Bufo Toads and Dogs: A Nasty Combination - But is it Worth Killing Over?

If you’ve never seen one before you’ve really not missed much. Bufo toads are big, short, squat toads with a lumpy-bumpy exterior — much like you’d expect if your worldview relied on fairy tale imagery. But still ... is it OK to kill them?

Lots of people think so. And I’ll confess: I’m one of them. Here’s why:

1. Bufo toads are poisonous to dogs who are curious or prey-driven enough to chase, catch and lick or bite them. The toxin they secrete and shield themselves with subsequently cause severe oral inflammation, seizures and cardiac arrhythmias. Though not often deadly once treated, some dogs do die — my mother’s Parson’s terrier, included (RIP, Floreana).

2. Bufo toads are an introduced species that don’t belong in South Florida. They’re from Australia and they have no business shouldering out the native species that once called SoFla home. It’s best they not be here at all.

But are those good enough reasons to end an innocent animal’s life? Hmmm…

As a veterinarian who’s practiced in South Florida for more than ten years, and has treated perhaps a hundred or more cases of Bufo toad envenomation, I do believe I’m justified in thinking so. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to allow an animal to suffer.

Here’s a recent Miami Herald article I wrote to help explain how these toads are best dealt with. That is, if you plan to deal with them at all:

Q: Every year, my husband and I argue over the same thing: What to do with the Bufo toads that invade our yard. A couple of years ago you wrote a column on the dangers of these toads to our dogs and how seizures and even death can happen when dogs lick or eat these animals. You mentioned that they were an invasive species to South Florida and that they should be killed with a shovel. But I think that’s inhumane. My husband, however, doesn’t. He’s taken your words to heart. Please tell me you didn’t mean to say these innocent animals should be butchered inhumanely.

A: Oops. What I said is that sometimes the best thing for these animals is a shovel, which occasioned a slew of e-mails from folks like you who’d interpreted that to mean that the toads should be killed by bashing them with a shovel.

The truth is, I was thinking along the lines of removing them with a shovel — —not killing them in this manner, which I consider unacceptably inhumane. In fact, I considered writing a retraction, but abandoned the idea; admittedly, in retrospect, inadvisably.

Because you are right; "butchering" these animals is not the way we should proceed when faced with a Bufo toad invasion. Not when other means are available to us.

But first, let me back up and explain for the benefit of those who may not be privy to an understanding of Bufo toad poisoning in dogs:

Bufo toads (AKA Bufus marinus) are an invasive, non-native species of Australian amphibians that have enjoyed a proliferative experience in South Florida thanks to our hospitable climate. But they are unwelcome. And it’s not only because they do damage to our delicate ecosystem. The fact that dogs who engage them as prey suffer oral irritation, life-threatening seizures and sometimes heart failure earns them a special place on our list of despicable creatures.

But that doesn’t mean we should kill them with shovels. Gross as it sounds, the most humane method of euthanasia for amphibians has been determined to involve a simple household appliance: the freezer. If you can get past the toad-catching, plastic-bagging, freezer-installing and eventual disposal of these animals (in the garbage, usually) … you’re doing the best thing for the environment and for your dogs.

I know it’s not easy. But it is the best for everyone involved.

OK, so now it’s your turn. Am I wrong? What’s your take?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Bufo marinus by Herman Horsten

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