Contrary to the old wives’ tales, toads won’t give you warts, but they may poison your pet.
While there are many species of toads, toxicity is largely dependent on the species that live in your area of the country. The two most important species of toad known for their toxic effects in dogs and, less frequently, cats are the Colorado River Toad, also recognized as the Sonoran Toad (Incilius alvarius, formerly known as Bufo alvarius) and the Marine Toad, also called the Cane Toad or Giant Toad (Rhinella marinus, formerly known as Bufo marinus). Patients that are quickly treated and do not have underlying health conditions have a good chance of recovery. The Marine toad is very large and is the most common culprit when it comes to toad poisonings. Toxins secreted by these two species of toads can cause severe cardiac issues, among other signs. Owners should also be aware that, like many other species of animals, these toads seem to be slowly expanding their historic ranges northward over time.
Species of toads that are found in other regions of the United States, such as the American Toad (Bufo Americanus) and Fowler’s Toad (Bufo Fowleri) are less toxic but can still cause drooling and vomiting due to their bad taste. All toads can emit some type of toxin, but no cardiovascular problems are expected with these other species.
The main toxin found in toads of most concern, however, can lead to cardiac problems, including abnormal heart rhythms as well as neurological and gastrointestinal problems. Exposure to the toxin slows down the heart rate and causes the heart to beat erratically. Signs of toxicity can appear within a few seconds of the toad encounter and may include vocalization (crying), pawing at the mouth or face, hyper-salivation (heavy drooling) and vomiting. The cardiovascular or central nervous system signs can take 30 minutes to 6 hours to appear. Pets may experience weakness, lethargy, high or low heart rates, panting, difficult breathing, tremors, seizures and death.
Toads as Toys
With their predatory instincts, it is common for dogs to catch toads in their mouths. Toads will release their toxins when they feel threatened. The majority of toxins found in toads are in the parotid glands located behind the eye, but the Colorado River Toad has additional toxin glands on its hind legs. The toxins are usually found in the milky white secretions that are emitted by the glands and are used as defense chemicals by the toad. These toxins are absorbed through the oral cavity mucus membranes of the pet when the toad is picked up or bitten and by the gastrointestinal tract if ingested.
Pets are most often poisoned in the very early morning hours or after dark when toads are more likely to be active. Most cases are reported between June and September when toads are usually the most prevalent and the humidity is high.
Protect Pet Food
Interestingly, another route of potential poisoning is due to the fact that toads are omnivorous (meaning they can eat both animal and plant matter) and sometimes can be found eating pet food that has been left outdoors. In these cases, their secretions may contaminate the meals or even the pet’s outside water sources (i.e., water bowl), resulting in signs. It is recommended that pet food not be remaining outside in areas where poisonous toads live and water bowls also needs to be brought inside or emptied at night. Pets need access to fresh water at all times but during the day, changing the water as frequently as possible or using raised drinking water bowls can help protect your pet.
So what do you do if your pet has mouthed or ingested a toad? First, if your dog isn’t unconscious or actively seizuring, rinse his mouth out with water for 5 to 10 minutes. This will prevent further absorption of the toxin through the mucus membranes of the mouth. Running water from a stream or hose is best and do not let the dog swallow the rinse water. If using a water bottle or hose, point the nozzle from the back of the mouth towards the nose with the dog’s muzzle pointing down so that he can't swallow the water. See your veterinarian immediately if you're in an area where the most toxic toads are found.
Vomiting should only be induced upon the advice of a veterinarian and under his / her supervision if the toad is swallowed and the pet doesn’t have any signs of toxicity. Your pet will likely need to become hospitalized and your veterinarian will monitor your pet’s heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Abnormal heart rhythms and seizures are common and medications may be needed to control them. Your veterinarian will also need to monitor levels of potassium (an electrolyte), as these can get high enough to stop the heart. Other procedures, such as endoscopy and surgery, may also be needed. In severe cases, there is a potential antidote, but it is not approved for dogs and is quite expensive.
Continuous monitoring will be required until the pet is fully recovered, that may typically take 24 to 36 hours. The Colorado River toad is found in southern Arizona, southern California and southern New Mexico, while the Marine Toad is found in Florida, Hawaii and southern Texas. The prognosis is guarded if advanced neurologic or cardiac signs develop.
Time to treatment is a crucial factor in the survival of the affected animal. If you live within an area where toxic toads are found and you suspect that your dog has encountered one, immediately rinse your pet’s mouth and take him to his veterinarian for emergency treatment. In the event that you live in an area where THE MOST toxic toads are not found, rinsing the mouth should stop the drooling but still contact your veterinarian in case he or she thinks your pet should be examined.