Most common toads cause your pup to have an unpleasant reaction for an hour or so, but cane and Colorado River toads are definitely to be avoided.
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dog staring at a toad
Credit: Robert Crum/ Shutterstock

So you and your pooch pal are hiking through the woods and he suddenly makes a beeline for a rustle in the underbrush. He sticks his sniffer right into it—then retreats quickly with a whimper as a little critter hops away. What happened? The next few seconds will likely reveal he's disturbed a squat, warty toad.

Contrary to popular belief, touching toads won't give you warts. But these bumpy-headed amphibians ward off predators by excreting bufotoxin, which causes instantaneous skin irritation. So are toads poisonous to dogs? It depends on the species. 

What Kind of Toads Are Poisonous to Dogs?

Jo Myers, DVM, of Salida, Colo. is a telehealth practitioner on Vetster. She tells Daily Paws that in the U.S., there are really only two types of toads poisonous to dogs.

Cane Toads

"The cane toad is also known as the marine toad or giant toad. It's found in Hawaii, Florida, and Southern Texas. This particular toad is uncharacteristically huge. It's not the type of thing most people are used to seeing," Myers says. "I don't know the reason, but marine toads present in Florida appear to be much more toxic than ones in Hawaii and Texas." A non-native amphibian, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission indicates cane toads can grow 6–9 inches long, and provides a handy video to properly identify them.

Colorado River Toad

"The Colorado River toad is also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, and is usually found in Southern Arizona, Southern California, and southern New Mexico," Myers says. The Tucson Herpetological Society states it's the largest native toad in the U.S. at approximately 8 inches long.

If a pet parent lives in Florida, Hawaii, or Texas and tells her the warty culprit a dog snuffed out was the size of a serving platter, Myers says she starts to suspect a cane toad. But she adds that the Colorado River toad is harder for most people to identify, so many veterinarians simply base treatment decisions on particular symptoms that indicate your dog licked or bit a toad.

Signs of Toad Poisoning in Dogs

"The symptoms of toad poisoning come on immediately. After all, the whole reason toads have little venom glands is to provide their primary defense against predators," Myers says. "They're pretty easy to catch, so their best survival strategy is to make sure they're not delicious. As soon as the venom glands are squeezed or have pressure put on them, they release toxins."

She adds that the severity of the symptoms a pet experiences after an encounter with a toad depends on a few different factors:

  • The type and size of the toad 
  • The amount of the irritating venom your pet was exposed to 
  • The route of exposure 
  • The health status and size of your pooch

Symptoms of toad poisoning in dogs, including from the most common chunky amphibians such as the American toad, woodhouse toad, Great Plains toad, or Western toad, stem from two things:

  • Irritation caused by the noxious venom
  • Your pet's reflexes to dilute it out

"She'll shake her head and paw at her mouth because of the unpleasant sensation. The level of discomfort is severe and your dog will be overwhelmingly distracted by this and not really pay attention to anything else, including your efforts to call her," Myers says. 

You'll notice a tremendous amount of drool as well in an effort to flush out the irritating toxin, and some dogs also experience nausea and vomiting.

Since the symptoms are so sudden and can be quite severe, they're alarming to observe, so it's only natural for you to get as upset as your dog! Fortunately, excessive drooling is quite effective at eliminating the bufotoxin, Myers says. "We expect the symptoms from most encounters with the common varieties of toads to fully resolve on their own within well under an hour. That's the extent of it for most toad intoxications."

Unfortunately, these initial signs of toad poisoning appear the same way when your dog snuffs out a cane or Colorado River toad—but if they last longer than 30 minutes, or your dog displays some of the more systemic symptoms below, there's cause for concern.

"In addition to being locally irritating to the sensitive tissues of the mouth, these toxins can rapidly spread throughout the body and affect the heart, nervous system, and all kinds of other complicated cellular chemistry," Myers says.

This leads to additional symptoms such as:

  • Dark red gums and mucous membranes
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Abnormal heart rate and rhythm
  • Disorientation
  • Panting and trouble breathing
  • Trouble walking and loss of coordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Darting eyes
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Collapse

"The symptoms are life-threatening and sometimes, sudden death can result," she adds.

What To Do if Your Dog Plays With a Poisonous Toad

Myers says if your dog is playing with any type of toad, it's best to put an end to it as quickly as possible. "This is akin to playing with skunks, but has the potential to be lethal if you live in one of the areas with dangerously toxic toads," she says. "Interrupt your dog and get him away from the toad as quickly as possible."

She adds that all dogs should be trained to "Drop it!" whenever they have something in their mouths that they shouldn't, especially in a situation like this when you don't want to touch the toad either. "A little bit of venom isn't going to be irritating to healthy and unbroken skin on your hands, but you could wipe it into your eyes or mouth and experience the unpleasant consequences." 

Next, Myers suggests that if you're able to further flush or dilute any poison from the dog's mouth with water, that can hasten recovery—but most dogs aren't terribly interested in this kind of assistance, as they're in somewhat of a frantic state. If your pooch allows it, turn their muzzle downward and direct the water to flow down and out through the front of his mouth. Avoid letting him swallow water mixed with saliva laced with the bufotoxin. 

If you suspect your dog not only licked a toad but also swallowed it, contact a veterinary professional but don't induce vomiting unless they recommend it.

Snap a photograph of the amphibian, especially if you live in an area where cane or Colorado River toads are prevalent. This can be helpful for species identification and risk assessment. Then take your pup to the vet clinic right away.

But if your dog's toad tussle is with a common species and symptoms are expected to be local and self-limiting (however severe), Myers says no further treatment is necessary.

How to Prevent Toad Poisoning in Dogs

Become familiar with toads' favorite burrowing habitats, which include leaf and wood piles where they seek shelter, ponds, and marshes. Also eliminate water bowls, old tires, or any other vessel that can attract them. 

"Elevate your dog's water bowls if they're left outside, and change them at least daily," Myers says. "Be aware that it's possible for toad poisoning to occur if one sits in a dog's water dish for an extended period of time, even if it leaves before the dog drinks from it." Unlike frogs, which can bound up to 10 feet into the air, toads are short ground hoppers, so the additional height of your doggo's water dish might be just enough to stymie them.

When you're roaming trails, it's probably best to keep your dog leashed in areas popular with toads. This might even include places you frequent such as wide open fields that are usually dry but a heavy rain prompts the toads to pop out.

"The way toads try to hide by sitting still then suddenly jumping is very appealing to our pets. I think the only way I could design a better pet toy would be to make sure it also made noise," Myers adds. "The fact that they don't go very far makes them easier to catch, so once one catches your pet's eye anywhere, the chances for an encounter are pretty high." 

She also notes that dead and dried-up toads can be dangerous. "There are reports of toad poisoning where the source exposure was ingestion of a dried-up toad, toad eggs, or even tadpoles," Myers says. "Fortunately, many dogs are quick learners, and one run-in with a toad (or skunk or porcupine) is often enough to teach them to leave these critters alone in the future."