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Toad Poisoning in Cats

By Rania Gollakner, BS DVM

Emergency Situations, Pet Services

What is toad poisoning?cane_toad_toxicity

Toad poisoning (or toxicity) occurs when a cat is exposed to the toxins secreted by certain species of toads. The two most common species of toads that cause poisonings in the United States are the cane or marine toad (Bufo marinus) and the Colorado River or Sonoran desert toad (Bufo alvarius). These toads are most commonly found in Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Hawaii, and Florida.

While there are toads in Canada that secrete toxic substances, their effects are much less severe than the toxins secreted by the cane or Sonoran desert toads.

Dogs are more likely to be exposed to toad toxins, but cat exposures have been reported. Encounters with toads are more common in the summer months or during times of higher humidity. These toads are most active after a rainfall or during dawn, dusk, and nighttime.


What causes toad toxicity?

When the toad is attacked or threatened, it secretes toxic substances onto its back. The absorption of these toxic substances causes toad toxicity. Once the cat comes into contact with those toxic substances, they are rapidly absorbed through the mouth, eyes, open wounds, or gastrointestinal tract. Upon entering the bloodstream, the toxins target the heart, blood vessels, and the nervous system.


What are the clinical signs of toad toxicity?

The clinical signs of toad toxicity usually begin with brick-red mucous membranes, increased salivation, pawing at the mouth, and vocalizing. This is usually followed by disorientation, circling, stumbling, falling and seizures. Some cats demonstrate an increase in breathing rate, anxiety, and vomiting and/or diarrhea.

"Immediate treatment is required as death can occur quickly."

These signs occur within minutes after exposure. Physical examination may include any of the above clinical signs, as well as an increased or decreased heart rate and increased body temperature.

As time progresses, the clinical signs can become more severe leading to seizures, collapse, and severely irregular heart rhythms, and eventually death.

How is toad toxicity diagnosed?

Toad toxicity is primarily diagnosed by history of contact with a toad and physical examination. There are no tests available to confirm absorption of toad toxins; however, general blood work, radiographs (X-rays), and electrocardiograms are helpful in determining the required supportive therapies.


How is toad toxicity treated?

The most effective treatment for acute toad toxicity is a complete flushing of the mouth with running water. Owners should do this immediately, and prior to seeking veterinary care. It is important to point the cat’s head down so that the water is not swallowed. If the cat is having a seizure, the mouth should be flushed so that the water flows away from the throat to prevent drowning. Quick action is crucial for a good outcome.

"The most effective treatment for acute toad toxicity is a complete flushing of the mouth with running water."

Once at the clinic, treatment will depend on the clinical signs that develop. Seizures will need to be controlled with medications. Abnormal heart rates and rhythms must be corrected. Blood glucose, body temperature, blood pressure, and hydration will be monitored and controlled. There is no specific antidote for toad toxins.


What care will my cat require after treatment for toad toxicity?

Once the clinical signs resolve, no further care is necessary, and your cat can return to normal activities.

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