Did you know that an encounter with a toad could have devastating consequences? During a recent class I was teaching, one of the students said that her training buddy and his friends had found a large toad in their yard. They were very fortunate as none of them made actual contact with the toad. Two years ago, I posted a blog, How Force-Free Training Helped Save My Dog’s Life! in which I told the story of my Staffordshire bull terrier, Jambo’s encounter with a toad in the middle of the night and how a combination of previous training, first aid and an immediate visit to the emergency veterinarian all contributed to saving his life. I’m not going to re-visit the story here but I would definitely recommend reading the blog post.
What I would like to do is share some information about toads and a few other creatures, food items, products and objects that could prove deadly to your companion. Let’s start with a few facts about the Common Toad (Bufo Bufo). Toads range in size from 2 – 25 cm (1 – 10 inches). Toads are poisonous when eaten but even mouthing one can prove extremely dangerous. The poison is located in the raised area behind the eyes, known as the parotid gland. Poison is also present in the warts found on the toad’s skin. The toad secretes poison when it feels threatened. Toads are nocturnal creatures, that live on land but breed in water. The toad will often burrow itself underground and remain there for long periods of time, particularly during droughts or very cold weather. They are more likely to be seen at night and in wet weather conditions. There are many different species of toad and, depending on where you live, varied outcomes of coming into close contact with them. The native British toad, Bufus vulgarisis is, for example, much less toxic than some exotic species, such as Bufus blombergi, Bufus alvarius, Bufus marinus.
What are some of the signs that indicate an encounter with a toad? They might vary from less severe local oral effects to inflammation of the mouth and pharynx with excessive salivation and retching, abdominal pain, vomiting, neurological and cardiovascular effects. Contact with exotic toads is more likely to cause the more severe systemic effects and these may be fatal. A dog may show some or all of the following symptoms: Drooling, head shaking, pawing at the mouth and/or whining. There may be a change in the color of the membranes of the mouth. Your dog may attempt to vomit, actively vomit or have diarrhoea. They may experience loss of coordination, an irregular heartbeat and/or difficulty in breathing. They may have convulsions, foam at mouth and/or tightly clamped jaws. The venom can cause rapid heart failure.
Patients that have been treated before enough of the toxin has had a chance to reach the system, within about thirty minutes, usually have a good chance of recovery. However, the overall prognosis is often not good and death is very common in dogs that have been exposed to toad venom. It is vital to get prompt treatment for your dog. Try to be at your veterinary surgery within fifteen minutes as this can make a life-saving difference. Treatment is symptomatic and may vary, dependent on your vet and the severity of the symptoms.
What should you do if you suspect toad poisoning? Contact your emergency vet immediately and follow their advice. While you are doing so, apply immediate first-aid. My advice, reiterated by my own veterinarian, is to rinse out the dog’s mouth with copious amounts of water for at least five minutes. You do NOT want them to swallow it so I suggest the following protocol: Fill a bowl with water; with one hand, hold your dog’s mouth open with head facing downwards; scoop up water from the water bowl with your other hand and rinse out his/her mouth, letting the water come back out onto the floor (not into the bowl). If your dog is having a seizure, please handle with caution as he/she may not recognize you and could unknowingly bite. Keep your pet cool as they can overheat when convulsing. My advice is not intended to replace your veterinarian’s advice, so please act according to their instructions but I do believe that having a knowledge of first-aid procedures can make a huge difference in the way you are likely to react to a potentially fatal situation.
Please be aware that toad toxin exposure can cause severe irritation to your eyes, nose and throat. If you need to handle the toad, I recommend the use of rubber gloves.
A few more creatures and other items that may be toxic to your dog:
- Venomous snakes. Three factors affect the seriousness of a snake bite: 1. The size of the animal bitten. 2. The location of the bite. 3. The type of snake. If your pet is bitten by a snake please seek immediate veterinary attention as they may require antiserum. Try to remember the shape, size and colour of the snake and keep the part of your pet’s body that has been bitten as still as possible to prevent the venom spreading.
- Jelly fish.
- Processionary caterpillars.
- Chocolate. (The darker, the more toxic)
- Raisins, grapes, currants and sultanas.
- Flowers and plants. Including but not limited to: daffodils, bluebells, crocuses, tulips, ivy, holly, mistletoe and poinsettia. It’s always worth investigating any plants you may have in your garden or plan to purchase.
- Oak/acorns and conkers.
- Xylitol – an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets, some peanut butter spreads and often used as a sugar substitute in baking.
- Ant powders, baits and gels; slug and snail pellets; anticoagulant rodenticides.
- Luminous necklaces.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen or aspirin.
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you are in any way concerned that your dog may have been poisoned, had an encounter with anything toxic or venomous, please contact your emergency veterinarian immediately.
What precautions can you take to help protect your canine companion?
1. Use force-free training techniques to teach your dog the following cues:
- “Leave it”. Teaching your dog to leave something when you ask him to could save his life. When using food to teach this cue, do not reward with the food you have asked him to leave. Pick the food up off the floor and reward with a higher value food. You do not want your dog to start anticipating that you are going to release him to the very thing you just asked him to leave!
- “Come”. Teach your dog a great recall! Never use your recall cue if you don’t think your dog will respond – go and get him instead. Never punish your dog for not coming back to you, as he will be less likely to come back in future.
- “Watch Me”. Teaching your dog to focus on you could be all you need to get him to re-orient towards you, rather than the snake, toad or anything else you want him to avoid making contact with.
- “Stop!”. Teach your dog an emergency stop. Once you have taught your dog to stop on cue, increase the level of urgency in your voice. Remember, if you use the cue in an emergency you may shout or even scream it. You don’t want your dog to be so frightened of you shouting “stop” that they freeze or run away (perhaps straight into what you are trying to get them to avoid) so a positive conditioned emotional response is crucial!
A rapid response to any of these cues could prevent an encounter that might be extremely dangerous for your dog! If you would like to improve your training knowledge and skills, I highly recommend the DogNostics Training Meister Program. You can register for the first level here.
2. It can be useful to carry an anti-histamine such as zyrtec or piriton.
3. Enroll on a pet first-aid course. The upcoming Pet Care Technician Certification Program from DogNostics Career College includes a comprehensive pet first-aid section.
4. Always have your veterinarian’s telephone number with you.
5. Try not to panic.
Please note: This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health – even if they are closed, they will always have an out of hours service available.