What is a Bufo Toad and why is it dangerous?
Bufo toads are toxic, and even deadly, to our dogs and cats. Bufo toads come out to play when it’s warm and rainy, which is almost year-round in Miami. Also known as Cane toads, we’ve caught these fat amphibians lurking under bushes during dog walks, or creeping toward dog bowls full of water and dog or cat food on our late night pet sits. Just last week, one of our regular pet sitting clients called us frantically because her beloved (and very adventurous) pup, Ginger, had gotten to one. Fortunately, our client knew how to help her pup… do you?
Many toads have venom, but the most toxic species in the United States is the Bufo marinus, a non-native species that not only competes with our native Southern Toads, but also secrets a milky white, highly toxic substance named bufotoxin from behind their eyes and sometimes from warts. Mortality rates for untreated cases run from 20-100%, depending on each toad’s venom potency. Curious dogs and cats may play with them, hunt them, or bite them, which causes the Bufo toads to use their poison as a defense mechanism.
Bufo toads are often confused with our native Southern Toad. As you can see in the image above, Bufo Toads have a large parotid gland (outlined in white). Cane don’t, and they don’t grow as large as Bufo Toads do (no larger than four inches). Bufo Toads can grow be bigger than the size of a melon!
Co-Founder Frankie found a Bufo Toad in her backyard and made a recording of it up close:
Recognizing symptoms of Bufo Toad poisoning:
You might not always witness your dog running after a Bufo Toad or catching it. Some symptoms of Bufo Toad poisoning include:
- Profuse salivation, sometimes frothy
- Head shaking
- Pawing at the mouth (the venom is irritating)
- Brick red or blue gums
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Seizures (advanced stages)
What to do if your dog bites a Bufo Toad:
If you have seen your dog get a hold of a toad, the first thing to do is to moisten a towel and thoroughly wipe his mouth out. Keep rinsing the towel off and wiping everything: gums, tongue, inner cheeks, teeth. If you don’t have a towel around, hose your dog’s mouth out with water HORIZONTALLY. Do not push water back into your dog’s throat; you are sending more venom into the system and may drown your pet. Do make sure you clean out inside the flaps of the mouth, by the teeth. You may need to rub the venom away as it is sticky and can stick to mucus. Please don’t use milk; it is not a cure all!
Washing out your dog’s mouth can mean the difference between life and death. We recommend you take your pet to your vet or an after -hours emergency clinic just to be sure; especially puppies and small dogs, who get more poison per pound, and senior dogs with frail immune systems. Since there is no antidote, your veterinarian will treat the after effects.
Your best defense against Bufo Toad poisoning…
is prevention by directly supervising your dogs during outside time, especially during warm weather (which is year-round for us, right?). We know it’s tough; there is a tendency to let dogs out to pee and play by themselves while their families make dinner or do chores.
You especially want to look out for dogs sniffing under bushes while on walks, and keeping dogs on short leashes so you can control their whereabouts. We don’t recommend you use retractable leashes for many reasons, including keeping your dog’s out of a toad’s way.
But we want you to think of your dogs as three year-olds who happen to be furry. Would you ever dare to leave your little one outside by herself? Of course not. It takes a split second for a dog to find a “fun” toy that hops. And then his or her agony and panic starts… as does yours!
How to avoid Bufo Toads coming into your home:
Bufo Toads can be found everywhere, but they are especially drawn to lights at night and pet food left out in bowls after rainy nights. We recommend you feed your pets indoors, but if you must feed outside, keep your pet bowls empty at night, or use this tendency against them to trap and then relocate them. Unfortunately, they seem to come back once they figure out your backyard is a good food source.
You can also:
- Keep your grass trim.
- Keep all hedges and bushes trim near the ground.
- Get rid of piles of rubbish, which serve as shelter for them.
- Empty out water bowls and get rid of sources of water/moisture as the toads seek them out.
- Make sure your fencing has a concrete or wood trim around the bottom to serve as a wall to the toads.
- Turn off outside lights at night so as not to attract insects, or else use motion-sensor lights.
It’s hard to think about disposing of Cane toads since they’re living organisms, but not only are they invasive, they can kill your pets. The Florida Wildlife Comission says:
“The FWC encourages landowners to kill cane toads on their own property whenever possible. Cane toads are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law and can be removed from private property year-round with landowner permission. Wear latex, rubber, or nitrile gloves to safely handle cane toads. Captured cane toads may not be relocated and released. Homeowners that need assistance removing cane toads from their property can hire a wildlife trapper.
This video from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences goes over some methods to humanely capture and kill cane toads. “
If you do trap them, you have to decide what you will do with them. Before you decide to dispose of them, make sure that you have properly identified the Cane Toad. They look like many of our beneficial native species. Please watch this video on identifying Bufo Toads before you do. If the toad you caught is indeed a Bufo toad, it’s important to euthanize it as humanely as possible. Clubbing or spraying chemicals are NOT humane ways. Please refer to the video above for humane Bufo toad euthanization methods.
We want you all to be extremely careful with your dogs, especially, since they tend to get into toads much more than cats. Please follow our tips for your dog’s safety and happiness.
Image: Steve A. Johnson, UF/IFAS