Watch Out for Those Toads!
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
With the onset of the rainy season, you have undoubtedly noticed the increase in the number of toads out on the lawns, sidewalks, and roadways in the evening. Most of these toads belong to the genus Bufo and produce some of the most deadly toxins known. These toxins are located in the skin and parotid, or salivary, glands. There is enough toxin in the skin of a large toad to kill a 150 pound dog if it is ingested. Just licking the skin of a toad can result in the absorption of enough toxin to kill a small dog or cat. A toad that sits in a dogs watering dish for some time may leave enough toxin to make a dog ill!
Toad toxins have two primary effects on the body. The first of these is on the heart and vascular system and closely resembles digitalis poisoning. In fact, before digitalis was extracted from the plant Digitalis purpura, dried and powdered toad skins were used as heart medication. They have also been used in Afolk medicine@ as an expectorant, diuretic, and as treatment for toothaches, sinusitis, and bleeding of the gums. The second effect is on the central nervous system and induces grand mal seizures. Death in pets who come in contact with toads is usually from seizures.
So what can you do to protect your pets from toad toxins? As with most things, prevention is the best medicine. Keep your pets on a leash at night and walk them rather than letting them run unattended. This will enable you to steer them away from toads along your route. Be sure that you bring in your pets food and water dishes at night. Toads thrive on dog and cat food, and if food is consistently left out, a toad will make a regular stop at your house part of his or her nightly routine. Finally, if your pet does come in contact with a toad they will usually experience immediate salivation or drooling. Rinse their mouth as soon as possible with large amounts of water. This is best accomplished with a garden hose if one is handy. Try to keep them from swallowing the water as you rinse, as they will be swallowing the toxins with it as well, and be careful not to drown your pet with too much water. If the toad is eaten by your pet, rinse their mouth first, then induce vomiting with syrup of ipecac or hydrogen peroxide. As soon as you have administered first aid, seek medical attention. Your veterinarian can administer medications to prevent or treat the seizures, and can give medications for the heart arrhythmia if indicated.