9 Investigates

Toxic toads that can kill your dog in minutes moving into Central Florida; how to protect your pets

All it takes is a quick lick or a sniff. Fifteen minutes later, your dog could be dead.

That’s how poisonous experts say an invasive species of toad that is moving into Central Florida is to our pets.

Cane toads are the largest toad in the world. They’ve hopped from their native Central and South America to South Florida, up the state to Central Florida.

READ: Florida pet owners wary of deadly toads after heavy rains

The University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health uses an interactive map to track sightings of the toad. The map is dotted with sightings across Florida from Miami up the east coast to Brevard County, as far north as Jacksonville and as far west as the Panhandle.

Audrey Smith, with the Brevard Zoo, has worked with amphibians for the last two decades. She said as it’s easier for the toad to move north as the climate gets warmer.

“They are burrowers and they’ll dig a space in the ground and wait until the weather is warm again,” Smith said.

The toads were introduced in Florida to fight insects in the sugar industry. Instead they started eating native frogs, lizards and even small mammals. Basically, anything they can fit in their mouth.

Smith said the toads secrete a poisonous toxin from their skin that is toxic to humans and lethal for pets.

“It’s not something you’d want to get on your skin, or get in your mouth or any sort of mucus area like your eyes or nostrils, or anything like that,” she said.

Pets are even more at risk.

“The dog and the cat, they are a lot more susceptible to that bufo-toxin, from the bufo toad,” she said. “If it gets in their mouth or nose it could kill them.”

In some cases, she said it can be enough to kill them in just 15 minutes.

The state doesn’t track pet deaths related to the toads, only sightings.

If you spot one, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials said you can kill it – but humanely. They recommend using gloves to rub benzocaine, like Orajel, on the toad’s belly and then put it in the freezer for 24 hours.

FWC offers the following tips to keep your pets safe from the deadly amphibians:

  • Mow and trim your yard: Keep grass short so you can spot the toads. Bring underside of shrubs off the ground to eliminate hiding places for the toads.
  • Clean up: Messes attract pests. Outdoor food and water bowls for pets, brush piles and other clutter can attract toads and their prey, which in turn attracts toads.
  • Watch out: Cane toads are nocturnal, so watch your pets while outside at night. Don’t allow your pets to nose around in bushes while on walks.
Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.