Cane Toad Toxin

By Jill Leviticus

Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Cane toads use a particularly effective method to protect themselves against attacking predators. These toads, also known as marine toads, produce a toxin that's secreted through glands on their backs. Although this toxin is very effective in keeping natural predators away, it also can be deadly to small pets and other animals who come into contact with it.

About Cane Toads

Cane toads are yellow, gray or gray-brown with a lighter belly, and they reach 6 to 9 inches in length. Cane toads have raised parotid glands on either shoulder. These glands produce a white poison, called bufotoxin, that kills or sickens animals that prey on the toads. These toads are found in southern Texas, Florida, Hawaii, Central America and tropical South America. The toads also live in Australia and the Caribbean, where they were introduced to eradicate pests. Cane toads aren’t picky about what they eat. They snack on plants, insects, snakes, small mammals, other toads and frogs, food scraps, and even your pet’s food if it’s left outside.

Bufotoxin

Cane toads defend themselves by aiming their parotid glands toward a predator. When the toad feels threatened, bufotoxin oozes out of the glands and coats the toad’s skin. Predators absorb the toxin when they place their mouths over the toad. The toxin also can enter the predator’s body through the eyes or nose. Cane toads are particularly dangerous if they aren't native to your area. Animals adapt to the toxin of native toads and might become slightly ill if exposed to it. The illness teaches animals that it’s not a good idea to attack these toads. In areas where the cane toad isn’t a native species, the consequences are much more severe, as animals have not developed a resistance to the toxin.

Symptoms

Symptoms of exposure to cane toad toxin in dogs, cats and small animals can include drooling, shallow breathing, loss of coordination, fever, pawing at the mouth, red gums, vomiting, convulsions and twitching. The Animal Port website notes that cardiac arrest, or stopping of the heart, can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after exposure. Because the toxin could kill your pet in a matter of minutes, it’s important to take him to the veterinarian immediately after exposure to a cane toad.

Treatment

The first step in treating a pet exposed to cane toad toxin involves spraying water into his mouth and on his gums for five to 10 minutes to wash away as much toxin as possible. Your veterinarian might place your pet in cool water to regulate his temperature. Medication can help control changes in heart rhythm caused by the toxin and can help relieve pain. The Pet MD website advises that animals who receive treatment within 30 minutes after exposure have a good chance of recovery, but that the overall prognosis isn’t favorable for most animals.

Photo Credits

  • Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images News/Getty Images