Tara A. Spears
Remember the fairytale that says “kiss a frog and it will turn into a handsome prince”? There are several members of the frog family (Bufonedae)- which includes toads- that you don’t even want to touch let alone kiss. One dangerous member of the toad family is the Cane Toad, a.k.a,. Giant Toad, Sonoran Desert Toad, Colorado River Toad. This super toxic amphibian lives throughout Mexico and throughout the Jaltemba Bay area. Two different La Penita friends contacted me in the last two weeks to report sightings of this jumbo critter. One friend had a dog die 15 minutes after picking up a Cane Toad in its mouth, so be aware of the hazard to your pet!
The Cane Toad is large, plump, olive brown or grey on top with a lighter color underneath. They may have dark spots on their body and usually have wart-like large glandular lumps on their body and hind legs. The Giant Toad has golden eyes with horizontally elliptical pupils, with large, poison-filled parotoid glands behind their eye. This toad has circular external ears and tympanum. Cane Toads can be up to 7 1/2 inches (19 cm) long so it is easy to notice.
Although this toad is lively throughout the year, it is extremely active after a heavy rain in the summer season. During the wet months Cane Toad is a common, nocturnal visitor to yards near water or natural, jungle vegetation. The toads emerge after the summer rains in order to feed and breed in large, temporary rain pools. These huge toads particularly like to gorge on insects, especially June bugs that hover around outside lights or near lighted windows and doors. Male Cane Toads will also get into swimming pools and then vocalize to attract females.
The Cane Toads are omnivorous meaning that they will eat whatever is available. They will eat almost anything they can swallow: small amphibians, reptiles, birds, and insects. You need to be aware that unlike other amphibians, Cane Toads eat things which do not move so be careful to not leave cat or dog food outside for your domestic animals. These big toads will sit in the bowls and eat the cat or dog food! Even the eggs and tadpoles of Cane Toads are toxic.
These large, slow toads have a very powerful defense mechanism in the glandular toxins. If a Cane toad is picked up or mouthed by a predator, the giant Cane Toad will exude a potent, milky white toxin from their parotoid glands. If this fluid is ingested, this toxin is capable of seriously sickening or killing an animal (dog) that bites the toad. There have been reports of dogs being poisoned by drinking the water out of a container that a toad sat in! The poison is very quickly absorbed by the mucous membranes in the dog’s mouth. Seizures and death can occur in dogs or cats within 30 minutes from a Cane Toad poisoning. Once toad poisoning symptoms appear, emergency veterinary care is needed.
The symptoms of toad poisoning may include: drooling; slobbering foam; head shaking; tearing of the eyes; loss of coordination; apparent blindness; bright red gums; elevated heartbeat; dilated pupils; high fever; or even seizures.
If you observe any or several of these symptoms in your dog, flush out the mouth carefully with a large amount of water. Use a hose, a shower sprayer, or a kitchen sink sprayer on a low velocity and be sure to direct the stream in order wash the toxins out of the mouth and not down into the throat. Bring your pet to a veterinarian immediately, as even low doses of the toad’s poison may be fatal without proper treatment.
There is no antidote to this toxin. However, with prompt supportive care such as cool water, intravenous fluids, anti-arrhythmic drugs, sedation, and atropine, your dog has a good chance of survival.
The best antidote is prevention: if you see a Cane Toad in your yard, don’t let your pets out unsupervised. It may be cute to see your dog chasing a giant toad, but a quick lick could be fatal.
I imagine that observant humans noticed dogs getting high from licking toads and thought it was worth a try. The Giant Cane Toad toxin is not just poisonous, it is also hallucinogenic and contains large amounts of the potent hallucinogen 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyl-tryptamine (5-MeO-DMT). Since the Toad toxin is poisonous to humans if ingested (which includes toad licking), some creative psychedelic drug users will milk the toads’ poison glands, dry the toxin, and then smoke tiny amounts of it, which supposedly makes it less toxic but still provides a trip…..
When visiting Jaltemba Bay with your dog or cat, it matters to be extra vigilant for the animal’s safety. Between the gorobos (Black Spiny tailed lizards), scorpions, and huge toxic Cane Toads, it really makes sense to survey your yard before letting the dog or cat run free.
The Spanish name for toad is sabo; the Spanish word for frog is rana