In many parts of Australia the dreaded cane toad is a very real and present pest.
Cane toads were introduced into this country in the 1930s, with the hope they would help control the cane beetle in sugar cane crops. From the 100 or so cane toads first introduced, it’s estimated there are more than 200 million of these pests spread across Queensland, the Northern Territory and into New South Wales.
Not only do cane toads pose a threat to native flora and fauna, they are also dangerous to humans and pet. Cats are generally safe from toads as cats will steer clear, but dogs, particularly pups and curious breeds like terriers, are much more likely to come into contact with toads in the backyard.
The toads secrete a toxin when they feel threatened, and a curious dog can get this poison on their mouths or in their eyes. The danger to the pet depends on how much of this toxin is absorbed. The first signs of poisoning are drooling and a frothy mouth, which can then lead to seizures and cardiac arrest.
Other signs your pet has been poisoned by a cane toad include red and slimy gums, vomiting, disorientation and muscle spasms. His heart rate can become irregular and he might start pawing at his mouth.
If you suspect your pet has been poisoned by a toad, but he is not showing obvious signs, get to a tap and wash his mouth for a good 10 minutes, letting it drain away (you don’t want him to swallow or inhale the water). A hose on low pressure is the way to go. You can also wipe his gums a damp cloth. Rinse the cloth well after each wipe.
Once you’re satisfied with your clean-up job, keep him inside and watch him closely. If you do notice any of the above signs, keep him cool and get him to the vet straight away. Have a friend come with you to help restrain your pet in case he does start convulsing. Most vets are well trained on how to deal with cane toad poisoning, and your dog might be put on a drip to replace lost fluids and fed activated charcoal to help absorb the toxin. If your dog’s heart rate is erratic your vet might also give him medication to stabilise that.
In the future you can help prevent poisoning by keeping your dog indoors at night and keeping him on a lead when he is outside. You can also use reward-based training to help him avoid toads.