If you live in Arizona, you’ve probably heard how dangerous toads can be to dogs. If your pup chews on the wrong one, it can lead to severe distress or even death.
But, how do you know which toad to watch out for? In the Phoenix area, the 5 most commonly seen toads are often confused for one another. And of course, that’s ok – you’re a dog owner, not a toad expert. So, here’s the easy guide to differentiate between the good guys and the dangerous ones. Then, a note on what you can do about it to keep everyone safe.
We’ll start with the harmless ones to help your logical brain form a proper, fear-free identification.
First, 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.
Last but not least: the toad that you should absolutely not let your dog near. 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.
What do you do if you find a toad in your yard?
First, figure out what it is. If you’re not sure, you can send it to our team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The rain is finally here, and with it, come the toads. Many people are surprised to learn that the hottest region of the country is home to a variety of amphibians. One of them, the Sonoran Desert Toad (or Colorado River Desert Toad if you prefer) is famous. It’s the one of “toad licking” fame due to a highly toxic poison that can cause some interesting effects (never do this, seriously, you can die).
But more often, people learn about these toads because of the unfortunate fact that they kill dogs quite often. Even though we’re “Rattlesnake” solutions, we want to address this aspect of local wildlife and help where we can.
Know which toads can hurt your dogs
The first thing you can do is to simply learn the difference between toads that can hurt your dog, and toads that don’t.
The only one you really need to worry about are the large Sonoran Desert Toads, which are usually easy enough to spot. They’re huge, like a big green nerf football bouncing around out there.
They’re not the only toads around, however. More commonly-seen are the smaller Red-Spotted Toads. As the name implies (herpetologists are not creative), they are usually red or orange spots on the body. They’re not as dangerous as the larger Sonoran Desert Toads, but could indicate problems. They, like the larger dangerous versions, need water, and their presence could be an indicator that you have good stuff in the yard that could attract poisonous toads.
You may also see a Woodhouse’s Toad or Couch’s Spadefoot Toad. These may emit a mild toxin that could make your dog drool, but it just tastes bad and won’t actually hurt your dog.
Eliminate water sources wherever possible
As you can imagine, life in Arizona is tough for squishy amphibians. It makes it much easier when we supply water. Drip systems, backyard pools, leaky hoses, and more become perfect little spots for toads to take a dip.
One of the things we see quite often while doing rattlesnake prevention work are the number of drip and watering systems that either go nowhere or are watering plants that don’t need them. If you’re watering your Saguaro or other native plants – stop it 🙂
You could also change the time of day that you water the plants. Water in the early morning, just before sunup, to avoid pooling and still allow for the least amount of evaporation possible. This can help reduce the amount of muddy pools, which toads love, sitting out overnight where your dogs can find them.
It’s worth taking an hour or two to go through the yard and evaluate every drop and water opportunity. Ask yourself:
Is this drip necessary?
Is this using more water than it should?
Do I like this plant enough to keep it if it increases potential risk to my dogs?
Fixing the accidental water sources
Other than intentional water sources, there are those incidentals that also attract toads. Perhaps the most common are leaky hoses. If you’re like most of us, the area directly under your favorite hose is damp. In some cases we see, it’s a full-on little pond! Unlike watering the flower bed, this is entirely useless and should be addressed. It may cost a little bit to have a plumber address it, if it’s needed, but remember: the goal here is to keep your dog alive, not minor savings in water costs or aesthetic needs. To that end: it’s absolutely worth it to get any drips fixed.
Another class of accidental water in the backyard are drips from the AC unit. You can usually fix this easily enough one of a few different ways, depending on your situation:
Change the pipe angle or add to it to divert water away from areas where it can create damp patches.
Use a tall bucket or other catch to let it collect and evaporate without creating a wet spot in the dirt.
Use a large, flat stone (or similar) to make a hot surface that evaporate drips as they land.
Get creative 🙂 you can add a bit of pipe or tubing to use this “free” water in any number of ways, like piping it over into a hanging garden, or hanging birdbath.
Get your dog trained to avoid toads
Even though toads kill dogs quite often, let’s look at what’s really happening: the dogs start it. Toads are just sitting there like a squishy bouncy chew toy, and what dog will pass that up? A well-trained one will!
Similar to rattlesnake aversion training, where a dog learns that rattlesnakes aren’t little buzz buddies to play with, dogs can be trained to avoid poisonous toads.
We won’t go into details here, but we recommend talking to our friends at Rattlesnake Ready, who do it better than anyone in our opinion. Rattlesnake Ready has a Toad Avoidance training program that is both economical and effective, and is a no-brainer if you have a dog and live where these potentially-deadly toads can be found.
Have any toads removed humanely
When you do see a toad? They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can just put out in the desert and expect it to survive … so what to do?
Just like with snakes, you can call us 24/7 for toad removal at 480-237-9975 in Phoenix or 520-308-6211. While we’re there, we’ll search the property to see if we can find any other toads, and give advice on how to fix whatever issues caused them to be there to begin with.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
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?
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.
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 email@example.com to learn more about what we can do to keep toads out of the yard.
Here’s a look at our new box design for the rattlesnake aversion program! These are an improvement over the first box designs and allow for complete visibility of the snake, reducing the chance that a dog may respond to the box itself, rather than the critter inside. These are a custom design by our trainer, Jill Rials.
We believe that the more realistic the scenario that we can present, the better chance that the training will work where it counts. Most rattlesnake bites to dogs occur in the yard, while he or she is outside going to the bathroom first thing in the morning, or in the evening, when the home owner is not necessarily present. While snake bites do occur on trails and while hiking, simply having a leash can help dramatically. This is why our program is done at your own home, and snakes are placed in spots where your dog could actually come into contact with a rattlesnake.
To schedule rattlesnake aversion training for your pet, call us at 480-304-5600.