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Desert Dangers: Toads


I live in Arizona, one of the most hostile, yet hauntingly beautiful places in the world. Arizona is home to the Sonoran desert, which is filled with dangers to us and to our pets.

Since many visitors may not know about these when they first arrive, I wanted to talk about a few of those this month and make sure everyone knows understands that the desert can be deadly if you’re not on your guard.

Today we’re talking about one thing visitors may not expect: toads.

These toads are commonly known as the Sonoran Desert Toad or the Colorado River Toad, or the “bufo toad”. But they also have their scientific names of Ollotis alvaria and Bufo alvarius.

They are most common during the months of May thru August in the Phoenix metro region. However, they can show up at any time of the year. They lay up to 8,000 eggs at one time and love being in slow-moving streams, temporary pools of water (like after it rains and then floods), or any area that has lakes (especially on golf courses). We see these guys most often during the monsoon season (which runs from June through late August).


[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]The Sonoran Desert Toad[/heading]

This toad is one of Arizona’s largest toads. It can grow to over 7.5 inches in length but they also come in very small sizes (less than an inch), so it’s very tough sometimes to know what your pet got hold of.

However, the symptoms your pets will experience are unforgettable.

The Sonoran toad secretes a toxin that actually has many valid uses – including protection for the toad.

These toads are known for coming outdoors at night. When they are not active (in winter months), they live in underground rodent burrows. But whenever we receive rainfall of more than an inch or high humidity levels for more than a few days, you can expect them to pop up in your yards like mushrooms.


[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]There are toads in the desert?[/heading]

Yep – 16 species, actually!

Some 16 species of Bufo toads are found around the world. Bufo alvarius (Colorado River toad) are primarily found In the southwestern United States, Northern Mexico, Central Mexico, and South America. Bufo marinus is found in Florida and Hawaii. These toads go by many names, including the Colorado River Toad, Sonoran Desert Toad, and the Cane Toad (Bufo alvarius).

Their toxin is unforgettable. If you’ve ever heard of anyone “licking a toad”, this is the toad they are talking about. They excrete a venom called bufotenin, which was actually outlawed in California during the 70s.

But if you’re looking for a hallucinogen, you’ll have to go elsewhere. These toads are illegal to possess or move from the state in the states in which I. alvarius is (or was) indigenous. That includes California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is very clear about the law in Arizona: “An individual shall not… export any live wildlife from the state; 3. Transport, possess, offer for sale, sell, sell as live bait, trade, give away, purchase, rent, lease, display, exhibit, propagate… within the state…”

In other words, don’t mess with them…

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]How Pets Get Injured[/heading]

These toads secrete a toxin that is transferred to your dogs and cats when they “mouth” the toads. The toxin is a self-defense mechanism for the toads, but can be deadly to dogs.

These toads obviously like water and can perch on your pets outdoor water bowl long enough to leave a toxin behind, which can also cause your pets to react. The biggest reaction in pets comes from playing with the little amphibians.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Symptoms of Toad Poisoning[/heading]

Dogs quickly learn that the toxin excreted from these toads not only tastes horrible, but acts like a hallucinogenic to the animal.  You’ll see many issues occur within seconds of the dog “mouthing” the toad.

[box title=”Symptoms Include” box_color=”#006666″]
  • drooling
  • slobbering foam
  • head shaking
  • tearing of the eyes
  • loss of coordination
  • apparent blindness
  • bright red gums
  • elevated heartbeat
  • dilated pupils
  • high fever
  • seizures
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[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Treatment for pets who mouth toads[/heading]

Flush the mouth out (carefully – please don’t drown your dog!) with large amounts of water. We use a hose to direct the stream out of the mouth (never down the throat)! The goal is to remove the toxins from your pets mouth as soon as humanly possible.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Emergency or not?[/heading]

This is a tough question. While we always advocate to see your vet immediately if you’re ever in doubt, the truth is – it depends on the size of the pet. So we’re going to err on the side of,  “Yes, you need to get your pet to a vet.”

But keep in mind that each dog will react differently.

Here’s why:

Some large animals will have very little reaction other than foaming mouth and some pretty trippy (and very scary) hallucinations. It won’t be pleasant for you or them. However, they will probably survive it just fine.

But to most small animals, this toad’s toxin is deadly.  On top of that, there is no antidote for the toxin. So, it’s so important to get supportive care in place immediately.

Your vet will be able to supply anti-arrhythmic drugs, sedation (if needed), atropine and sub-cutaneous fluids.  With supportive care and quick action, even your small pets have a very excellent chance of surviving the toxin of the bufo toad.

Treatment focuses on supportive care and may include these options as well as others. You should plan on having your pet staying at least one night with your veterinarian, although treatment can vary greatly depending on the pets reaction.

[box title=”Here are treatments you may need to discuss with your veterinarian:” box_color=”#006666″]
  • Cardiac glycoside effects: Drugs such as atropine, phenytoin and lidocaine may be administered to manage bradycardia (abnormally slow pulse) and other cardiac irregularities.
  • Hallucinogenic effects: Sedation may be required to keep the pet calm until the poison is expelled from the body.
  • Emesis (vomiting) may be indicated if there was a recent substantial ingestion and the dog is sufficiently alert. Repeated oral charcoal doses (every 2-6 hours) may help reduce the duration of poisoning.
  • Elevated Serum Levels: Intravenous insulin, glucose, and sodium bicarbonate may be required to combat life-threatening hyperalalkemia (elevated serum pH levels).
  • Toxicity reduction: Cholestryamine may enhance elimination of bufagin (one of the several bufo venon toxins).


Bottom line, these toads are pretty tough and very poisonous. Get your pet’s mouth flushed as soon as possible and take your pet to the emergency veterinarian immediately.


[box title=”Learn About Desert Wildlife” box_color=”#006666″]

Learn more about Desert Wildlife in our “Desert Dangers” series for pet owners.



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