Toad Poisoning in Dogs

Who would imagine a creature like a toad could kill a dog?  After all, toads are beneficial in the garden because of the insects they eat.  Unfortunately, if your dog tries to eat the toad, that might be his last act.

Two toads are responsible for canine deaths in the United States.  These are the Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius) and the Marine Toad (Bufo marinus).  Collectively they are referred to as Bufo toads.  These animals are omnivores, which means they will hop up to your dog’s food dish and help themselves.  This is when most dogs interact with the toads, putting them in their mouths.  The lethal toxin, which the toad produces when threatened, is absorbed through the oral membranes and sometimes the eyes.  Most poisonings occur during the warm, humid months at dusk and dawn when the toads are most active.  Poisonings are more common in dogs that are active outdoors a lot.

Symptoms occur almost immediately and include: crying or other vocalization, pawing at the mouth or eyes, profuse drooling of saliva from the mouth, change in the color of membranes of the mouth –may be inflamed or pale, difficulty in breathing, unsteady movements, seizures, high temperature, collapse, and death.

Bufo poisoning is a medical emergency and you should immediately take your dog to the veterinarian.  He will run blood tests and a urinalysis, which usually come back normal except for high potassium levels.  If an ECG is run, it will confirm an abnormal heart beat in the dog.

The first step in treatment is to flush the mouth with water for five to ten minutes to prevent further absorbtion of the venom through the mouth membranes.  The veterinarinan will also have to keep the dog’s body temperature stable.  This may require keeping the dog in a cool bath.  Heart abnormalities are common symptoms, so your veterinarian will set up an ECG and continuously monitor your dog’s heart. Drugs will be used to control the abnormal heart rhythm and also to reduce the amount of saliva your dog is producing in response to the toxin.  If your dog is in obvious pain, the veterinarian may decide to put the dog in a medically induced sleep to reduce the amount of pain the dog is feeling.

Your dog will need to be monitored for an abnormal heartbeat for some time as he recovers.  The prognosis for most dogs who are exposed to toad venom is grim, but your dog may survive if he reaches the veterinarian within thirty minutes of the poisoning.

You can help reduce the risk to your dog of toad poisoning by not feeding him outside.  The dog food attracts the toads, and puts them in close proximity to your dog.  Feed your dog inside and check your yard for toads before allowing the dog outside to play.  Do not pick up the toad with your bare hands, but use plastic or latex gloves so you do not get the poison on you, either.