It’s time for a reminder about some visitors that we only see from July through September. Frogs and toads of the Sonoran Desert are truly as much a part of the monsoon as the rain itself.
There are seven different toads that can found around Arizona. If you have been in the state for even a little time you probably know some of these toads can be deadly to our canine pets. Unfortunately, our Golden companions are not always so well informed. Thus a reminder to be alert to the dangers, particularly right after a monsoon storm has passed through.
First a little refresher on one of the most dangerous. The Sonoran Desert toad (Bufo alvarius) weighs in at little more than 2 pounds and is 8 inches long. It is the largest toad native to the United States. You will often find these huge toads lumbering around looking for mates or food. The Bufo alvarius (aka the Colorado River toad) appearing in and around the ponds must look like a T-rex to other members of the species.
These toads are voracious eaters and consume almost anything they can get into their mouths, including other toads, tarantulas, snakes, scorpions, mice and insects. With six other morsel-sized amphibians in the area, monsoon season must seem like a virtual smorgasbord to a Sonoran Desert toad.
Although Sonoran Desert toads sometimes breed in permanent ponds before the monsoon rains start, they are most active after the first rains in July.
These toads have huge paratoid glands just behind their eyes and small white “warts” near the corners of their mouths. Their paratoid glands ooze large amounts of white poison when they are disturbed too much. Toad venom toxicity is relatively common in dogs. Being natural predators, it is common for dogs to catch toads in their mouths, thereby coming into contact with the toad's toxin, which the toad releases when it feels threatened. This highly toxic defense chemical is most often absorbed through the oral cavity membrane, but it may also enter the eyes, causing vision problems. Its effects are lethal if not treated immediately.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms usually appear within a few seconds of the toad encounter and may include the following:
• Crying or other vocalization
• Pawing at the mouth and/or eyes
• Profuse drooling of saliva from the mouth
• Change in the color of membranes of the mouth – may be inflamed or pale
• Difficulty in breathing
• Unsteady movements
• High temperature
Toad venom toxicity is an emergency with highly likely fatal outcomes. Time remains a crucial factor in the survival of the affected animal. If you suspect that your dog has encountered a toxic toad, immediately take the dog to a nearby veterinary hospital for emergency treatment.
The first step of treatment is to flush the mouth with water for 5-10 minutes to prevent further absorption of the venom through the mouth membranes. The doctor will also need to keep the dog's body temperature stable, which may require keeping it in a cool bath. Heart abnormalities are a common symptom, so your veterinarian will want to monitor the heart's ability to function and respond to the treatment. An ECG will be set up and continuously monitored to evaluate your dog's cardiac activity. Drugs can be used to control the abnormal heart rhythm, and also to reduce the amount of saliva your dog is producing in response to the toxin. If your dog is in an obvious amount of pain, your doctor may also decide to anesthetize it in order to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Living and Management
Continuous monitoring will be required until the dog is fully recovered. Your veterinarian will continuously record the heart's rhythms using ECG to evaluate your cat's response to the treatment patient. Patients that have been treated before enough of the toxin has had a chance to reach the system, within about 30 minutes, have a good chance of recovery. However, the overall prognosis is not good for most animals, and death is very common in dogs that have been exposed to toad venom.