across the world in about 2 weeks time from lily poisoning. It shouldn’t happen.

How fast acting is the poison?

After ingesting the toxin, cats vomit within 1-3 hours and display the other signs as mentioned above. Kidney failure occurs in 24-72 hours.

The most hazadous lilies

Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), Stargazer lilies (Lilium ‘ Stargazer’ hybrid), and Asiatic lilies (Lilium asiaticum) seem to be the most hazardous. Source: UC Davis.

Fast treatment

If treatment is delayed for 18 hours it is almost inevitable that the cat will die of kidney failure.

Vet treatment

This includes:

  • Aggressive fluid (IV fluids) treatment to help prevent kidney failure
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Empty stomach through induced vomiting if needed
  • Wash coat
  • Activated charcoal to bind toxin in the stomach

The process

Renal tubular epithelial cells are damaged, resulting in sloughing of the tubular cells. In most cases this leads to anuric renal failure.

What chemical in the lily is toxic?

They contain cardenolides which are cardiotoxic (disrupt cardiac function). Cardenolides are a type of steroid. Many plants contain derivates. Other chemicals are involved and the investigation is ongoing.

Why do plants contain cardenolides?

Some plants use cardenolides as a defense system against insects. These include the milkweed.

Cardenolides are a group of diverse steroids derived from triterpenoids, almost certainly evolved as a defense, primarily in plants (but also in animals). In turn, specialist insects are known to sequester cardenolides from plants

Toxic cardenolides: chemical ecology and coevolution of specialized plant–herbivore interactions

Sources: various including the study referred to and Google search results.

AI – Google Gemini

What does Google Gemini say to this question: What is the chemical process when a lily poisons a cat? Here is the AI computer’s response:

The exact chemical mechanism of lily poisoning in cats is still under investigation, but the culprit is believed to be specific toxins present in the various parts of the lily plant. These toxins are different depending on the lily species.

Here’s what we know:

  • True lilies (Lilium species): These are the most dangerous for cats. The toxins haven’t been definitively identified, but they are thought to damage the kidneys by interfering with cell processes, particularly in rapidly dividing cells. This can lead to acute kidney failure.
  • Daylilies (Hemerocallis species): These may cause less severe kidney damage or gastrointestinal upset.

It’s important to note that all parts of the lily plant are toxic to cats, including the leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase holding lilies.

If you suspect your cat has been exposed to a lily, consult a veterinarian immediately. Early intervention is crucial for their health.

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