Cane toads, giant toads, the scientific name Bufos Marinus –– whatever you call them, they are dangerous. The big toads possess a poisonous toxin that can lead to death in cats, dogs, coyotes and other animals.
While not usually lethal to humans, contact with the toads can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes.
The venom is secreted through parotid glands located at the back of the toad’s head. Curious dogs, cats and other animals may lick or even mouth the poisonous toad, exposing them to the potentially deadly toxin.
“The venom works on the central nervous system,” explained Lake Placid veterinarian Dr. Elton Gissendanner. “Indicators that your pet has been poisoned are foaming at the mouth, epileptic-type seizures, shallow and rapid respirations, head shaking, and bright red gums.”
Gissendanner explained that the prognosis is directly related to the size of the pet and the size of the toad, whether the animal licked or swallowed the toad and how fast first aid was rendered.
“First separate the pet from the toad, hose out the pet’s mouth thoroughly and head straight to the vet,” the veterinarian said. “Everyone should have an emergency plan for their pet.”
After the initial first aid, veterinarians administer anti-convulsant medication, tranquilizers and IV fluids.
According to the University of Florida Wildlife Extension website, Bofus Marinus are native to Australia and were introduced to Florida in the mid- 1950s. The exotic amphibians were thought to control the pest population in the sugar cane fields. There have been accidental and careless release of the species into the fragile South Florida ecosystem. Dr. Gissendanner treated his first case of envenomation in the 1950s.
“They have no business being here,” said Gissendanner. “We have too many exotics as it is and we are paying the price of the protocols that established them here.”
These large toads can reach nine inches and weigh over two pounds and are very predacious. They eat native lizards and even birds. Night and early morning hours are the most common times they are seen. Often the toads sit on porches or under street lamps, dining on insects. They have been known to eat dry cat and dog food that is left out. Gissendanner advises against this practice. He encourages keeping your pet on a leash and always being aware of the surroundings.
Gissendanner fields calls every week about potential Bofus toad poisoning and sees a few cases in the office monthly. The toads breed all year in canals and other shallow bodies of water.
“They’re all over the place by my house,” said Jean Ottoway of Lake Placid. “They are not afraid of people at all.”