Background to Cane Toads in Australia
Cane Toads were introduced into Australia in 1935 in an attempt to eliminate various cane pests. The main idea was that the old Bufo would eat all the cane beetles and everyone would live happily ever after. It didn’t work out all that well and (as everyone now knows, especially vets) cane toads eat almost any living thing they can get into their mouths – except cane beetles! Since the time of their introduction, these South American imports have spread from Cape York down as far as Coffs Harbour, a few sightings have also been made as far south as Melbourne. The cane toad introduction story is a classic case of a biological control initiative that got completely and disastrously out of control. Cane toads are a major ecological menace and they are here to stay by the look of it.
Cane toads are most active during the warmer months when humidity is high. Most encounters occur during the evening, night or early morning hours when the toads are out foraging. B marinus excretes a highly toxic (defensive) white substance from its parotid (shoulder) glands when alarmed or agitated. I believe the poison can actually “squirt” from the glands to some extent when they are really stirred up.
I have been told you can kiss toads quite safely, so long as you don’t get them agitated – and so long as you don’t then nuzzle them on the neck! I don’t recommend that anyone should do this however and especially recommend keeping your mouth firmly shut while you do – if you are tempted. The toxin risk is a serious one. However, just the thought of that reverse attaching, projectile tongue possibly being whacked down amongst ones tonsils is quite enough to make most people feel a bit queasy and sweaty on its own.
The toads poison is absorbed across mucous membranes in the victim’s mouth. The toxins are quickly absorbed through the skin of the tongue/lips and gums and appear to cause dogs intense irritation that makes them spit, dribble and paw at their mouth. The poison components include indole alkyl amines, cardiac glycosides and non-cardiac sterols. The indole alkyl amines are similar to the drug LSD. There is no specific antidote for toad poison and fatalities are not uncommon, especially in smaller dogs. In severe cases, medical treatment may include intravenous infusions, sedation, anticonvulsant drugs and symptomatic counte-ractives. Dogs showing signs of cane toad poisoning will exhibit some or all of the following:
Symptoms of Cane Toads Poisoning
- Profuse hypersalivation
- Racing heart
- Clawing/pawing at the mouth
- Hyperexcitation with vocalisation
- Engorged, brick red inner lips and gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart racing
- Muscle weakness
- Paddling fits
- Shortage of oxygen
First aid for Cane Toads Poisoning
In the event of poisoning, there are a number of things that can be done at home by way of first aid:
- The mouth should be well rinsed with copious amounts of water.
- If the poison is on the skin the area of exposure should be well washed.
- If the toxin has been swallowed and the victim is conscious, vomiting should be encouraged and washing of the mucous membranes carried out.
- The veterinary practice should be contacted for advice.
If signs of poisoning from cane toads are alarming or if they are progressing despite the use of the first aid measures already recommended, call a veterinary practice for advice without delay.