All toad species produce a unique toxin (known as a bufotoxin) as a natural line of defense against predators. The toxin is produced in the parotid glands located behind the eyes and is a thick, creamy, and white material. This ‘toad toxin’ is then also stored in smaller ‘poison glands’ over their back, neck, and shoulders. It’s released if the toad is bitten or picked up by a dog. Toad toxin is highly irritating and can be deadly in certain species.
There are a few things you’ll need to understand when your pup decides to eat a toad. in this article, we explore everything you need to know in this situation and what to do next.
Are Toads Poisonous to Dogs?
The short answer is yes, toads are poisonous to dogs. While all toads produce toxic secretions, the severity and effects can vary depending on the species. It can also vary depending on the amount of contact with the toxin, and even the geographical location of the species. Two toad species in the US are known to be extremely toxic or poisonous to dogs. These are:
Cane Toads (Rhinella marina, previously Bufo marina), also known as the marine or giant toad. Commonly found in Florida, Hawaii, South Texas, Mexico and are native to much of South America. These toads are typically very large (they can weigh up to 1.5kg or 3.3lbs!) and are highly toxic.
Colorado River Toads
Colorado River Toads (Incillus alvarius, previously Bufo alvarius), also known as the Sonoran Desert toad. As the name suggests they are commonly found in the lower Colorado River and Gila River in southeast California, New Mexico, southern Arizona, and Mexico. They are the largest native species in North America and can reach 17cm in size as adults.
These toads are both large in size. They are also commonly found in specific geographic areas. This should be able to help you work out if your dog is likely to have come into contact with either of these species.
If you are unsure consider quickly taking a photo. Your veterinarian may be able to help you identify the species. It is also worth remembering that the toxins break down extremely slowly and even dead toads can be poisonous if eaten or licked.
My Dog Ate a Toad: What Now?
Toad toxin is a highly irritating substance. If it makes contact with the mouth, eyes, or gastrointestinal tract (when swallowed) the effects will be seen almost immediately. Initial signs may include drooling, pawing at their face, head shaking, retching, bright red gums, and vomiting. You need to stay calm and act quickly, especially in the case of exposure to the two species listed above.
Reduce Toxin Absorption
If your pup has just come into contact with a toad and is conscious, immediately start wiping out the inside of their mouth with a wet cloth until the slimy coating has been removed. Keep rinsing out, wetting the cloth, and wiping for at least 10-15 minutes.
The sooner this decontamination procedure can be carried out, the better, as less toxin is then absorbed by your dog. Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands thoroughly afterward, avoiding touching your face and eyes. When dealing with high-risk species, if more than one person is available to help, get them to call the vet while you’re working on removing the toxin.
If your dog has collapsed, is struggling to breathe, or showing signs of tremors or seizures take them immediately to an emergency vet.
You will see other references advising the use of a hose to wash out your dog’s mouth. This carries a high risk of your dog inhaling water leading to aspiration pneumonia (which can be life-threatening). It also doesn’t remove the toxin as effectively as wiping because it’s so sticky.
Call Your Veterinarian
If you know your pup has licked, swallowed, or picked up a Cane toad or Colorado River toad take them immediately to your nearest emergency vet after decontamination. For all other toad species, it’s now time to call your vet. Try to give them the following details:
- If your dog licked, chewed, or swallowed the toad.
- A description if possible (or take a photo to bring with you).
- When the incident took place.
- Any signs you are currently seeing.
- The age, breed, and size of your pup as well as details of any health conditions and current medications.
From here your vet will advise you on whether you need to bring your dog into the clinic or simply monitor them closely at home. Your vet will know if the particularly toxic species of toads are local to your area. It can still be helpful to take a clear photo if you are unsure for identification purposes.
Monitor Your Dog Closely
After speaking to the vet or after your dog has been discharged from the clinic, make sure to watch them closely. Further signs of toad poisoning are listed below.
What Happens When My Dog Eats a Toad?
Dogs are poisoned by toads through toxin exposure to their oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract when they lick, pick up, bite and swallow them. The toxin is then rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Toad toxin can also be dangerous if it makes contact with the eyes or with cuts and wounds.
Don’t try to make your dog vomit after eating a toad. The absorption of the toxin takes place mainly within the mouth when the toad is picked up, so there is no clinical benefit to doing this and you only risk causing more harm.
For most species, the major effects are related to the irritating nature of the toxin when it makes contact with a predator. The mouth and the gut are most commonly affected as dogs tend to lick, pick up, bite and eat toads, however, the eyes and nose are also commonly affected. These toxic effects occur almost instantly and result in the following clinical signs:
- Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Bright-red gums
- Head shaking
- Pawing at the mouth
Dogs may vomit for several hours, especially if the toad has been swallowed. Always seek veterinary advice if you see any of the signs associated with poisoning. It is worth noting that even though we most commonly associate Cane toads and Colorado River Toads with fatal poisonings in dogs, all species carry bufotoxins and the effects can vary depending on the amount of toxin absorbed.
Cardiac and Neurotoxicity
As previously discussed, the toxic effects of each species of toad is unique, but Cane toads and Colorado River toads are known for their life-threatening toxic effects. The bufotoxins produced in large quantities by these toads target the heart (cardiac toxicity) and nervous system (neurotoxicity). This leads to irregular heart rate and abnormal contractions (arrhythmia) as well as tremors and seizures, all of which can be deadly.
The cardiac toxins are similar in action to digoxin found in foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). These serious toxic effects can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after exposure to toxins from these species and the severity depends on the amount of toxin absorbed. Dogs that receive a high dose of toxin can die extremely quickly.
Signs can include:
- Wobbliness or loss of coordination
- Increased or irregular heart rate
- Difficulty breathing or panting
- Dilated pupils
- High body temperature (hyperthermia)
Depending on the advice of your veterinarian and the species of toad ingested, you may have to bring your pet into the clinic for examination. There are no simple tests to make a diagnosis of toad toxicity. Your vet will be able to treat your pup based on the history provided, as well as behavior or clinical signs.
Unfortunately, there is also no antidote available to toad toxin. Treatment is aimed at decontamination, aiding elimination, and treating its effects on the body. In the event of ingestion of a less toxic species, your vet may prescribe anti-vomiting medication or pain relief.
If your dog is continuously vomiting, they is at risk of becoming dehydrated. Your pup may need to stay in hospital on a drip (intravenous fluids). Your vet may recommend performing blood tests or an ECG to make sure the toxin has not had more serious effects on your pup.
In the event of Cane toad or Colorado River Toad toxicity, your vet will likely perform multiple tests that may include bloodwork, an ECG, and x-rays to determine the severity of the toxic effects. They will simultaneously begin urgent stabilization and supportive care. This may include placing your dog on oxygen (or on a ventilator if needed) and giving medications to control seizures and an irregular heartbeat.
Your dog will be stabilized and closely monitored in the hospital until the toxic effects have fully resolved. Unfortunately, despite the best intervention and medical treatment some dogs may not survive toad toxicity.
Will My Dog Be OK?
Large species of toads are typically very toxic to dogs. They can cause death in as little as 15 minutes in severe cases. However, it is difficult to estimate just how deadly these toads are because their effects vary in how much toxin is received. It will also vary depending on the size of the dog in question.
Some studies have suggested excellent survival rates with rapid decontamination and veterinary intervention. However, mortality rates of anywhere between 20-100% have been proposed for dogs that do not receive medical treatment.
For other species, the prognosis is usually good with decontamination. It’s always vital to call and report all cases of toxicity to a veterinarian as the effects are not always predictable.
Toads tend to be most active in the morning and at night, so avoid walking at these times where possible or make sure to keep your dog on a leash. If your pup is outside in the yard at these times make sure to supervise them closely.
Alternatively, keep them indoors at night and in the early morning, especially in the warmer seasons or after it rains. They are also attracted to food and water bowls so these should be kept indoors where possible or raised and changed regularly if not.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to show signs of toad poisoning?
Can dogs die from eating toads?
Can a dog get sick from licking a toad?
Can a dog get sick from licking a frog?
Can a dead cane toad kill a dog?
How long does it take for a toad to kill a dog?
Unlike birds or other species, the humble toad certainly has some dangerous natural defenses when it comes to predators like your dog. Unique toxins are stored in glands within the skin, ready to be deployed in the event of a threat. If a toad has been picked up, chewed, or swallowed, then rapid intervention is required.
Your vet should always be immediately notified of a toad poisoning. This is especially true when dealing with some of the more toxic species found in Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, South Texas, South America, California, New Mexico, and Southern Arizona) Urgent medical intervention is required as these amphibians carry potentially lethal doses of toxin.
Avoiding exposure in the first place is always safer than having to treat it but it’s still important to make sure you and your family know what to do in the event of toad poisoning because it could save your dog’s life.