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Frog and Toad Toxicity

Your pet may catch frogs sometimes and eat them, but could they cause them any problems? 

First: Was it a frog or a toad?   

Frogs have wet skin and long hind legs; toads have dry skin and short hind legs. 

            If it was a frog, you’re probably OK, since there are no toxic frogs in our neck of the woods, or even in this country, to be more exact.   

            There are MANY toxic frogs in the rainforests and tropical regions. They are pretty easy to tell apart from run-of-the-mill frogs, though. Poison dart frogs, perhaps the most infamous, are brightly colored and come in a diverse assortment of fluorescent yellows, blues and reds, often with black or white stripes or spots. Some are even green, though they are very, very bright green. In fact, just as a general rule, brightly colored wild animals, amphibians included, are often toxic. 

            If this situation did happen to come from a pet owner in the Amazonian Rain Forest,  you will know right away if your cat eats a toxic frog. She'll start drooling, struggling to breath, moving unsteadily, and may collapse or begin seizing. Death can come in a matter of minutes.

            Outside the rain forest and tropical regions, however, these frogs are largely confined to zoos. If your pet eats an everyday, non-toxic frog, he might vomit, but should quickly recover.

So, now let’s talk about TOADS.

            There are a few toxic toads in the US, but again, not usually found in our area. The two toxic species live in North America are:

1.  The Colorado River toad (Bufo alvarius), which lives in the deserts of the Southwest and Mexico

2.  The cane toad (Bufo marinus), which lives in Florida, Hawaii and a few other coastal areas.

Just in case you happen to travel with your cat (or dog) to either of these areas…

            Most cases of poisoning are reported during the warmest weather months when the toads are more active and humidity is high. In addition, pets typically come into contact with the Bufo toads during the very early morning hours, or in the evening after the sun has set. These toads are omnivorous, eating both living creatures, such as insects and small rodents, and non-living food, such as pet food that has been left outdoors. Because of the latter, pets will often come into contact with these amphibians as they are eating from the animal's food dish. It is for this reason that it is recommended that pet food not be left outside in areas where Bufo toads live. There is a type of Bufo toad commonly found in Maryland, but it’s not one of the two toxic types. 

            Toxic toads are much less conspicuous than their toxic frogs. Most are green or brown, and look very similar to run-of-the-mill varieties of toads.

            All toads secrete mucus through their skin that's not particularly appetizing to other animals, so most cats will leave them alone. These two toxic species also secrete milky-white venom from glands at the edges of their mouths and on their legs. Just a few drops can paralyze and kill a cat or small dog.

Symptoms of Toad poisoning

            Symptoms usually appear within a few seconds of the toad encounter and may include the following:

  • Crying or other vocalization
  • Pawing at the mouth and/or eyes
  • Profuse drooling of saliva from the mouth
  • Change in the color of membranes of the mouth – may be inflamed or pale
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Unsteady movements
  • Seizures
  • High temperature
  • Collapse

Treatment: 

            If your pet looks sick or eats a suspicious toad, call your vet or a poison control hotline immediately.

            If possible, recover what's left of the toad’s body.

            Also, flush your pet's mouth with water for five to 10 minutes to avoid further absorption of toxins.

            At the vet hospital, activated charcoal may be administered. If your pet is poisoned, his temperature will quickly rise, so they may need to put him in a cool bath to keep him stable. His heart rhythms may also become unstable, which a vet can monitor and treat with medication. Drugs can be used to control the abnormal heart rhythm, and also to reduce the amount of saliva your pet is producing in response to the toxin. If your pet is in an obvious amount of pain, your doctor may also decide to anesthetize it in order to reduce the severity of the symptoms. If your pet gets treatment within a half hour of exposure to a toxic amphibian, he may be OK; however, the overall prognosis isn't good.

Realistically speaking…

            In our area of the Chesapeake Bay, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the possibility of EITHER a toxic frog OR a toxic toad.  The most likely symptoms you might see with ingestion of our local Eastern Shore toads and frogs would be the typical stomach upset. There is a species of Bufo toad commonly found in Maryland, but it’s not one of the two toxic species that we mentioned above. 

            Pets normally have a very consistent diet of dog or cat food, so eating just about any living thing might really throw them off and give them an upset stomach. 

            And remember that all frogs, along with toads and turtles, can carry Salmonella which could cause major stomach upset. Pets in good health are usually resistant to Salmonellosis, but it can cause problems in in young, debilitated or stressed animals.

            Also, frogs and toads can carry parasites like Nematodes and Trematodes (lungworms) that they could then pass on to your cat if eaten. Lungworms are much more common in slugs and snails, but if a frog/toad eats a slug or a snail, then it can also be a source of lungworm infection. 

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