The Valentine bouquet that killed my cats: Mother’s Day warning on lethal lilies

  • Sonia Barnett, 40, was unaware lily pollen can blind, paralyse or kill cats
  • She received a bouquet from an ex partner and put it on window sill
  • Within days Tinker, one, Charlie, five and her beloved Garfy, 17, died

Luke Salkeld

07:46 EST, 7 March 2013


20:13 EST, 7 March 2013

Sonia Barnett was delighted to receive a beautiful bouquet on Valentine’s Day.

But her joy turned to horror when the flowers poisoned and killed three of her beloved cats.

Miss Barnett did not know that ingesting any part of a lily can be fatal to felines, with even a small amount of pollen enough to kill them.

Lauren Barker, 14 and her mother Sonia Barnett, 40, Hailsham, East Sussex who received a huge bouquet of flowers on Valentine's Day which contained lilies whose pollen poisoned three of their cats

Lauren Barker, 14 and her mother Sonia Barnett, 40, Hailsham, East Sussex who received a huge bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day which contained lilies whose pollen poisoned three of their cats


Despite being rushed to the vet as
soon as they showed signs of discomfort, the cats – Tinker, one,
Charlie, five, and Miss Barnett’s companion of 17 years, Garfy – could
not be saved.

Miss Barnett said: ‘Tinker was the first to die. Then Garfy went in my arms as I discussed euthanasia options with the vet.

‘Charlie survived a little longer but
she’s now buried in the garden along with the boys. I loved them all so
much, they were my babies.’

A fourth cat, Sparky, aged three, survived but there are fears that it has suffered permanent kidney damage.

Although harmless to most animals,
lilies are highly poisonous to cats. Even if they do not deliberately
eat the flowers, the animals can brush against them and later, when they
wash, ingest tiny particles of pollen which have fallen on to their

Yesterday Miss Barnett, 40, described
the shocking sequence of events after the bouquet of lilies, roses and
carnations was delivered to her home in Hailsham, East Sussex.

The mother of one, who works as a gardener, said: ‘The flowers were a lovely Valentine’s surprise from an ex-partner.

‘I put them in a vase on the windowsill. I had absolutely no idea they could harm my babies.

‘I realised something was going horribly wrong when they suddenly went off their food.

Sonia Barnett's cat Garfy who was poisoned by the pollen in a bouquet of flowers
Sonia Barnett's cat Tinker who was poisoned by the pollen in a bouquet of flowers

Sonia Barnett’s cats Garfy (left) and Tinker (right) who were poisoned by the pollen in a bouquet of flowers

Sonia Barnett's cat Sparky who survived being poisoned by the pollen
The bouquet of flowers which Sonia Barnett, 40, from Hailsham, East Sussex received on Valentine's Day

Sonia Barnett’s cat Sparky who survived being poisoned by the pollen

Lauren Baker, 14, holding a kitten
Lauren Baker, 14, holding her cat Sparky

Lauren Baker, 14, holding a kitten (left) and her surviving cat Sparky (right)

‘The next morning I found Tinker
collapsed behind the sofa. I took him to the vet but ten minutes later
my friend came rushing in carrying Garfy.


Cats Protection warn several types of lilies have been found to be deadly to cats, including Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily, Japanese show lily, some species of day lily, and certain other members of the Liliaceae family.

Ingesting just one leaf can result in severe poisoning, and within a very short time your cat will exhibit signs of toxicity.

All parts of the lily plant are considered toxic to cats, and consuming even small amounts can cause severe poisoning.

Kittens are particularly prone to being poisoned as they explore their environment, and older cats are often affected simply because they brush against the flower and get pollen on their coats.

Later they groom the pollen off, and of course ingest the lily pollen as they clean their fur. The primary toxic effects are on the kidneys.

Within minutes to hours of ingesting part of the lily plant, your cat may vomit, become lethargic, or develop a lack of appetite.

As the toxin begins to affect the kidneys, these signs continue and worsen as the kidney damage progresses.

Without prompt and proper treatment by a veterinarian, the cat may develop kidney failure in approximately 36 to 72 hours.

‘They looked terrible, they were
trembling and crying out. It broke my heart to see them in pain like
that. I had no idea what was happening.’

Experts warn that many common lilies
sold in Britain, including the Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily and
Japanese lily, can cause kidney failure and sudden death if a cat
ingests any part of the plant or its pollen.

Animals taken to the vet within six
hours can recover but their chances of survival diminish rapidly after
that. ‘I couldn’t believe it when the vet told me what had killed them,’
said Miss Barnett.

‘I can’t believe that the risks of
lilies have been well-established in other countries but we hardly hear
about it here. Thousands upon thousands of lilies will go on sale this
weekend for Mother’s Day and I’m petrified that it’s going to happen to
someone else.’

She and her daughter Lauren, 14, have
been visiting florists, shops and supermarkets and asking staff to put
up warning signs in time for Mother’s Day.

Miss Barnett also has four kittens, but fortunately they appear to have avoided contact with the flowers.

The RSPCA urged animal lovers to consult its website for a full list of everyday items that can harm pets.

A spokesman said: ‘Many people take it for granted that what is safe for them is safe for their pets.

‘We would urge everyone to check the
sort of items that could cause a hazard because we would hate to think
of anyone else having to go through what this poor woman has had to

Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium said: ‘Pet owners need to be aware of this and other risks.

‘Flowers are sold at a wide range of outlets but our members recognise how important this issue is.

‘Generally, they include a warning on the label of flower products saying that lilies are harmful to cats if eaten.’

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