Sarah Hulke-Ehorn’s Yorkshire Terrier, Daisy-Mae, was always trying to keep her owner safe and clear of wildlife. So when the Yorkie went under the smoker and snatched up a toad, she likely suspected nothing different. But Fort Myers, Florida-based Hulke-Ehorn was horrified to see her pet begin convulsing.
She rushed the dog to the vet but, as she tells The News-Press, Daisy-Mae tragically died in her lap. The amphibian in question was a deadly Bufo toad, which is proving a danger to many South Florida pets.
What’s Going on with Dogs and Bufo Toads?
Bufo toads are an invasive species of toad native to Central and South America. Also called cane or marine toads, they were originally introduced to Florida for attempted pest control. They now make headlines for their toxin, which can prove fatal to pets when ingested.
Today, they can be found in Hawaii, parts of Texas, and South and Central Florida. They love wet areas, breeding in spots like canals and ponds, and might emerge in or after rainstorms.
The AKC Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, notes that “there are two major species of toads in the U.S. that can cause severe toxicity, and that’s the cane toad, or the bufo toad—used to call it Bufo Marinus—but also the Colorado River and Sonoran Desert toad.”
But with climate change, deforestation, human and animal travel, and changing migration bird patterns, experts are finding that some species are no longer confined to their long-standing habitats. Dr. Klein explained, “All those things are causing changes in what we saw were typical exclusive patterns for certain animals and their diseases.”
How Do Dogs Ingest the Toad Poison?
When dogs are nosing around bushes or shrubs, they might encounter a bufo toad. These amphibians do not climb trees and instead stick around in low areas of bushes or shrubs. So a dog nosing around might encounter a bufo toad, which, in self-defense, releases a creamy-looking poison.
“They have to do what they have to in case they get threatened,” Dr. Klein says.
Can Humans Be Harmed?
Yes, especially if they use aphrodisiacs with ingredients derived from toad remnants. The difference lies in the amount consumed. “So it can affect humans, but humans are less likely to ingest a toad,” Dr. Klein explains.
How to Recognize Bufo Toads
Bufo toads usually measure between 3 to 6 inches long without head ridges. The squat, warty creatures in varying shades of brown, go out at night—particularly in spring and summer—and love water.
“The toads have large poison glands on each shoulder,” says Dr. Steve Johnson of the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in a YouTube clip. “And when a dog bites down on the toad, these glands either squirt or ooze out a creamy-colored, thick poison. Left untreated, this poison can be lethal to your pet.”
Tips to Avoid Bufo Toads
“First of all, keep a close eye on your pet when it’s outdoors,” Dr. Johnson says in the video. “Walk your dog on a short leash, especially at night, when you can keep the dog close to you. Don’t allow your pet to sniff around and under bushes, where toads may hide, especially during the evening.”
Here are a few things you can do at home to keep Bufo toads away from your dog:
- Trim low-hanging tree and shrub limbs, which can be toad hiding spots
- Clean your yard and remove anything (including the contents of food or water bowls)
- Eliminate sources of stagnant water in your yard, as toads can lay toxic tadpoles there
- Turn off outside lights that attract insects, which in turn attract toads. If you are not comfortable with that, Dr. Johnson says in the video to “replace your current bulbs with yellow, so-called bug lights that won’t attract insects. Or consider installing motion sensor security lights, which are not constantly on and won’t invite insects.”
- Learn how to identify what are native toads or non-toxic toads versus Bufo toads
What Do I Do if I Know My Dog Has Been Exposed to Bufo Toads?
- Wipe out inside of their mouth with a wet rag and onside of lips—be thorough
- Use a garden hose with a steady flow to rinse their mouth out. “What’s critical about using a hose, and this is something that most people don’t know, if a hose has been sitting out in direct sunlight for a while and you turn it on really fast because you’re in an emergency, you’re not thinking, the water in the hose can sometimes be so hot as to cause third-degree burns,” Dr. Klein says. He noted that owners should make sure to point the house down so the tainted water is flushed out and does not go down the dog’s throat.
- Call your vet for advice and bring your pet in for an exam as soon as possible: the first 12-24 hours are critical. Know your emergency animal hospital number beforehand. Because many veterinary hospitals don’t have the capacity for intensive monitoring, your dog “may have to go to an emergency or a specialty center in order to have constant electrolyte EKG monitoring,” according to Dr. Klein.
Signs/Symptoms of Dog Bufo Toad Exposure
- Pawing and/or foaming at the mouth
- Gums turning dark red
- Disorientation or frantic behavior
- Gastrointestinal issues/vomiting
- Cardiac arrhythmia
If any of these signs occur, contact your vet immediately. If these symptoms are caught early enough, your vet may be able to flush out the toxins before your dog becomes completely affected.