"Toad toxicity and how it can affect cats
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"Toad toxicity and how it can affect cats

Cats are very self-sufficient animals that are good at keeping themselves safe and avoiding trouble, but they are also very inquisitive and apt to get themselves into hot water when out and about for the oddest reasons! This means that as a cat owner, you may find yourself addressing hazards that you never could have envisioned-such as the potential scenario of your cat becoming ill due to toad toxicity!

If this all sounds a bit mad to you, or you are thinking that you haven’t seen a toad in the flesh for years, don’t discount it! Toads produce a natural toxin across their skin that can affect cats quite badly if they have enough contact with it, and that can also be harmful to people too, although this is less common.

In this article we will look at toad toxicity and how it can affect cats in more detail, including when the problem is likely to arise, and how to spot a potential problem in the making. Read on to learn more.

Bufotoxin explained

There are a huge number of different toad species, but only two found in the UK, and the most common of these is the aptly-named Common Toad. However, despite their moniker, common toads aren’t really that common any more, and their numbers have dropped considerably over the last couple of decades due to habitat destruction.

The common toad (Bufo bufo) produces its own toxin to deter predators, which is called bufotoxin-and this is produced by all toad species in the world, although our own common toads are one of the ones that do not produce a hugely strong variant.

Because toads are potentially large, slow moving and have few natural defences, they make for the ideal snack or prey for a lot of potential predators-which is why they produce their own toxin, to convince other animals that they are off the menu!

The bufotoxin is produced by the two raised bumps behind the toad’s eyes, which are called the parotid glands, and then distributed across the toads’ skin. When they feel threatened, they up production of bufotoxin, in order to attempt to defend themselves from predators.

Why might your cat come into contact with toads?

Some people may go through the whole year without ever seeing a toad, but they are more common in some areas than others, and when they mate, they come together in huger numbers (thousands at a time) concentrated in one place for spawning.

Each year, toads return to their ancestral spawning grounds to mate, and this occurs in March and/or April depending on seasonal conditions. This year (2017) toads are on the move early across the south and the midlands, due to the mild weather. This means if you spotted toads last year, you are more likely to see them again this year!

Canals, slow streams, ponds and lakes may all play host to spawning toads, and if it happens to be your pond or a water source near you that the toads are using, your cat is likely to come across them.

On land, toads are slow moving, and come in all sizes from tiny to the size of a dinner plate-and their unusual appearance, strange noises and slow method of moving across land can all make them very easy targets for curious cats. If your cat decides to investigate and goes through the usual cat process of drawing it out, pouncing, tapping at them and picking them up in their mouths, this can cause them to produce additional toxins to see the cat off.

Cats are unlikely to try to actually eat a toad, but simply picking them up and so, touching the skin can generate enough toxins to make your cat ill.

What are the symptoms of toad toxicity?

If you know that toads congregate in your local area, it is important to know what the symptoms of toad toxicity in cats are, so that you can be on the lookout for potential problems.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • A high temperature.
  • Excess salivation, or appearing to drool.
  • Dark, deep red mucous membranes in the mouth.
  • Signs of distress such as mewing, head shaking and generally appearing unhappy.
  • Fast, shallow breathing, or laboured breath sounds.
  • Vomiting, or attempting to vomit on an empty stomach.
  • Tremors, fainting or loss of consciousness.
  • Dilated pupils.

Not all cats will display all of these symptoms, and how badly your cat may be affected depends on how much of the toxin they have ingested, which is of course something that you will not know!

What to do if you spot a problem

If you know or suspect that your cat is becoming ill after coming into contact with a toad (or having had potential contact) you should speak to your vet as a matter of urgency. There is no antidote for bufotoxin specifically, but your vet can support your cat and treat the symptoms of the problem in order to improve their health while the toxin works its way through the system.

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