Dangerously Toxic Toads – How to Identify them and What To Do

During the monsoon each year, talk on social media turns to potentially-deadly toads that can kill a dog very quickly. Of course, there are several species of toads that can be found in Arizona, and only one can be considered dangerous. This video tells you how to differentiate between these common toads.

Which toad is dangerously poisonous??

Of the 5 species of toads most common to the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, only one can be considered dangerous. That is the Sonoran Desert Toad, or Colorado River Toad as they are also called. They are large, olive green toads with elongated poison glands behind the eye.

Other toads may also have poison glands and secrete toxin. However, they might at best, make your dog throw up if it eats them. Being able to tell one toad from the next is important, and can save your dog’s life.

Identification key to the most common toads in Arizona

This is the Sonoran Desert Toad (or Colorado River Toad, as it is also referred to). These large toads, when under attack, will secrete a poison that can severely injure or kill a dog.

Next, perhaps the most commonly-seen toad in the county, the Red Spotted Toad. They are everywhere, and not something to worry about.

Next up: the Woodhouse’s Toad. They can pop up anywhere the others can, but seem to be more commonly associated with neighborhoods that border agricultural areas. If your dog chews on one, it could emit a toxin that might make your dog drool and possibly throw up … but is not a danger. If anything, I might speculate that a bad experience with a gross-tasting toad might even help give your dog some context to avoid chewing on the next one it sees.

Very similar in appearance to the Woodhouse’s Toad is the Great Plains Toad. It’s a stout-looking toad with a more reticulate, blotched pattern than the Woodhouse, but also often has a light colored stripe down the back. They have always looked, to me, to be the grumpiest of all toads.

Not as commonly seen, especially outside of the monsoon season, are these bright green, cat-eyed toads: Couch’s Spadefoot. These cute little guys are not a danger.

What to do if you have a poisonous toad in your yard?

  1. First, figure out what it is. If you’re not sure, you can send it to our team via email at id@rattlesnakesolutions.com or text a picture to 4806943020.

2. If it’s a harmless one, just leave it there and go on to step #4.

3. If it’s a Sonoran Desert Toad (the poisonous kind): you can move it elsewhere, then just wash your hands. Or you can call someone to remove it.

4. However, you really need to investigate to figure out why it’s there to begin with, and change that situation if you can. Even if you find one of the harmless toads listed here, it can be an indication that there is moisture nearby that can also bring in the big, poisonous toads. Removing unintentional water features like drips from a leaky hose or AC compressor can make a big difference.

I have caught the toads, where do I put them?

The toads you capture will need another, similarly-moist area to be relocated to, or they will not survive. This could be a nearby drainage, cattle tank, park, golf course, or anywhere you know there’s a little water and cover. If you know you could have some toads nearby, spend a little time on Google Maps to find an alternative place to take them. You should not take them far (as close as possible) and definitely not more than a mile or so away.

Then, it’s time to work on the source of the problem: your yard.

The toads you find in your yard are there because of provided moisture. If you remove toads but do not fix the source of the problem, you’ll just have more toads later.

What to do if your dog eats a poisonous toad.

It’s 2am, your dog isn’t coming in from the late-night pee break. You put on the slippers and head out into the yard to discover your pup chewing on a toad. What do you do?

  1. Remove the toad from the mouth of the dog immediately. The toad will not poison you by touching it, so just grab it and get it out – don’t waste time looking for gloves or a tool.
  2. Get the garden hose and run out the hot water, then wash the dog’s mouth out extremely well. You want to get all of the poison that may have been excreted off of interior tissue.
  3. WHILE THIS IS HAPPENING someone in the household should be on the phone with the 24 hour emergency vet that you’ve selected in advance. Do not wait.
  4. Ignore advice from social media, such as taking Benadryl or other home remedies. This toxin can kill a dog very quickly – do not gamble with bad information.

Disclaimer: we are not veterinarians; defer to your emergency vet’s advice. This list has been provided by emergency veterinary professionals as actions that could help in an emergency situation.

Be proactive – have your yard inspected

During the monsoon season each year, our rattlesnake removal crew sees a lot of toads while on the search for hidden reptiles. The fact is: toads kill just as many dogs, or more, than rattlesnakes … so it’s good for everyone involved to extend this service to help homeowners keep dogs safe from toads as well. Email toads@rattlesnakesolutions.com to learn more about what we can do to keep toads out of the yard.

What you can easily avoid here is the confusion and panic of trying to search for whoever is open and asking what to do. If you live where toads can be found (or snakes, for that matter), whatever planning you can do in advance is the best thing you can do and make the difference between your dog living or dying.

Carve an hour or two out of your day to search for 24 hour emergency veterinary hospitals. Call them, find out the pricing, protocol, and work out the plan from start to finish in advance. The difference in how well your dog can be treated, and how you feel during the very scary experience, can be very different if you’re enacting a plan rather than panicking in the dark.

Scam alert: Yes this is a real rattlesnake, no it wasn’t found where it says it was.

If you are a member of any local buy/sell groups, you’ve likely seen this post out there. If you do, do not share it – it’s part of a scam to create viral posts in these easy to get into and usually poorly moderated groups.

Is this rattlesnake fake?

Not at all. It’s a real snake; an Ornate Blacktailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus ornatus) from the mountains of Texas where they are found. This one was photographed several years ago within its natural home range by a rattlesnake educator named Tim Cole.

Quick correction of BS associated with this scam trend:

  • Rattlesnakes are not increasing their range – in fact most species are losing ground quickly.
  • This rattlesnake is not an albino – it is a normal coloration and appearance for the species.
  • “Scientists don’t know everything” and similar comments: because it is a mystery to some does not mean this snake is a mystery to those who study them. If you just learned about the existence of this species from this scam post, consider that herpetologists are more knowledgeable than you are on the topic.

If you see this post:

  1. Report it to Facebook as false information
  2. Post this article into the comments so that others can be informed and stop spreading it.

Rattlesnake in a Pot: The Latest Trending Misinformation

This photograph been circulating in recent weeks – a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake coiled in a potted plant. It has, as these things tend to do, taken on a life of its own since then and the waft of BS is all over social media.

Is this photograph real?

Yes it is – it’s really nothing out of the ordinary. This is a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake from somewhere in the eastern end of its range (more than likely Texas). It’s sitting in a potted plant, which is both cool and humid, which anyone living outdoors right now is into.

What isn’t real?

The misinformation surrounding where this has been posted is inaccurate. It’s currently circulating around gardening groups, community pages, and anywhere that trolls and needy personalities find useful to scare people for attention. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes do not live anywhere near Oregon, Idaho, Ohio, northern California, Florida, or many of the places it’s been claimed to originate. It’s also not from Arizona, as we have seen several claim already.

What is really interesting about this, but not too surprising:

The number of people who post this with false information who claim that it is their own photograph, and first-hand experience. To anyone tasked with unraveling the waves of bad information and personality disorders associated with rattlesnake misinformation, this is a normal phenomenon. Many who spread misinformation like this do so without knowing that it’s already been shared thousands of times at this point, so claims like “this morning in my garden”, often posted from locations where this could not possibly have happened, are extra silly.

Should I worry about this and stop gardening?

Absolutely not. Realize this is viral for a reason: it’s interesting, unusual (to most), and meant to get you excited, scared, worried, or whatever else you may be feeling. If anything at all, if you live in an area where rattlesnakes do occur, just take it as a reminder that rattlesnakes could be found in your garden at some point, and take the necessary precautions.

Why do people prefer misinformation to reality?

Who knows. But with rattlesnakes in particular, it is very common.

Rattlesnake spring emergence – ultimate guide for homeowners

In the past few days, I’ve been to a multiple homes to catch rattlesnakes in garages. That’s normal and right on time. Which brings up the topic: when do rattlesnakes start moving again, and what should homeowners expect?

When will rattlesnakes come back? Our predictions, based on 11 years of relocation hotline activity:

Early February (you are here): Rattlesnakes will start to “stage”, or move closer to the entrance of, their winter dens. We will start to receive calls to remove small groups of rattlesnakes from garages, storage closets, sheds, and other out-of-the-way structures. Rattlesnake removal calls will frequently be multiple animals.

Late February: Rattlesnakes will start to appear out in the open near their selected dens. Garage removals will be more common. However, there will be an increase of calls to pool pumps, courtyards, and homes with rip rap and rock pile erosion control.

Early March: Snakes will start to make short movements from dens to hunt, drink, and engage in social behavior. They will be highly visible on the surface with peak activity occurring mid-morning before returning to the den or other nearby staging area. Mating activity is high, and multiple snake removal calls will be common.

Late March: Rattlesnake sightings will become common as they leave dens entirely. Peak activity will be between 3pm and 5pm.

April: Very high rattlesnake activity and sightings will be common. At this point they have entirely left the dens and sightings are more likely to be random encounters.

New! Rattlesnake Activity Forecast

We have a brand new Rattlesnake Activity Forecast tool! It’s based on real-time snake removal hotline activity. You can also check your zip code to see what kind of activity has happened in your area in the past.


Other good rattlesnake safety stuff to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t worry. This is totally normal, even February sightings (don’t listen to the local news about “coming out early” stories).
     
  2. If you’re a hiker or outdoorsy type, you’re still not likely to see a rattlesnake in February. Be more watchful and aware in March, however. 
     
  3. Now is the best time to get to any maintenance or prevention activities you have on your to-do list. Landscaping, debris removal, fixing the snake fence, having the dog trained … get it done before the snakes show up.
     
  4. Rattlesnakes often den in the garage. If you are using these last mild-weather days to get to “that” side of the garage, use extra caution.

Educating yourself is the best way to stay safe and feel better about the whole situation

As with most things, fear of rattlesnakes is mostly in our heads. Not the fear itself of course, that’s a real thing, but most of what we believe about rattlesnakes as a culture is simply false. Down to the idea that they are aggressive, or territorial (in the way that people use the word) and more, most of us just haven’t had an opportunity to learn factual information.

If you fear rattlesnakes, spend an afternoon going through these resources and watch what happens 🙂

Videos of early-spring rattlesnake captures and info:

The spring emergence of rattlesnakes is a big topic with homeowners and hikers – obviously we’ve discussed this in the past quite a lot! Here are some of those articles that can help make sense of it all.