Cane toads pose a serious threat to our pets with poisonings amongst dogs now very common. Over the past two decades in Katherine, we have seen the establishment of a strong cane toad population, and new pets to the Northern Territory may not be familiar with this pest.
So what makes them so toxic?
Cane toads (Bufo marinarus) carry several toxins in their parotid and verrucous glands including bufotoxins, bufogenins and amines – some really nasty stuff. When a dog bites down on a toad, these toxins are released from these glands and they pass very quickly through the surface of the mouth. The toxins can affect the heart and nerves. One full grown toad has enough toxin to kill at least 100 medium sized dogs.
Signs of cane toad poisoning in your dog will initially appear as profuse salivation (frothing), head shaking and pawing at the mouth. If it is not treated or your dog receives a large enough dose, it can progress to vomiting, weakness, seizures, and eventually death. This all can happen within an hour.
What Can I do?
It is not all bad news. If your dog is exhibiting only mild signs such as frothing at the mouth, the most important thing you can do is to wash their mouth out for several minutes with water and rub it with a cloth. Make sure you don’t point the hose to the back of their throat or you can drown your dog, so hold their head down. IF, however, your dog starts to have seizures, seek veterinary help immediately!!! Generally the outcome is good with early intervention.
It is recommended that once treated, your dog be checked over to ensure there are no after effects. If you are a long way from a vet, you should still call one as soon as possible to get any further advice.
The good news is that stomach acid deactivates the cane toad toxin. So if your dog has swallowed a cane toad whether it is fresh or dried, unless the toxin touched the inside surface of his/her mouth, they will be fine (unless the toad is off - then there could be a case of food poisoning.)
One last bit of advice… if you are unfortunate enough for your dog to go through a poisoning episode, after your dog recovers, please get rid of the toad. Preventing contact with toads is often difficult. Some animals will learn to avoid them as the poison doesn’t taste very nice, others will keep going back. One colleague in North Queensland had the same dog come in four times in the one night for toad poisoning. So, if you see your pet playing with a toad you should remove the toad immediately, and observe your pet closely for at least the next hour. Drinking bowls should be placed up off the ground and checked and changed regularly or a safer alternative is small automatic waterers mounted off the ground.
Lets just hope they find a way to get rid of these toads soon.