Lilies, Lilies and more Lilies

Kia Benson, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
Pet Poison Helpline

Many flowering plants found in bouquets or grown as beautiful ornamentals may contain the word “Lily” in their name. You may even have heard that “Lilies” are toxic. When you consider all the shapes and sizes that “Lilies” come in, plus regional variations of names, how can you tell which “Lily” is safe and which is not?

Frequent Lily Exposures/Toxicities

Day Lily

At Pet Poison Helpline, 5 major types of plants comprise the bulk of our Lily calls.

True Lilies and Day Lilies: Lilies in the Lilium genus – sometimes called “true lilies” – and day lilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are highly toxic to cats. Exposure to any part of the plant, including leaves, flowers, pollen, or even the water from the vase can trigger sudden kidney failure in cats. Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), Tiger lilies (L. tigrinum or L. lancifolium, sometimes called Fire Lilies), Stargazer lilies (L. orientalis), Japanese show lilies (L. speciosum), and Asiatic lilies (variety of Lilium species) are all true lilies. Cat owners should avoid having these lilies in their home or in their yards, and should notify friends as well to prevent unpleasant surprises arriving as part of a gift bouquet.

Dogs would only be expected to develop GI upset with exposure to true lilies.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley: Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis, also called May Bells, Mary’s Tears or Our Lady’s Tears) is a plant with white bell-shaped flowers which cluster on one side of a leafless stalk. Two glossy leaves are typically located at the base of the plant. Lily of the Valley contains toxins called cardiac glycosides which can cause weakness, GI upset or inappetence, and heart problems including an abnormally high or low heart rate and/or an abnormal heart rhythm. Both dogs and cats can be affected.

Peace Lily

Calla Lily and Peace Lily: Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia species, also called Arum Lily or Pig Lily) and Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum wallisii) contain very sharp insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. The crystals in these lilies do NOT cause systemic toxicity or kidney failure. Rather, the crystals are released when the plant is chewed on or ingested and can be very irritating to the oral cavity and stomach. Fortunately, an intense burning sensation that occurs right when an animal bites or chews on these plants often limits the amount of plant material that is ingested. Symptoms that can result from an exposure include swelling of the lips and oral cavity, hypersalivation, vomiting, pawing at the face, and a change in voice (hoarseness). Both dogs and cats can be affected, and symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Peruvian Lily: Peruvian Lilies (Alstroemeria species, also called Lily of the Incas or Parrot Lily) are non-toxic. Their long-vase life and colorful flowers make them perfect for inclusion in ready-made bouquets.

Less Frequent Lily Exposures

There is a long list of other plants also known as “Lilies” which do not fall into the categories listed above. A summary of their names and information on whether or not the plant may be of toxic concern is listed below; additional information can be found in other areas of the PPH website.

Less toxic Lilies/Gastrointestinal upset Lilies (mild to severe) include Cobra Lily (California Pitcher plant, Cobra plant), Ginger Lily (Butterfly Ginger, White Ginger), Mariposa Lily (Globe Lily, Sego Lily, Fairy Lanterns, Cat’s Ears, Star Tulips), Prairie Lily (Rain Lily, Giant Rain Lily, Hill Country Rain Lily, Fairy Lily), Plantain Lily (Hosta Lily, Hosta), Scarborough Lily (Fire Lily, George Lily), Sword Lily (Gladiolus), Trout Lily (Adder’s Tongue, Yellow dogtooth Violet), and the Water Lily (U.S).

Toxic Lilies include the Amaryllis Lily (Barbados Lily, Lily of the Palace), Amazon Lily (Eucharist Lily), Blood Lily (Ball Lily, Fire Ball Lily, Oxtongue Lily, Powderpuff Lily, Paintbrush Lily), Fire Lily (Natal Lily, Bush Lily, Kaffir Lily, Sothern African Lily), Persian Lily (Fritillaria, Dead Man’s Bells, Leper Lily, Checker Lily, Stink Bells, Snake’s Head), Gloriosa Lily (Flame Lily, Fire Lily, Glory Lily, Superb Lily, Creeping Lily, Climbing Lily), Himalayan Cobra Lily (Cobra Lily, Jack in the Pulpit), Impala Lily (Desert Rose, Mock or Desert Azalea, Kudu Lily), Leek Lily (Lily leek), and Lily of the Nile (African Blue Lily, African Lily).

NOTE: Multiple plants may be called by the common name of “Fire Lily”. These include the Gloriosa lily, (Gloriosa), Kaffir lily (Clivia), Scarborough lily (Cyrtanthus) and orange or Tiger lily (Lilium species, a true lily). A garden-center or horticulturist may be needed to help identify the correct genus and species.

The information in this blog is not a substitute for consultation with a veterinarian. If your animal has been exposed to a “Lily” plant, please immediately contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline to discuss the specific toxins and concerns involved. Time is of the essence. Pet Poison Helpline’s experts can provide emergency information and may be able to readily identify lilies via photo for pet owners and veterinarians 24/7.

Additional information regarding lilies can be found here on Pet Poison Helpline’s No Lilies for Kitties!