Is Amaryllis (Belladonna Lily) Toxic to Cats?

Last Updated on October 20, 2021 by Julia Wilson

Is amaryllis toxic to cats?

Amaryllis (Belladonna lily) is toxic to cats. The toxic principles are Amaryllidaceae alkaloids which cause gastrointestinal disturbances (vomiting and diarrhea) and an irritant sap.

What is amaryllis?

  • Family: Amaryllidaceae
  • Scientific name: Amaryllis belladonna
  • Common names: Jersey lily, Belladonna-lily, Naked lady,  or March lily
  • Toxic compounds: Amaryllidaceae alkaloids, specifically lycorine

Amaryllis is a beautiful bulbous flowering perennial native to South Africa. Its large, showy trumpet-shaped pink flowers form in clumps and bloom in late summer to early autumn. Flowers are produced on a leafless purple stem, hence the name naked lady. Foliage develops in autumn, through to late winter.

Note: Hippeastrum is often erroneously labelled as Amaryllis, however, they are two different plants. Amaryllis is native to South Africa and has pink flowers on a leafless stem. Hippeastrum is a popular red or red and white flowering bulb that blooms at Christmas time.

Hippeastrum is also toxic to cats.

Level of toxicity

  • Mild to moderate
All parts of the plant are toxic, bulbs have the highest concentration of amaryllidaceae alkaloids.
The University of California has placed Amaryllis belladonna in the toxic classes of 2 and 4.
2) Minor Toxicity: Ingestion of these plants may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea.
4) Dermatitis: The juice, sap, or thorns of these plants may cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. The rashes may be very serious and painful. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if symptoms appear following contact with the plants.

Symptoms

Symptoms will vary depending on the route of exposure (skin or ingestion), the amount ingested and which parts of the plant have been consumed.

Calcium oxalate crystals

These needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals are located in the tissues as a defence mechanism against herbivores (plant-eating animals).
  • Oral pain, drooling, gum swelling
  • Skin irritation if exposed to the sap
  • Abdominal pain

Phenanthridine alkaloids

Lycorine is the primary alkaloid responsible for gastrointestinal signs which include:

Other alkaloids are present in smaller amounts, and can cause:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Lethargy
  • Respiratory depression
  • Tremors

What should I do if my cat has been exposed?

Contact your veterinarian or your local poisons helpline for advice.

Treatment

The treatment of choice for most types of poisoning is gastrointestinal decontamination (induce vomiting) if the exposure was recent.

  • Activated charcoal to bind to the remaining toxins in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Fluids to maintain hydration until the cat recovers
  • Nutritional support

Prevention

Keep plants and flowers which are toxic to cats out of the home, especially if your cat is prone to nibbling plants.