The marine or giant toad (Bufo marinus) is the only species of toad found in Bermuda, and is altogether an impressive amphibian. While most amphibians have porous skin that must be kept moist to allow them to breathe, the marine toad can withstand salt on its skin, allowing it to swim through brackish, and even ocean waters. As Bermuda has no true freshwater ponds, this feature allows them to thrive here.
The marine toad was introduced to Bermuda in 1885, and provides a great benefit to Bermudians in that they eat undesirable insects such as cockroaches and centipedes. However, the toad poses a threat to your pets in its defense mechanism; it has the ability to secrete a toxin through glands on its skin to defend itself from predators. The toxin can cause irritation to human skin and eyes, and can easily kill a cat or dog if ingested.
Unfortunately, many dogs are fascinated by the grumpy-faced amphibians, and are intoxicated by the smell of a dead toad. It is important to keep pets away from toads at all times, because they can still secrete venom when dead.
Florida Wildlife Extension reports that, “symptoms of Giant Toad poisoning in pets include drooling, head-shaking, crying, loss of coordination, and, in more serious cases, convulsions,” as the toad’s venom is a neurological toxin. It is important to call your veterinarian immediately if you see your pet with a toad in its mouth, or displaying these symptoms.
Immediate care involves washing the toxin out of the animal’s mouth by pouring water over their teeth, gums and tongue – it’s important to let the water wash out of your pets mouth rather than let it, and the toxin, be swallowed. Toad toxin is more likely to be fatal in small animals like cats, or smaller dog breeds, as exposure is dose-related. However, if left untreated larger pets can also succumb to the toxin. Early recognition that your pet has been exposed to a toad is vital to recovery.
Toads depend on the moisture of their skin to survive, and they are more active during the humid summer months, at the hours of dawn and dusk when it is cooler outside. One way to prevent your pets coming in to contact with a toad is to keep their food inside as toads have been known to eat wet cat or dog food, and your pet may encounter them around their food dish.
Remember the threats that toads pose to your pet and learn to identify the symptoms of toxicosis, but also remember that the marine toad is an important part of our ecosystem. It is a naturalized predator that provides pest control for humans, and also acts as an environmental barometer. The ponds that toads live in are some of the first to reflect pollution or other changes in the environment, and by studying the marine toad and their porous skin, we can monitor the health of our island.