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Poisonous Toads; a cautionary tale

I remember when I was writing article 77 “No Warning Notices Given” I had great difficulty in finding information in respect of the toads here in Spain. Certainly, many types of toads are poisonous and they are therefore a danger to our pets.

A number of people have told me about their dogs or a friend’s dog that has died from mouthing these toads. The number of deaths though seem confined to smaller breeds whilst the larger dogs seem to suffer frothing at the mouth along with a few days of being off colour. It could also be dependent on the amount of venom the dog has digested or even if it has swallowed the toad.

I know of two people who had water features in their garden and were unaware that the toads that came onto their property were a danger to their pets. Certainly living in an Urbanisation is no protection, as the toads seem to be everywhere.

When I moved to my current residence, a neighbour warned me that there were toads and Processionary caterpillars on the Urbanisation and that one of their Spaniels had mouthed a toad then began frothing at the mouth. Following from that experience, the dog now gives them a wide birth.

With the heavy rainfall we have been having lately, it was difficult to find a dry break to go for a walk. On the day of the heaviest of downpours, this meant Winston’s last walk of the day was in the dark.

We all get to know our dogs and whilst I walked round the field and though it was very dark, it was possible to make out the path and Winston is usually right behind me.

At about half way round the field I, realised Winston was missing. Even if I cannot see him, I usually can hear him breathing and moving but there was nothing. I was a little concerned but as the field is fenced in, I maintained my walk.

After a short while, Winston came past me but in an odd way. It was dark but his body actions, as best I could see, seemed strange. I continued the walk but Winston was not following.

I started using the clicker continuously to call him to me but nothing. I clapped my hands even called him by name so by now I was becoming concerned. After a while, I saw him slowly coming along the track but almost in a submissive stance with his head down. In what light there was, I could see he had froth on the top of his head, eyes, and muzzle. Now I was worried and thought of the possibility that the rain had driven the toads out of their hiding places and Winston had tried to catch one.

Walking back with him to the house he brought up three pools of bile, which I hoped, was a good sign. Should I take him to the vet or get him inside where I could see him better.

He was not shaking or trembling but acting as if he had a bone stuck in the roof of his mouth but I could not see anything so I took him inside and offered him a bowl of milk. This I thought could well line his stomach and stop more poison entering his blood system. I also made his meal so that if he ate some and even if he brought it back up it would have absorbed some of the poison.

He drank the milk but left his food, preferring to go outside where he started chewing the long grass to make himself sick. In the next twenty minuets, he must have been sick three times before he eventually came in and lay down on his bed.

He stayed there for nearly an hour before he got up, walked into the kitchen, and ate all his meal followed by his usual noise of banging the empty bowl on the tiles as he tries to remove the last atom of food.

He came back to thank me, then he curled up on his bed and stayed there all night. The next morning he was up ready to go out but he appeared a little tired and he spent most of the day lying in front of the gas fire, which is something he rarely does.

Two days on and he seems back to his normal self. I have walked in the same field in the hope of seeing a toad to see if Winston has learnt his lesson and will leave them alone, but we have not seen any at all.

In fact, since coming to live in Spain, I have seen one snake briefly, but never any toads. This does not mean they are not there and an inquisitive passing dog with its excellent sense of smell and acute hearing would soon pinpoint the toads rustling in the undergrowth.

In those early moments when I knew something was wrong it began to cross my mind could this be the end of the famous Winston. The question was do I call an emergency vet or see, if because of his size and like the neighbours dog, were the toads as lethal as I had heard.

On one website, I did find a comment regarding the toads and it suggested that the venom was indeed fatal to all dogs needing the owner to take the dog immediately to a vet.

Though Winston had the symptoms of frothing at the mouth he was not shaking or trembling or gasping for breath as if he were about to suffer a heart attack which can be one result from the venom. Possibly, he brought up most of the venom or maybe he did not receive enough of it or was it my giving him milk that saved him. I can only speculate but as Winston is very fit and weighs in at about 35 Kilos I hoped this would be enough to save him.

I did read in the Taipei Times that in the outback of Australia, where they have a similar Cane toads, dogs have taken to licking them to obtain small amounts of venom to induce a hallucinogenic “high” and then they walk round with silly looks on their faces. They seem to have become addicted and are doing it again like drug addicts.

I hope Winston has learnt his lesson never to touch them again because as the frothing was almost immediate the association of illness to the toads should be obvious to him.

I have spoken to the resident vets at Clinica Veterinaria San Antonio, Javea, and Javier Miralles at Clinica Veterinaria El Puerto, Javea and they both advise that any intake of toad venom is dangerous and possibly, it could be fatal.

They both say the symptoms are frothing at the mouth that may include some blood, looking as if they have a bone stuck in the roof of their mouth, shaking or trembling with possibly gasping for breath and being unable to stand, then take your dog immediately to a vet. It may only need a few days of hospitalisation but the likelihood is if you are quick, your dog will survive.

We have the Processionary caterpillars, snakes, and toads all capable of injuring our dogs whilst out walking and even in their own gardens.

For the sake of our pets, let’s be careful out there.


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