With the arrival of warmer weather and rain, we expect the number of cane toad (Rhinella marina) victims to increase across veterinary clinics.  With their intriguing hop across the yard, our inquisitive pets, especially terrier type dog breeds and the occasional cat can find these toads an irresistible chase. Unfortunately, the cane toad toxin, known as bufotoxin, which is secreted from multiple glands, the largest of which being behind the eyes on the neck, can have a devastating effect.


Signs of Cane Toad Intoxication

When an animal licks, chews or eats a cane toad, the toxin is rapidly absorbed through the gums of the mouth.  The consequence of this toxin can be variable and is dose-dependent.

The toxin usually causes a localised irritation to the gums, resulting in increased salivation/drooling which may be seen as foaming from the mouth.  Your pet may also be seen to be pawing at his/her mouth due to the discomfort. The gums become bright red in colour and have a slime-like feel.

Your pet’s eyes might dilate, the black pupil appearing larger than normal, and they might become stiff in the legs as they progress into the more severe signs of muscle tremors, seizure, at worst sudden death can result.

Avoiding Intoxication

Our pets do not appear to learn from previous exposure.  Every year repeat offenders will present to veterinary clinics across the country due to envenomaton.  Ensuring your pet is only allowed outside under supervision or on a leash after dusk is the simplest means of avoiding risk of exposure.

What to Do If Your Pet Has Mouthed/ Licked a Toad

If you suspect your pet has become affected by the toxin from a cane toad, the most important step to take is to try and remove the toxin from the gums of the mouth.  The toxin is sticky and needs to be wiped off.  Care must be taken to avoid accidentally being bitten.

A cloth, towel or old rag should be dampened with water and used to wipe the gums.  This process should be continued for 10 minutes, rinsing the cloth in between wipes. If your pet’s condition worsens, or if your pet is becoming stiff, vomiting or convulsing, get him/her to your closest veterinary clinic for further treatment as soon as possible. Complications can result from over-heating, prolonged seizure activity, and accidentally breathing in vomit (aspiration).

Upon arrival at your veterinary clinic, the staff will assess your pet and determine if anticonvulsant medications are required.  The good news, however, is that even if your pet needs to stay overnight at your local emergency veterinary clinic, a majority of cane toad pet victims will survive their encounter if they are treated early enough.  The level of intervention your veterinarian needs to take can be variable and on occasion, oxygen therapy or an induced coma may be required.

What Not to Do

Please do not use a running hose or tap to rinse your pet’s mouth out.  The toxin is sticky and requires rubbing to achieve the desired result. Use of running water exposes your pet to developing pneumonia if they inhale the water.

If your pet has started to seizure or convulse, do not wait. Head straight to your closest veterinary clinic.  If there is a second person available, ask them to start wiping your pet’s mouth whilst you drive.

If You Find a Cane Toad in Your Yard

Should you find a cane toad in your garden, ensure young children and all pets are removed from the area to prevent risk of contact and intoxication.

The cane toad is a pest and viewed as a threat to Australia’s native wildlife. However, even pests should be euthanised in a humane manner.  The current guidelines from the RSPCA state the most humane means to kill a cane toad is using a product called HopStop TM, which is sprayed onto the toad, and repeated two hours later prior to confirming death has been achieved and disposal.

Should this product not be available, then staged cooling may be considered.  The toad should be placed in a bag/container which is labelled and refrigerated for 12 hours to cause it to become unconscious, at which point the toad is placed into the freezer for a further 24 hours.  The toad should then have death confirmed prior to disposal.

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