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Toxic Toads in the United States

When warnings started coming across our newsfeed about non-native, invasive toads toxic to dogs in Florida, we thought, “Why just Florida?” Florida is actually not unique. Other states also have poisonous toads that are native.

Cane Toads

Unlike Burmese pythons and geckos that were introduced to Florida and subsequently released by irresponsible reptile enthusiasts, the amphibian cane toads – also known as bufo, marine or giant toads – were brought from Central and South America in the 1930s to naturally curb pests that feed off sugarcane.

Turns out, however, that cane toads cannot jump high enough to catch beetles and other pests from the sugarcane stalks. Instead, they eat bird eggs and small mammals.

Cane toads are burrowers, but will come out during the rainy season.

Species: Rhinella marina

Regions:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Australia
  • Southern tip of Texas (native)
  • Sightings: Louisiana and Mississippi

Appearance:

  • Tan to reddish-brown, dark brown or gray
  • 4”-6” long (sometimes 9 inches)
  • Backs are marked with dark spots
  • Warty skin
  • Triangular parotoid glands on shoulders that secrete a milky toxin substance (native toads have oval glands)
  • No ridges on top of head unlike native toads

Poisoning symptoms in dogs:

  • Biting, licking or sniffing can lead to poisoning
  • Excessive drooling or foaming
  • Red gums
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Circling
  • Stumbling and falling
  • Seizures
  • High temperature
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death within 15 minutes could occur

What to do if your dog is poisoned:

  • Some experts say to wash your dog’s mouth out with a hose from side-to-side ensuring not to push any of the toxins down the throat. Other experts warn against this and prefer using a damp cloth to get the toxins out but be careful not to push them farther down the throat
  • All experts agree to take your dog to a veterinarian immediately

How to curb:

  • Keep grass short so you can spot the toads and trim shrubs off the ground
  • Do not leave food sources such as dog droppings, outdoor food and water bowls for pets, and clean off grills
  • Watch your pets while outside at night
  • Install bug lights that keep flying insects away

Humane euthanasia of toads is allowed in Florida. The state recommends to:

  • wear latex, rubber or nitrile gloves,
  • rub 20% benzocaine on their bellies,
  • put them in a plastic bag,
  • place the plastic bag in the freezer for 48 hours, and
  • dispose of the bag

Colorado River Toads

Unlike the cane toad, the Colorado River Toad – also known as the Sonoran Toad – is native to the United States and Northwestern Mexico.

Like the cane toad, the Colorado River Toad secretes bufotoxins that produce the same symptoms in dogs and death can occur as well. Please follow the treatment protocol outlined above.

The Colorado River Toad spends most of its life underground until rainy or monsoon seasons.

Since the Colorado River Toad is a species that appears to have some level of endangerment and is native to the United States, we believe it is illegal to humanely euthanize them like the Cane Toad. We could not find specific laws for Arizona nor New Mexico, but according to California’s law, “It is unlawful to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part thereof, except as provided in this chapter, Chapter 2 of this subdivision relating to sportfishing and frogging…”

Species: Incilius alvarius

Regions:

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico (Threatened)
  • California (Species of Special Concern)

Appearance:

  • Olive green to dark brown color; belly is cream colored
  • 3”-7” long
  • Smooth and shiny skin, but warty
  • Distinctive oval glands behind each eye
  • Visible glands on their hind legs

Other Toads

The cane toads and the Colorado River Toads are the most documented in terms of toxicity.

In any event, it would probably be best to keep your companion dog leashed and away from all toads – particularly during nocturnal hours in warmer months.

According to Merck Veterinary Manual, “Severity varies greatly, depending on extent of contact and type of toad. Toxins are produced by all toads, but potency varies with species and apparently between geographic locations within individual species.”

The American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) and The Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) live predominantly in the Eastern half of the United States.

Southern Toads (Anaxyrus terrestris) inhabit the Southeast.

Western toads (Anaxyrus boreas) reside in the Western portion of the United States.

References

Brasileiro, Adriana. Giant Toxic Toads Come out in South Florida as Heavy Rains Set the Perfect Mood for Breeding. Miami Herald, 3 June 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article243089741.html.

“General Provisions Relating to Native Reptiles and Amphibians.” California Code of Regulations, Thomas Reuters Westlaw, https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Document/I26E221F0D48011DEBC02831C6D6C108E?bhcp=1&transitionType=Default&contextData=%28sc.Default%29.

Gollakner, Rania. Toad Poisoning in Dogs. VCA Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/toad-poisoning-in-dogs.

Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon M. Overview of Toad Poisoning – Toxicology. Merck Veterinary Manual, May 2014, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/toad-poisoning/overview-of-toad-poisoning.

Nonindigenous Aquatic Species. U.S. Geological Survey, 14 Oct. 2020, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/viewer/omap.aspx?SpeciesID=48#.

Partymiller, Lindsay. “American Toad (Bufo [Anaxyrus] Americanus).” Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/bufame.htm.

Partymiller, Lindsay. “Southern Toad (Bufo [Anaxyrus] Terrestris).” Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/bufter.htm.

The Trouble with Toads: Getting to the Bottom of This Toxic Threat. ASPCA, 14 June 2019, https://www.aspca.org/news/trouble-toads-getting-bottom-toxic-threat.

Wismer, Tina. Beware Toads That Are Poisonous to Dogs and Cats. Vetstreet, 12 July 2016, http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/beware-toads-that-can-poison-cats-and-dogs.

 

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