Bufo Toad Poisoning
By Linda Kender, CPDT-KA
What is Toad Poisoning?
There are at least nine species of toads which can poison your dog or cat. The only one of real significance in our area is the one which will be discussed below. In the summer months local animal emergency clinics receive two or three calls per night with regard to toad poisoning.
A typical animal case report involves a dog or cat that finds a slow hopping toad and mouths the animal playfully. The pet usually experiences immediate salivation and irritation of the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. If the pet eats the toad or otherwise receives a large quantity to toxin, vomiting, seizures and death may follow in as little as 15 minutes. Even a toad that sits in a dog's watering dish for some time may leave enough toxin to make the pet ill. Although the toxicity varies considerably by the toad species and its geographic location, the death rate for untreated animals exposed to Bufo Marinus is extremely high in Florida.
Bufo Marinus (Cane Toad, Giant Toad or Bufo Toad)
This large toad (4" to 9.5") is found in Southern Florida and is seen most frequently during warmer and wetter months of the year particularly at night and often around the perimeter of buildings. Originally released in Florida's sugar cane fields in 1935 to help control rats and mice, it is now commonly found in South Florida yards. It breeds year round in standing water, streams, canals and ditches. A female can lay 35, 000 eggs in one season and the toads can live 10-15 years in the wild. They lives primarily on roaches, beetles and other large insects but will eat anything they can put into their mouths. The bufo toad has no natural predators and has multiplied to staggering numbers in recent years. It is rather sluggish, hopping only when bothered or when seeking new feeding grounds. The bufo also appears to be territorial and if relocated only a short distance away will soon find its way back to its original location. The bufo is considered an exotic rather than a native Florida species of toad, so there is no legal penalty for relocating or humanely killing them. When the toad is threatened, it secretes a highly toxic milky substance from the parotid glands on the sides of its head. This secretion will burn eyes, may inflame the skin and can kill dogs and cats if ingested. When a dog or cat bites or mouths the toad, the poison enters the animal's system rapidly through the membranes of the mouth and the effects will be seen almost immediately.
Degree of development of symptoms and their severity is dependent upon the amount of toxin absorbed. The basic symptoms are as follows:
1. Profuse salivation (drooling) is seen immediately.
2. Constant head shaking occurs with the salivation.
3. Crying as if in pain may sometimes be noted.
4. Lack of coordination and staggering will occur in moderate intoxication.
5. Inability to stand or walk develops with more serious poisoning.
6. Convulsions and death can occur in very serious cases.
Other toxins or medical conditions may affect dogs in a similar manner. Therefore, it is very important to know if at all possible, whether it is likely that exposure to toads of this species have occurred just prior to the onset of symptoms.
If you know or strongly suspect that your dog or cat has been poisoned by this toad, IMMEDIATELY flush out his mouth with water. Rinse the animal's mouth for approximately five minutes. The safest way to do this is with a dripping wet washcloth while angling the animal so that the water will drain out of the mouth instead of down its throat. Extreme care should be taken that the animal does not swallow the rinse water.
At present, no medicines commonly found in the home are considered of any value in first aid treatment of this condition. It is important to obtain the services of your veterinarian to give specific antidotes by injection as soon as possible, especially when there is any doubt about how severely poisoned your pet may be. Remember, too, that the smaller the dog or cat, the greater the possibility of serious toxicity. Since most toad poisonings occur in the evening or night time hours, call your nearest animal emergency clinic for assistance.
Particularly during the summer months it is prudent to be vigilant when allowing dogs outdoors or when going on walks in the evenings. Although young , curious puppies or dogs with high prey drive such as terriers are frequently the victims of toad poisoning, any dog or cat can be at risk. I have also heard of dogs that have survived one toad poisoning only be poisoned again at a later date. Perhaps the best way to prevent poisoning by this deadly exotic is to not allow your dog or cat out unattended during the warm evenings of late spring and summer. Consider leash walking your dog for nighttime potty breaks or walk out in the yard with him with a flashlight so that you can see toads that may be in the yard. Consider teaching your dog a "Leave It" signal in the event he is seen investigating something at night that is out of your range of sight. Also, pick up any outdoor water bowls at night as the toads like to climb in and soak themselves. As with many dangers to your pet, an ounce of prevention is better than a frantic trip to the animal emergency clinic...or worse.