Pinellas County residents: Learn how to identify a toxic cane toad before they harm your pet

Rose Burke

Pinellas County Government warns pet owners to look out for cane toads as contact or consumption can be deadly for cats, dogs, and most other animals. Also known as Bufo toads, these invasive amphibians run rampant during the rainy season, increasing cases of cane toxicity in pets.

Protect your furry friends, and learn how to identify the cane toad, toxicity symptoms to look out for, and how to keeps cane toads out of your yard.

How To Identify Cane Toads

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Cane toads are often confused with native southern toads. While the two share similar features, there are several ways you can tell them apart.

Here are some distinct characteristics to look out for:

  • Range from 6 to 9 inches (larger than southern toads which are 3 to 4 inches)
  • Reddish-brown to grayish-brown in color
  • Yellowish-beige belly
  • Enlarged glands behind the eyes
  • Large triangular glands on either side of the body, which is where poison is emitted from
  • Unlike the southern toad, they don't have a ridge across the head
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Native Southern Toads vs. Invasive Cane Toads |Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Cane toads breed near ponds and canals but will inhabit many human-populated areas including backyards, golf courses, and sports fields. Its massive size is its most distinct feature that will help you identify a cane toad, but to be safe it's best to keep your pets away from all frogs and toads when you can.

Watch UF IFAS Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Steve Johnson offer more advice on how you can identify a cane toad:

Symptoms Of Cane Toad Toxicity

Cane toad toxicity occurs when your pet's mouth comes into contact with the poisonous mucus produced by the glands on the toad's back. This usually occurs when a pet gets curious and licks or consumes the toad. Symptoms will occur immediately, and according to the Tampa Veterinary Hospital include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Convulsions
  • Reddened gums
  • Head-shaking
  • Loss of coordination

What To Do If Your Pet Encounters A Cane Toad

Time is of the essence after your pet encounters a cane toad. Doing nothing will almost certainly lead to death, so it's essential to take action right away. Here are the steps recommended by veterinarians:

  1. Lay your pet on their side and thoroughly wash their mouth out with water using a hose or faucet. Don't let them drink the water. Make sure you don't force the water down their throat, as this will choke them and can even push the venom down their throat. Direct the stream away from the mouth.
  2. Use a wet cloth to wipe down their gums, teeth, tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the flaps of the mouth as the venom can stick to these areas.
  3. Call your vet or an emergency vet to have your pet treated immediately.

How To Keep Cane Toads Out Of Your Yard

The best way to keep cane toads out of your yard is by eliminating their food source. Contact someone for pet-friendly pest control options that will eliminate beetles, centipedes, millipedes, roaches, spiders, and other native insects. This will also help eliminate the food source for other animals they tend to eat such as small frogs, lizards, and snakes.

Cane toads will also nibble on table scraps or even your pet's food, so make sure to keep your outdoor spaces clean. Don't keep water for your dog in the yard overnight either, as cane toads will use them to cool off in, ultimately tainting it with their venom. The best thing to do is to keep water in the bowl when your dog is playing outside, but dump it out and flip it over when it's not in use.

Other ways to keep cane toads off your property include keeping your grass short and cut it regularly, fill in any holes around outdoor structures, trim the underside of shrubs and bushes, don't leave brush piles or stacked wood around, and eliminate clutter.

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A cane toad cooling off in a dog bowl, contaminating it |Kahunapule Michael Johnson

How To Humanely Discard Of Cane Toads

Cane toads are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty laws so they can be removed and humanely killed if you find them on your property. This can be done by hiring a wildlife trapper or on your own with caution. If you choose to handle the situation yourself, be sure to wear gloves, protective eyewear, and skin protection.

Cane toads should not be relocated or re-released after they're captured, and should be humanely killed by doing one of the following:

Freeze It

After capturing a cane toad, place it in a plastic bag or plastic container. Refrigerate it at 4°C for 12 hours until the toad is no longer moving, and is effectively anesthetized. Then place the toad in a freezer of at least -20°C for 24 hours, ultimately killing it.

Spray It With Eugenol

Eugenol is an aromatic oil extracted from cloves often used to flavor foods and teas. It can also be used to humanely kill cane toads and is the active ingredient in many pest control substances designed to eliminate this species. First, spray the substance on its back. After the oil is absorbed, the toad will become unconscious within minutes. It will then experience a fast and painless death.

While killing an animal is never enjoyable, it's sometimes necessary. Unfortunately, since cane toads are an invasive species and have no natural predators in Florida, humanely discarding of them is the only way to keep our pets safe.

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