One of Dr. Ian Kupkee’s colleagues took her dog, Finn, out in mid-June when it suddenly sprinted into the backyard. The South Florida veterinarian’s co-worker noticed the 4-month-old Australian Shepherd was eyeing a toad and started smacking its lips.
Within minutes, the dog started showing signs of “being drugged,” Kupkee said, so she rushed it to the animal clinic. During the car ride, the pet began having seizures.
Upon arriving at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic in Kendall, Florida, the dog received fluids and three separate doses of anti-seizure medication. Ice packs helped bring the animal’s temperature down.
The incident is a common occurrence when dogs and Bufo toads interact, Kupkee said. The poisonous amphibian secretes a toxic white, gummy-like substance from glands behind its head when it feels threatened. Curious dogs intending to play with the toads may get taught a deadly lesson.
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"Toads are bad news for dogs," Kupkee said. “The trick is these are not frogs. Toads look warty. Assume every toad is poisonous to your dog.”
Also known as Cane toads, the Bufo toad is not native to the U.S. The species was introduced to Florida’s sugar cane fields to control pests in 1936. Intentional and accidental releases caused them to spread. Those scattered throughout Florida’s panhandle escaped from a zoo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Pet dealers accidentally released them in South Florida, the Florida Wildlife Extension reported.
Bufo toad sightings have been reported in Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the USGS reported. Kupkee said the toads, which flourish in warm, humid climate, are also likely to be found in Georgia and Texas.
They often emerge after heavy rainfall and lay their eggs in still or slow-moving water.
And while this invasive species of amphibians pose no major threat to humans, it presents a danger to beloved pets, Kupkee said. Exposure to the toxin it produces can cause symptoms ranging from drooling and head-shaking to loss of coordination and convulsions. It can also kill your dog.
“If you catch it early, the chances of a successful recovery are very high,” Kupkee said. “The heartbreaking truth is people who leave their dog outside all day will come home to a dog that’s no longer with us. There’s the chance of heat stroke [or] a potential toad.”
Kupkee notes that the first symptoms of a toxic toad encounter can be evident within five to 10 minutes of exposure.
He advises pet owners who suspect their dog may have been poisoned by a toxic toad to rinse the animal's mouth out with water and wipe the substance away from its lips and tongue. Dog owners should watch for panting, disorientation and dilated eyes — signs of toxicity — and get the pet to a doctor.
Pet owners, especially those living in areas where Cane toads are prevelant, should avoid low branches, long grass, letting their dog out without a leash and leaving food outside, Kupkee warned. They should also keep their dog away from objects that accumulate water, such as plant pots. He advised to keep dogs on a retractable leash, even while roaming the backyard.
"Dogs find the scent of this thing very attractive," Kupkee said. "The best preventive is don’t leave the dog unattended."