Another invasive species has leaped into the Florida ecosystem, wreaking havoc on native creatures and this time domestic pets are at risk, too.
Cane toads ooze a milky, toxic substance called bufotoxin, which is deadly to cats and dogs if they bite, sniff or lick the giant toads. The toxin is also dangerous for humans, and people should wear gloves and protective gear when disposing of the toads, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
There have been more than 600 confirmed cane toad sightings in Florida, according to a database and map by the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
What to do if your pet comes into contact with a cane toad
If your pet comes into contact with one of these toxic toads they could become very sick and die in as little as 15 minutes without treatment.
What to look for: Symptoms may include frantic or disoriented behavior, brick red gums, seizures and foaming at the mouth.
If you see any of the symptoms, follow these steps and act quickly. Wash the toxins forward out of your pet’s mouth using a hose for 10 minutes being careful not to direct water down the throat. Next, wipe the gums and tongue with a towel to remove toxins.
Meanwhile, get your pet to the vet ASAP.
How to prevent them from moving and get rid of them when the toads arrive
The best way to protect your family, including pets, is to make your yard less attractive to cane toads in the first place. The FWC recommends keeping your grass cut short, fill in holes where toads may burrow and clear away brush piles and debris.
Pet food scraps can also attract the toads. FWC recommends feeding your pets inside or cleaning up scraps from pet bowls left outside.
If you’ve discovered you have a bufo toad problem. It’s time to take action.
The FWC encourages landowners to kill the invasive species on their own property whenever possible. They look very similar to the native and harmless southern toad, so be careful to identify them correctly before killing them. The big give away is their size. If the toad is more than 4 inches long, it's a toxic toad.
The toads are not protected by any conservation laws but toad hunters do have to abide by the state's anti-cruelty law. The humane way to terminate the toads is to apply a small dab of Orajel or a similar numbing agent on it while wearing latex or rubber gloves. After a few minutes, place them in a plastic bag and freeze them for 48 hours. Then dispose of them.
There are businesses that specialize in cane toad disposal. Bufo Busters was founded by Jennine Tilford, a registered wildlife trapper with the FWC.
Why are they here?
Cane toads are native to South and Central America and first brought to Florida to manage pests in sugar cane fields in the 1930s, according to the University of Florida.
The current problem population is likely the result of pet trade escapes and releases in the 1950s and ’60s. Now cane toads are reported in Central and South Florida, usually south of the I-4 corridor. However, according to the University of Georgia map, sightings have been reported as far north as Gainesville.
Many nonnative species to Florida are brought here as pets.
Escaped or released pets are the primary source for nonnative species, according to the FWC. Pet owners who can no longer keep their exotic pets, including toads, can contact the FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program to re-home their pet.
Click on the icons below to see reported cane toad sightings in Florida.