Newcomers may still be getting accustomed to South Florida’s intense summer heat and humidity, not to mention having a six-month long hurricane season. Finding alligators and pythons in neighborhoods doesn’t happen often, however, the same cannot be said of the cane toad, also known as the bufo, giant, or marine toad. The animal can be dangerous to pets, especially dogs. Cats and other pets seem to avoid them.
Native southern toads are common, and dogs have a tendency to put them in their mouths. The general result is to spit them out with no real harm done. That is a great deal different from the cane toad which is approximately double the size at six-to-nine inches in length for an adult. More importantly is the paratoid gland which contains a large dose of bufotoxin (a neurotoxin) that can quickly sicken or kill a dog.
Dr. William (Bill) Kern, Associate Professor in Urban Entomology, University of Florida Ft. Lauderdale Research & Education Center, has been with UF since 1993 and has twenty years at the Fort Lauderdale facility. “The giant toads have so much bufotoxin it overwhelms the dog,” he explained. “The toads are not aggressive, but when dogs bite, they generally bite on or near the gland and get the full amount of toxin.” The gland looks like a big wart and is usually behind the ear or eye.
The Rhinella marina (scientific name) is another invasive species with no natural predators. There are differing stories as to how they came to this area, the Caribbean, and as far away as Hawaii and Australia. No matter the real story, they can be startling to see. According to Dr. Kern, although they prefer to stay underground, certain factors such as extra rain causes them to be more active on the surface.
“There is no anti-toxin, but veterinarians can provide general medication which will then allow the dog’s internal organs to eliminate the toxin. If you see it, grab the dog, flush its mouth with as much water as possible and call the vet.” [As a note, “flush”; do not allow the dog to swallow.]
Symptoms may include frantic or disoriented behavior, red gums, seizures, and foaming at the mouth. Dogs will sometimes become agitated before actually biting the toad so if you observe this behavior, call the dog off and see if a toad is present.
There are limited approaches to ridding a property of the toads.
Relocating them is illegal and while they may be killed, humanely euthanizing is required. In speaking with Dr. Kern, use of benzocaine or lidocaine such as found in items like “Orajel”, or “Apercreme Spray”, a plastic bag like a grocery bag, and a freezer are the tools.
Capture the toad, rub ointment on or spray its belly, tie the plastic bag closed and place in the freezer for forty-eight hours. It can then be disposed of. Wearing rubber gloves or using the plastic bag as a “glove” is all the protection needed and later thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. There are also wildlife services that specialize in removal of the toads.
“Cane toads are poisonous, not venomous,” he said as to the question of danger to people. The toxin is not released unless the gland is penetrated or squeezed.
Keeping grass cut short, clearing away brush piles, and not leaving pet food outside at night are some preventative measures to take. More information can be found at Florida Wildlife Commission site https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/amphibians/cane-toad/