TAMPA — Cece Silva was in the backyard of her Forest Hills home with her healthy 9-year-old Chihuahua. By the time she walked inside and sat down at the dining room table, Bella was gone.
“My grandson came running in and said, ‘Bella’s dead,’” Silva said. “It happened so fast, almost instant.”
A toad hopped away from the scene.
They come out in the hot, rainy season by the thousands. The bumpy-looking toads secrete a milky toxin from their backs that is potentially fatal to pets that give them a bite or lick.
Found throughout Florida, the invasive Rhinella marina, also known as a cane toad, giant toad, or bufo toad, can be distinguished by its beefy size — usually four to six inches long, generally larger than any native toad species. They vary in color, but have a distinguishing, triangular gland on each shoulder. Unlike native southern toads, they do not have crest-like ridges on their head.
It’s bufo toad season right now, said Laura Fourniotis, a spokeswoman for Tampa-based BluePearl emergency pet hospitals. The company’s Fort Myers hospital has been seeing about two cases per week, including a dog treated Thursday morning.
“The clinician who saw this dog explained that a dog that comes into contact with a bufo toad will begin seizing within 20 seconds of contact,” Fourniotis said. “Bright red gums and seizing are both signs of bufo toad toxicity.”
Bufo toads are more active during or after rain, so keep a close eye on your pet when it’s wet outside, she said. You may also want to scan your yard before letting a pet outside. The toads are out and active from dusk until dawn, so it’s especially important to watch out at night.
Other signs of exposure include hypersalivation, vomiting, arrhythmias and a “drunken gait," said veterinarian Karlie Bradtmiller of Tampa Bay Veterinary Specialist & Emergency Care Center.
Bradtmiller recommended wiping an infected dog’s mouth with a wet washcloth to decrease the amount of toxin they absorb, then immediately seeking veterinary care. She said to avoid rinsing out the dog’s mouth with a hose because dogs are at risk of getting the water into their lungs.
Unfortunately, she said via email, “there is no antidote for bufo toxicities. Supportive care is immediately initiated including intravenous fluids, medications to control convulsions/seizures and arrhythmias.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission “encourages landowners to kill cane toads on their own property whenever possible.” Cane toads are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law.
The University of Florida recommends capturing the toads with a plastic shopping bag, then knocking them out with a benzocaine or lidocaine ointment or spray, available at a pharmacy, then placing them in a freezer to euthanize them. They can also be knocked out without chemicals by placing them in a refrigerator for a few hours before moving them to the freezer.
If you’re queasy about storing a large toad overnight next to your Hot Pockets, look for a local trapper through the Fish and Wildlife commission nuisance animal page at https://bit.ly/340du67.
Silva, who lost her Chihuahua, has been killing the bufo toads in her yard.
“There seems to be an infestation this year,” she said. “I’ve never seen this many in the five years I’ve lived here.
“It’s been my little mission now, at least I can let people know. Take it seriously.”