Cane Toads & Dogs -
What To Do If Your Dog Is Poisoned
Did you know that all toads are poisonous to dogs?
While toads are generally harmless to people, these warty creatures secrete toxic substances that, with only a lick, can cause serious harm or even be fatal in as little as 30 minutes.
So, if you're a dog owner living in a cane toad area, it's vital you know how to keep your canine companion safe.
That includes how to recognise cane toads, what preventative precautions you can take and what you should do if your dog comes into contact with them.
This article will cover everything you need to know about cane toads and dogs.
Can Eating Cane Toads Kill Dogs?
Cane toads are extremely poisonous to dogs and depending on the amount of toxin a dog has absorbed, the effects can be fatal. Symptoms can start within 15 minutes of contact with the toxin and include drooling, staggering and shaking.
If a dog is showing signs of cane toad poisoning, or you're aware that they came into contact with one, it's essential they are rushed to a vet immediately. If that's not possible (like for some of our rural readers), call the Australian Animal Poisons Helpline (1).
What Is a Cane Toad?
A cane toad is an amphibian that looks similar to a frog but is bigger and wartier.
This giant toad is also known as a bufo toad (named for the bufotoxin they secrete) or marine toad (2).
Cane toads are nocturnal creatures, so are often only seen during the night.
What does a cane toad look like?
Cane toads look similar to frogs in many ways. They are brownish to greyish in colour with a chunky build (3). They are usually between 9 and 15 cm in length but can be as big as 24 cm. Their skin is dry, rough and warty. They have large, prominent parotoid glands on their heads behind their ears; this is where the poison is.
Their rear feet are webbed and leathery, however, the front feet do not have webbing and are relatively small. As a result, they usually don't climb as well as other amphibians.
Where are cane toads found?
Initially, cane toads came from South and Central America. They were then transported to different parts of the world in an attempt to control pests on farmland, but instead, they have become one of the world's worst invasive species (4). Their toxins mean they don't have many predators outside of their natural range, and their populations have been expanding uncontrolled. Now, they are widespread in places such as Florida, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, the Caribbean islands, as well as here at home in Australia.
In Australia, from the 102 cane toads brought to the country in 1935, they have now reached an estimated population of 200 million (5). They were initially released near Cairns and are prevalent in Queensland and Northern Australia. However, their reach extends by an estimated 30 km each year, and they are now present in parts of New South Wales and Western Australia (6).
Typically, cane toads live in sand dunes and grasslands, but since they are highly adaptable, they can survive in rainforests, coastal mangroves, shrubs and even woodlands. They can thrive in any tropical and semi-arid environment, meaning they can adapt to most urban and agricultural areas.
How Does Cane Toad Poisoning Happen in Dogs?
When under threat, cane toads secrete a milky fluid full of toxic chemicals called bufotoxin and bufogenins through their parotoid glands located on their shoulders behind their ears (7). If a dog eats the toad or licks the poison, the toxin is quickly absorbed into the dog's system.
It’s not just the adult cane toads that are the risk: their eggs, tadpoles and juveniles are also toxic.
Cane toad toxin is severely harmful not just to dogs, but also to many other animals – both native animals and domestic pets.
Do dogs like cane toads?
Yes, especially dogs with a high prey drive! Dogs are drawn to chasing down frogs and toads, nudging, licking and playing with them. This is a challenge for owners of active dogs in areas where cane toads are found. When a toad feels threatened, such as when your dog approaches it or tries to bite, things can turn serious.
The cane toad will immediately think it is in danger. As its defence mechanism, the toad will puff its body making the parotoid glands swell and release the poisonous toxin. This milky white substance can get into contact with the dog’s eyes, nose, open wounds and mouth.
What happens when a dog eats a cane toad?
Once a dog’s mouth gets into contact with the toxic fluid, either from the cane toad itself or surfaces contaminated by it, the mucus membranes in the mouth rapidly absorb the toxin, which then travels through the blood to other organs.
Initially, your pet’s mouth will drool. The corrosive nature of the substance will cause profuse salivation right after it touches the mouth's membranes. Your dog may vomit afterwards and be disoriented, causing them to stumble, faint or fall.
You may then notice your pet has a body tremor, which will progress into seizures, causing the whole body to shake. Your dog will start to have trouble breathing. In the worst-case scenario, death will occur due to cardiac arrest.
The extent to which your dog is affected will depend on their size and how much of the toxin they ingested. The smaller the dog and the more toxin it has absorbed, the greater chance of death.
Regardless of the size of your dog, if you see them bite or eat a cane toad, you must immediately rush them to a vet.
How long does cane toad poisoning take in dogs?
If a dog has ingested a lot of bufotoxins, symptoms can start within 15 minutes of exposure and the signs should be evident within 30 to 60 minutes.
For some, the symptoms and effects may come rapidly after contact. For other dogs, it may take a while for symptoms to develop. However, in these cases, you shouldn't wait for symptoms to appea and urgently take them to a vet for treatment.
The smaller the dog, the more significant an effect the toxin will induce on the body. Smaller dogs can be killed quickly by cane toads, especially if they happen to eat them or lick a large amount of the secreted toxins.
What Are the Symptoms of Cane Toad Poisoning in Dogs?
If you're not sure if your dog has been in contact with a cane toad, observe it carefully for the following symptoms:
In some cases, cane toad poisoning in dogs can progress to death. Being attentive and acting quickly may save your dog's life.
What To Do If Your Dog Eats a Cane Toad
Some dogs can survive cane toad poisoning with the help of proper treatment. It's vital to act quickly, by providing first aid and taking them to the vet.
First aid at home
If your dog has come into contact with a cane toad, urgently wash your dog's mouth to remove any remnants of the toxic fluid.
When washing their mouth, face and paws, you must wear gloves to ensure the poison does not come into contact with your skin. Use copious amounts of clean, running water. You may use a cloth to wipe off the inner portions of your dog's mouth. Do not use a hose, as this may force water into your their lungs.
Wash the mouth for 10 to 15 minutes, and use a wet cloth to wipe their face and any other parts of their body that may have come into contact with the toxic fluid.
When to go to the vet
Even if your dog is experiencing mild symptoms after exposure to a cane toad, you should take them to the vet immediately. This is because the effect of the toxin may continue to develop, and a delay in getting to the clinic could cost your dog their life.
How is cane toad poisoning treated?
You might think your vet should induce vomiting to remove the toad and the toxin, however this isn't recommended, as it can increase the chance of your dog developing seizures from the toxin.
Instead, a vet will check your dog's cardiovascular status and give an atropine injection to reduce the unwanted fluid and saliva in the respiratory tract. They will also provide other supportive treatments to help reduce the toxin’s impact.
Is Licking Cane Toads Poisonous To Dogs?
Yes. When your dog licks a cane toad, they will ingest the poison. Although the amount of toxin may be small, it can still have devastating or even fatal effects.
What to do if your dog licks a cane toad
If your dog licks a cane toad, you should proceed in the same way as if they had tried to eat one. Wash the dog’s mouth and take them to the vet as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Eating Cane Toads
If there are cane toads in the area, it's crucial you take measures to keep your dogs safe. Although this advice applies year-round, frogs and toads are usually more abundant and active during the rainy season, so be extra cautious during this time.
Fence your yard
You may want to install a fine-meshed fence around your yard if cane toads are a problem in your area. You may also install a toad trap using funnel traps along the fence line.
If you want to remove cane toads from your land, ensure you're confident in telling the difference between cane toads and native toads. You can access advice on identifying and disposing of cane toads, as well as report sightings in your area, through the FeralScan program.
Remove anything that attracts cane toads
Cane toads eat anything, including pet food, so don’t leave any food outside at night. Dogs can ingest toxins indirectly through contaminated substances like food. The same is true for dog water bowls, which toads are sometimes known to bathe in.
Take special measures at night
Make sure that your dog is kept indoors at night. If you cannot keep them indoors, ensure they are kept in the section of the yard where there is no access to toads or any other dangers.
You should also turn off as many lights as possible, so that toads won't be drawn into the yard. Ensure that you cover your swimming pool or other water sources, if possible.
Train or supervise your dog
You can also train your pet to stay away from cane toads. As with all training, it's easier to start when your dog is young. Seek advice from a dog trainer for tips on how to do this.
If you cannot supervise your dog closely when it’s playing outside, you could make use of a basket muzzle. This mask-like device worn over the nose and mouth will prevent your dog from licking or biting toads.
Bottom Line on Cane Toads and Dogs
Cane toads and dogs will never go well together. Cane toad toxicity can be fatal for dogs, even from a small amount of toxin absorbed if your dog bites or licks the toad.
By recognising the signs of cane toad poisoning in dogs, or noticing if your dog comes into contact with a cane toad, you'll be able to get them the treatment they need quickly, which may make the difference between life and death.
- “Emergency Instructions”. Animal Poisons. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/why-do-dogs-sleep-so-much
- “Cane Toad”. National Geographic. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/facts/cane-toad
- ExpertVillage Leaf Group. Dec 21, 2020. “Cane Toad Facts”. YouTube. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UQySp9_xe8&t=72s
- “Global Invasive Species Database”. ISSG. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
- Kozlov, M. August 25, 2021 “Australia’s cane toads evolved as cannibals with frightening speed”. Nature. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02317-9
- “Feral Scan”. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://www.feralscan.org.au/toadscan/map.aspx
- Kamalakkannan, V. December 19, 2014. “Cane toad toxins: mystery revealed”. University Of Queensland. Retrieved February 18, 2023. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:347061