Beware the Cane Toad

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Cane Toads are big (4-6 inches), ugly, and very TOXIC to pets! But for some reason K-9s like myself love to get a closer look, intrigued by their hopping movement. Of course we want a closer look at those beady-eyed creatures and secretly hope they’ll hop away so we can give chase, dragging our masters and/or mistresses along for the ride. The more curious among us will even want a taste since most of us love a “treat.” A word to the wise: keep some treats on your person so you can distract Rover with a safer, tastier snack. Mouthing a cane toad can be fatal.

So you so prudently ask, what is a Cane Toad (a.k.a. Bofu toad) and why is it so dangerous to dogs and cats? The cane toad is the largest of the frogs and toads found in Florida. It is not native to the United States, however, and is thus classified as an invasive species. Their bodies are tan to reddish-brown, olive brown, yellowish, or grey. There backs are marked with dark spots and their skin is dry and warty. Large, triangular glands are prominent on their shoulders. The cane toad breeds year-round in standing water, streams, canals, floodplains, mangrove swamps, and ditches.

When threatened or handled, the toad secretes a highly toxic milky substance from a gland at the back of its head, behind the ears. The toxin has stimulating effects which produces mild hallucinations. The toxin is in the same category as heroin and marijuana. It can kill cats and dogs if they ingest the secretions. Toad poisoning develops within minutes and death can occur in as short a time as 30 minutes. Although cat poisonings are rare, toad poisoning in dogs is very common, especially in puppies and terrier breeds as they find the hopping of toads intriguing and often irresistible.

According to Dr. Alanah Wray at the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples, dogs should not be left alone outside. “The size of the dog has bearing,” explained Dr. Wray. In smaller animals the owner may only have minutes to get life saving treatment.

A tragic case was reported by officials in Temple Terrace, FL last year, leaving the owners wishing they’d heard about the danger sooner. Their 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier “Willie” died within minutes of biting a Cane toad he found in the yard. Willie went into convulsions and died as his owners scrambled to drive him to the hospital.

The Cane toad was originally released in the U.S. in sugar cane fields to help control beetles and white grubs. They gained a foothold in southern Florida (including Key West) as a result of an accidental release of about 100 specimens from the stock of a pet dealer at Miami airport in 1955, and by subsequent releases by pet dealers in the 1960s. They are a predacious species skilled at locating food: beetles, centipedes, roaches, spiders, frogs, small reptiles, small birds, and small mammals. They even have been known to eat pet food.

Symptoms of Cane toad poisoning in pets include drooling, head-shaking, crying, loss of coordination, and, in more serious cases convulsions. Dr. Wray said that prolonged seizures can cause organ and brain damage, and possibly cardiac arrest.


  • Hold you pet’s mouth down toward the floor and using paper towels to wipe the inside of your pet’s mouth.
  • Thoroughly wash the mouth out for 10-15 minutes and avoid letting water go down the throat or into the lungs. In the meantime, somebody else should contact the vet and advise them of the toad poisoning incident.
  • Using a wet cloth, gently wipe the gums, tongue and roof of the mouth, rinse the cloth out after each wipe and do this for 10 minutes.
  • If your pet settles down after wiping and rinsing the mouth out, keep them confined for a few hours and monitor them closely.

If symptoms worsen transport your pet to your vet or emergency veterinary hospital immediately.

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