Why are lilies toxic to cats?

By now, a lot of cat owners know that some lilies can kill cats. WARNING: Never have them in the home where there are cats. However, do we know the precise chemical process? In short, “Why are lilies toxic to cats?”.

Lily Pollen Kills Cats
Lily Pollen Kills Cats. Photo by wlcutler
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Even though the pollen can kill this study refers to eating lilies:

“Although cats are finicky eaters, for some unknown reason they eat the leaves and flowers of Lilium plants. Both leaves and flowers are reportedly toxic. Ingestion of 1 or 2 leaves or 1 whole flower has caused toxicosis in cats. The kidney is the primary target organ, and cats die of acute renal failure 3–5 days after exposure..” – A comprehensive study of Easter lily poisoning in cats.

So, why are lilies toxic to cats? We don’t know! That’s the short and rather depressing answer. Beth Ross DVM writing for ANIMAL EMERGENCY & REFERRAL CENTER OF MINNESOTA says:

“All lilies are not toxic, but many common lilies are extremely toxic to cats …While we still don’t know the exact toxic agent, we do know that death can occur after the ingestion of even a single plant piece!”


“The true mechanism of toxicity is undetermined, but it involves damage to the renal tubular epithelium…which can cause acute renal failure.”

The summary (abstract) of the study I refer to above titled: A comprehensive study of Easter lily poisoning in cats, does not tell us the precise chemical process which makes Easter lilies toxic to cats causing kidney damage and other damage.

They say:

“This study has demonstrated that the toxic components are present in the aqueous fractions of leaves and flowers..Cats given aqueous extracts of either leaves or flowers of the Easter lily plant vomited within 3 hours of exposure…Acute tubular epithelial necrosis is the typical reaction of the kidney tubules to toxic insult..”

Note: they used cats for animal testing. This was quite wrong and for me highly immoral.

I searched high and low for information on the exact chemical process which made some lilies severely toxic to cats without success. Incidentally, I had expected success and I am surprised that the chemical process is yet to be identified.

If you think it has please tell me in a comment and if you’d like to wade through the study that I have referred to please click on the link below:

Study on lilies killing cats

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4 thoughts on “Why are lilies toxic to cats?”

  1. I also find it hard to believe that the exact chemical component(s) and in depth method of action of the Lilium plant involved in cat toxicity is unknown. Come on! I could find no information regarding an answer to this question either. I agree that any study using cats ingesting lilies is cruel and unethical…just plain wrong. 🤔😠

    • I’m like you. I am almost shocked that we don’t have the name of the chemicals and how they damage feline kidneys. The info might be there somewhere but I could not find it.

  2. It’s very scary to see that they haven’t determined what the exact chemicals are that are involved, how they work and what could be done to counter suspected ingestion. Also that this gives cat-haters another means to kill cats; an unintended consequence of simply talking about it.

    • I was thinking the same thing Albert, about cat-haters adding lilies to their arsenal. 😠 But then of course this knowledge is all over the internet. 😓


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