Toad Poisoning in Dogs
Toad venom toxicity is relatively common in dogs. Being natural predators, it is common for dogs to catch toads in their mouths, thereby coming into contact with the toad’s toxin, which the toad releases when it feels threatened. This highly toxic defense chemical is most often absorbed through the oral cavity membrane, but it may also enter the eyes, causing vision problems. Its effects are lethal if not treated immediately.
The two most important species of toad that are known for their toxic effects on pets are the Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius) and the Marine Toad (Bufo marinus). Most cases of poisoning are reported during the warmest weather months, when the toads are more active and humidity is high. In addition, pets typically come into contact with the Bufo toads during the very early morning hours, or after evening has set. These toads are omnivorous, eating both living creatures, such as insects and small rodents, and non-living food, such as pet food that has been left outdoors. Because of the latter, pets will often come into contact with these amphibians as they are eating from the animal’s food dish. It is for this reason that it is recommended that pet food not be left outside in areas where Bufo toads live.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms usually appear within a few seconds of the toad encounter and may include the following:
- Crying or other vocalization
- Pawing at the mouth and/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
- High temperature
- Living in proximity and coming into contact with toxic toads
- More commonly seen in animals that spend a lot of time outdoors
Toad venom toxicity is a heath emergency requiring immediate treatment, as it can quickly lead to death. You will need to give the on call veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health, a description of the onset of symptoms, and the likelihood that this is occurring as the result of contact with a Bufo toad.
Your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination, with blood and urine samples taken for routine laboratory tests. A complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis will also be done. The results of these tests are often found to be normal in these animals, except for abnormally high levels of potassium (hyperkalemia). The dog may also exhibit an abnormal heartbeat, and if your veterinarian has time to conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG), the results will typically confirm an abnormal heart rhythm in conjunction with toad venom poisoning.
Toad venom toxicity is an emergency with highly likely fatal outcomes. Time remains a crucial factor in the survival of the affected animal. If you suspect that your dog has encountered a toxic toad, immediately take the dog to a nearby veterinary hospital for emergency treatment.
The first step of treatment is to flush the mouth with water for 5-10 minutes to prevent further absorption of the venom through the mouth membranes. The doctor will also need to keep the dog’s body temperature stable, which may require keeping it in a cool bath. Heart abnormalities are a common symptom, so your veterinarian will want to monitor the heart’s ability to function and respond to the treatment. An ECG will be set up and continuously monitored to evaluate your dog’s cardiac activity. Drugs can 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 an obvious amount of pain, your doctor may also decide to anesthetize it in order to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Living and Management
Continuous monitoring will be required until the dog is fully recovered. Your veterinarian will continuously record the heart’s rhythms using ECG to evaluate your cat’s response to the treatment patient. Patients that have been treated before enough of the toxin has had a chance to reach the system, within about 30 minutes, have a good chance of recovery. However, the overall prognosis is not good for most animals, and death is very common in dogs that have been exposed to toad venom.
Image: Bufo alvarius, Matt Jeppson / Shutterstock