Record number of toxic toads posing threat to Florida pets
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida is facing a growing threat from an invasive and highly toxic amphibian known as the cane toad or bufo toad. Native to South and Central America, these toads were first introduced to Florida in the 1930s and 1940s to control agricultural pests in sugar cane. However, they have since spread across much of South and Central Florida, posing a significant danger to pets.
According to researchers at the University of Florida, around 100 cane toads were released at the Miami airport by a pet importer in the 1950s. Since then, the population has exploded, and the toads have become highly toxic to pets. Female cane toads can lay up to 60,000 eggs per year, leading to their rapid and uncontrolled reproduction.
The toxic nature of cane toads makes them difficult to control and eliminates most of their natural predators. Jeannine Tilford, the owner of Toad Busters, explains, “[There are] not a ton of natural predators that can get these guys.” As a result, hunters have stepped in to help combat the spread of this invasive species.
Toad Busters, founded by Tilford about eight years ago, aims to mitigate the impact of cane toads by reducing their reproduction. Tilford, who previously worked as a veterinarian tech, witnessed the devastating effects of cane toad toxicity on dogs. She states, “Especially a small dog, you have about 10 minutes. It can cause a seizure. They go into cardiac arrest. They can stop breathing. It’s serious.”
The cane toads release a toxic white substance as a defense mechanism, making them a significant threat to pets. Although complete eradication of the toads is unlikely, Tilford and her team have made significant efforts to control their population. Tilford estimates that they have removed approximately 300,000 toads to date. However, due to the toads’ fast reproductive cycle and vast numbers, complete eradication is nearly impossible.
Tilford and her team at Toad Busters conduct property visits to identify areas where the toads are likely to appear. These areas include open spaces, tall grass, fences, bodies of water, bushes, and property drainage areas. By targeting these hotspots, Tilford hopes to mitigate the risk to pets and protect native toad species.
The increasing population of Florida and the expansion of residential areas further west contribute to the thriving cane toad population. Tilford explains, “With all the new moving, people are building more houses out further west, they’re creating more ponds and areas for the toads to breed.” This population growth brings a higher risk for dogs encountering cane toads, especially if their owners are unaware of the dangers.
In addition to her efforts to control the cane toad population, Tilford also focuses on protecting native toad species. She emphasizes the importance of preserving species like the southern toad, which closely resembles the cane toad. By removing the invasive cane toads, Tilford has witnessed the resurgence of native species, including southern toads, spadefoot toads, and native tree frogs.
To ensure humane treatment of cane toads, Tilford advises the use of benzocaine, such as Orajel or a first aid spray, to put the toads to sleep before disposal. The toads should be placed in a plastic bag and left in the freezer for three days to ensure their demise. Tilford also recommends creating a dog “first aid kit” to quickly respond if a dog comes into contact with a cane toad. This kit includes a mouth rinse and wiping off any remaining toxin from the dog’s gums and tongue.
While the challenge of combating the cane toad population persists, Tilford’s dedication to protecting pets and native species remains steadfast. She offers dog first aid kits through her website and encourages pet owners to be vigilant to prevent encounters with these toxic toads.