Cane toad toxicity

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Why is it important?

Cane toads (Bufo marinus) were introduced to Australia almost a century ago to control sugar cane beetle and have since become a major pest across the tropical northern areas of Australia. Cane toads secrete a toxin from glands around their neck, resulting in poisoning to pets who interact with them.

What causes it?

Cane toads secrete a toxin from the parotid glands around their neck. The toxin is hallucinogenic - if a dog or cat licks or chews on a toad, the toxin is rapidly absorbed across the mucous membranes of the pet’s mouth into the bloodstream.

What animals are at risk?

Whilst both dogs and cats can potentially be poisoned by cane toads, it is predominately inquisitive dogs which are most at risk – if they investigate or chase a cane toad. Cane toads have rough, leathery, warty skin with sizable poison (parotoid) glands on their neck/shoulder region. Cane toads can also spray the toxin at an attacker if they feel threatened, and pets can also be exposed by licking or attempting to chew on the toads. Cane toads are most active during the evening, so this is a time of increased risk to pets. Cane toads are predominantly found in tropical areas of northern Australia, especially in Queensland but also in northern News South Wales, and across the Northern Territory into the north-east of Western Australia.

What are the symptoms?

  • Intense salivation or frothing at the mouth.
  • Red inflamed gums.
  • The pet may paw at their mouth.
  • Muscle tremors and spasms, progressing to seizures, increased heart rate and possible fatal cardiac arrest.
  • Cats can often vomit and show signs of hind limb weakness and a trance-like stare.
  • The red flags are usually salivation and pawing at the mouth.

    What first aid can I do?

    If you see your pet with a cane toad, try to remove the toad, vigorously wipe out the pets mouth with a wet cloth and thoroughly wash their mouth out with copious water for 10 – 15 minutes. Keep your pet calm. Seek urgent veterinary attention if symptoms progress or your pet’s condition deteriorates (spasms, convulsions etc). If you are unsure or have any concerns about your pet, then seek veterinary advice.

    How is it diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of cane toad poisoning is usually based on having seen the pet with a cane toad, or a history of possible exposure, together with the development of clinical signs.

    How can it be treated?

    The treatment of cane toad poisoning involves washing the face and mouth of the pet with copious water to disperse the toxin. Your vet will also administer medications and supportive therapy to control seizures or convulsions as needed.

    How can I prevent it?

    As cane toads are most prevalent at night, take your dog outside on a lead at night and supervise any exercise. Keep pets away from any cane toads. You can also seek further advice on removal and disposal of cane toads on your property. You may also be able to undertake avoidance training as part of your behaviour training with your pet to try and teach them not to approach cane toads.