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Monday, September 13, 2010

Poisonous Toad—Beware for Pet’s Sake

By: Heather Hammers, Sea Grant Marine Agent

Here in Florida we can certainly admit that we have our share of diverse wildlife both on land and in our water including the established amphibian and reptilian fauna that often inhabit and forage in our gardens and landscaping around our homes. One leaping creature that people need to be cautious of however, is the marine toad, or bufo marinus. They're infamous for the danger they pose to small pets and wild animals because of the "bufotoxin" they produce as a defense against predators.

Bufotoxin is a moderately potent poison secreted in the skin of some amphibians, especially the typical toads. The milky fluid contains several identifiable components: bufagin, with effects on the heart similar to those of digitalis; bufotenine, a hallucinogen; and serotonin, a vasoconstrictor. The composition of the poison varies with the species of toad. Taken internally, the poison causes severe, even fatal reaction in many predators. The poison does not normally affect human skin, but it does irritate the eyes and mucous membranes.

The toads' natural range is from south Texas and south Sonora (Mexico) through the Amazon basin in South America, according to information from the University of Florida. However, the marine toad was introduced in many areas of south and central Florida to control agricultural pests in sugar cane. People can avoid attracting the toads by not leaving pet food in open dishes in the yard.

Toad poisoning is a common problem for dogs, particularly terriers, according to the University of Florida. Symptoms include drooling, head shaking, crying, loss of coordination and, in more serious cases, convulsions. A dog's gums will also often turn red. If an owner suspects his dog is suffering from toad poisoning, he should get a hose and run water in the side of the animal's mouth, while making sure to point its head downward so the water isn't swallowed. The owner should then rub the gums and mouth to remove the toxin. A vet should be called immediately.


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