I don’t think I’ve ever received more e-mail from such extremely educated readers than I did after my post on bufo toads (also called cane toads in Australia). Seems the post made it to some amphibian forum. And since I asked for reader responses … I got an earful.
If you’ll recall, it was the post in which I took a local wildlife biologist’s approach to heart and advocated freezing as a means of controlling the population of these incredibly toxic creatures — toxic to dogs, that is, seeing as they’re apparently the only species that consider toads as prey.
The first to have their say were the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). Both disagreed with the freezing method. Though there’s plenty of back and forth as to whether freezing is painful or not, in the case of amphibians (some of them actually do freeze solid as part of their life cycle), the upshot was this: We’re not sure, so we’re advocating another approach.
So what’s the way to humane euthanasia for toads and other amphibians? Turns out, the method the AVMA recommends is one known as "pithing." Here’s a description, according to Wikipedia (and I caution: It’s not for the faint of heart):
Pithing is a slaughtering technique in which the brain of the animal is destroyed by a tool called a pithing cane or rod, which is inserted into the hole which is created by captive bolt stunning. Trained slaughtermen will be experienced in the use of captive bolt weapons. After stunning, the rod is inserted into the stunning hole and pushed to its full length. The rod then remains locked in the hole, and is disposed of with the animal. Pithing destroys the spinal cord, thus killing the animal, and also may reduce the reflex kicking which occurs at stunning, and so contribute to the safety of the casualty slaughterman.
This method also refers to a procedure used in biology classes to immobilize a specimen, by inserting a needle up through the base of the skull (from the back) and then wiggling the needle around, destroying the brain. It allows for dissecting the frog, as well as observing its living physiology, such as the beating heart and expansion and contraction of the lungs, without causing unnecessary pain to the animal. The specimen remains living because respiration continues through the skin without cerebral control.
Horrible, right? I mean, how do you manage that approach correctly? It’s got to be practiced, I would think. After all, I’d never try it myself. Frankly, if I was willing to try something like this, I think I’d rather take the toad to work and euthanize it properly.
So it was that I sought the advice of others (after they’d called me out on the freezing thing) and received an overwhelming show of support for the carbon dioxide method. A plastic Ziploc-style bag was most everyone’s recommendation.
(ASIDE: That is, save for the guy who called me barbaric for the freezing thing and recommended a shovel to the toad, instead. To which I replied: I’ve tried the shovel technique and my total time to insensitivity was probably two minutes. Sure, I’m not great with my aim but if I’m bad … what can that say about someone who approaches a toad with a shovel with even greater trepidation than I do?)
One amphibian specialist even recommended a little local anesthetic (xylocaine) in the bag due to its cardiotoxicity to the toad and its ability to render an even quicker, less stressful death. Which I think I can get behind, given my access to this drug. But for most people? Hmmm…
After much reflection, here’s what I decided I’ll recommend in the future:
- Cover the creature with a small plastic container or cardboard box (no bigger than the opening of a gallon-sized, air-tight plastic bag (like a Ziploc).
- Trap the toad by insinuating a "bottom" to the container underneath the toad.
- Turn the "trap" over and apply the plastic bag to the opening of the container.
- Transition the toad to the plastic bag.
- Seal and place the bag in a dark place to reduce the toad’s potential stress.
- Wait 1-2 hours before disposing of the toad in a suitable location (in a spot your dogs can’t reach).
I know it sounds creepy, but carbon dioxide is increasingly viewed around the world –– in Europe in particular –– as the most humane method of euthanasia in progressive agriculture settings. It’s no wonder, then, that this approach would make its way to all manner of creatures, for all kinds of reasons.
While many of you may still complain that an invasive species that bears no responsibility for its presence here should not be treated so harshly, I will protest: We’re doing the best we can to protect our dogs and our environment.
And if you’ve seen your dog suffer the wrath of a bufo toad, I think you might agree. Sure, precious few of us are native to this part of the world. But some of us are here to stay. Is it so wrong to try to do our best to put a stop to what we started? To protect those we love against those whose presence does us no good?
Dr. Patty Khuly