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Poisonous Toads and Your Dog

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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The practice of "toad-licking" has evolved into an urban legend – that the venom secreted through the skin of some toads cause hallucinations. In fact, the venom has been cultivated for generations to be used for medicinal purposes in human beings.

However, the venom is highly toxic to pets. Dogs, which are the most likely pet to come into contact with a toad, have a high probability of dying if untreated. The Colorado River toad and the giant toad (also called the marine toad) are the two most common venomous toads found in the United States.

The Colorado River toad can be found along large streams in the southwestern United States, from Arizona to southern California (and Mexico). This toad wouldn't win any awards for beauty; its brown/green skin is usually covered with warts. They grow to be about three to seven inches long. The giant toad is not as common, but can be found in south Texas and Florida. This brown toad grows to be four to six inches long. It is very toxic to pets.

Because dogs are more curious and extroverted, they tend to be treated for toad poisoning more often. But a dog doesn't necessarily have to lick or eat a toad to be poisoned. There have been cases where frogs have been attracted to a dog's water dish and sat along the rim. Enough toxin can be left to make a dog sick.

If you live in an area where these toads reside, you should limit your pet's exposure to warm, moist outdoor environments, especially in the desert southwest.

What to Look For

If enough toxin is ingested, your pet may have an irregular heartbeat and act strangely, as if in the grip of a hallucination. Call your veterinarian if you observe:

  • Mouth irritation with foamy salivation
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

    Veterinary Care

    An electrocardiogram may be conducted to determine whether your pet has an abnormal heart rhythm. There currently is no way to find the presence of the toxin. Diagnosis is usually based on whether the pet was seen eating a toad, or if toad parts are in the gastrointestinal tract.

    If your pet ate or licked a toad, you should flush his mouth with water to remove traces of the toxin. Your veterinarian may give your pet cardiac drugs such as propranolol to combat abnormal heart rhythms. Anxious, frightened or painful pets may need sedatives. Pet's with a high fever may benefit from a cool bath. A hospital stay with intravenous fluids is very likely, with your pet's heart monitored by an electrocardiograph.

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