The Cane Toad (Bufo marinus) was originally introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to control the cane beetle, a pest in the Queensland cane-fields. Over the years it has gradually spread south towards Sydney and west towards Kakadu in the Northern Territory. It has failed miserably to do the job for which it was intended and since then has become an ecological disaster as far as Australia, our pets and wildlife are concerned.
Toads secrete at least 4 groups of compounds in the large (parotid) glands behind the head (and to a lesser degree within the rest of the top pigmented skin of their bodies). These secretions are extremely toxic. A large amount of material can be accumulated in these glands and when stressed, can be discharged in copious quantities. Sometimes, this material can be shot out a short distance as a spray when suddenly released.
In our local area, cane toads are extremely common. They are much more abundant and active in the warmer months, whereas in winter they are usually hibernating under logs, rocks, in drainpipes, etc. At night, they are most commonly seen under lights catching insects to eat. They like being in the garden, on the lawns and near the entrances to houses.
Toad poisoning is common in dogs, especially young dogs and puppies who are inquisitive. Older dogs tend to leave them alone, although there is the occasional dog who persists in actively hunting them (They may become addicted to the toxin itself). Toad poisoning is rarely seen in cats.
Signs of Toad Toxicity
By far the most common toad poisoning is due to the localized effects of their poison. Even though the material secreted by the toad is repulsive, once a dog chews or licks it, sudden and severe irritation (“burning”) of the mouth and tongue will occur. These dogs will appear in matter of moments after playing or chewing the toad to be agitated and salivating profusely. When their mouths are examined, their gums and tongue are bright red and raw. Also, when squirted, the toad material can enter the eyes causing severe pain with shut eyes and excessive tear production.
However, if the toad is eaten and swallowed or the poison is left in contact too long, allowing sufficient absorption, the poisoning much more serious and deadly. The poisonous material contains toxins that have direct effects on the heart and circulation, apart from affecting the nervous system. Depending on the dose of toxin ingested, the signs can vary from those mentioned above to tremors, nervousness, hallucinations, weakness, inability to stand or walk, cyanosis (blue membranes), collapse and convulsions. Pets can die in as little as 15 minutes after eating a toad!
Apart from actually eating a toad, occasional cases of toad poisoning have occurred from toads sitting in a dog’s water bowl for some time. During this period, the toad may secrete enough poison to make the dog ill.
If the dog is showing the initial signs of toad poisoning, especially with excessive salivation, it should have its mouth washed out thoroughly for at least 10 minutes FIRST. This should be done at home prior to rushing the dog to the vet and is best done outside on the lawn with a running hose and cold water. Run the water through the mouth (not down) and rinse out thoroughly. The reason for this is not only to ease the irritation in the dog’s mouth, but by washing the mouth as such, you will reduced the amount of toxin absorbed and the time of the toxin in contact with the gums. These toxins can be absorbed extremely rapidly through the mucosa, so this step can be lifesaving, even in the serious cases.
After 10 minutes, assess the dog. If everything is settling down with the the salivation easing and no other signs, the dog should be fine. Just watch the dog over the next few hours and recovery should be uneventful.
However, if the dog is still salivating or showing the other signs of severe toad poisoning (eg. collapse, vomiting), it should be taken immediately to your nearest veterinarian. Ring them first to let them know that you are on the way (this will allow them to have everything ready because time may be critical to treat successfully). Once admitted and examined, the dog will have to be hospitalised for treatment which can include i/v drips and fluid theray, oxygen therapy and other drugs.
*** For more information, ask us at the surgery.