A Tampa dog was being treated Wednesday for poisoning by a Bufo toad, a species known for its hallucinogenic toxins and increased activity during periods of unusually heavy rains.
The dog was “expected to recover because it was the second time this animal had a run-in with a Bufo toad and the owners knew what to do immediately,” said James Judge, a spokesman with BluePearl Veterinary Partners.
However, the incident — as well as the poisoning death of a Jack Russell Terrier in Temple Terrace last October — has area veterinarians warning pet owners about the dangers of the huge toads. That dog bit into a Bufo toad and was killed by the toxins.
Several cases of toad poisoning are treated every week during periods of increased Bufo toad activity, particularly in spring and summer and after periods of heavy rain, according to Tampa veterinarian John Gicking.
Curious dogs and cats tend to lick or pick up Bufo toads with their mouths. When this happens, the toad secretes a poison from glands on the back of its head, which causes the pets to have seizures and other symptoms.
“The biggest thing is recognizing the symptoms and getting veterinary care immediately” Gicking said.
Symptoms of intoxication include “seizures, drooling, really red gums, pawing at their mouths, stumbling, heart arrythmia, excitable behavior, pacing and trembling,” Gicking said.
Scientifically named Bufo marinus, they are known as giant toads, marine toads or cane toads, and they generally distinguish themselves by their large size. In Florida, the females are larger than the males and can grow to 10 to 15 centimeters across.
The toads, which have grayish brown, warty skin, are not native to Florida, but were introduced to eat cane beetles. They became established in Florida in an accidental release of about 100 specimens in Miami in 1955 and further release by pet dealers in the 1960s, according to the University of Florida Wildlife Extension.
If pet owners suspect an animal has bitten a Bufo toad, rinse its mouth and paws with water and seek veterinary help immediately. Use caution, however, so the pet does not aspirate the water with toxins, Gicking said.
Pet owners should also be careful about being bitten by animals who become unruly while intoxicated by the toxin, he said. Pet owners should wash their own hands after rendering aid and be careful not to get the toxin in their own eyes or mouth.
Gicking suggests vigilance is the best course of action to prevent toad poisoning.
“Don't just leave dogs out in the yard unsupervised, especially people who live near water sources,” he said. “Leash walks during a high incident times are best.”
The toads are omnivores and consume insects and other toads and frogs. If you don't want to attract them to your yard, remove cat and dog food from the vicinity.
The most humane way to kill a Bufo toad is to place it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for three days.