Humble, slow-moving toad can poison cats with bufotoxin

Before I discuss bufotoxin, a particularly virulent poison otherwise known as ‘bufotalin’ carried by the humble toad (genus Bufo), I would like to quote a very brief extract from Dr. Desmond Morris’s book Catlore about substances poisonous to cats. A lot of poisons are inside the home because “we have thoughtlessly introduced [them] into our cats’ environment to help us in various ways. In our urge to cleanse and control our world we have, for cats, often unwittingly polluted it.” Note the interesting balance between cleansing for humans and polluting for cats.

I think that it is a very erudite and intelligent way of saying that humans create human environments for human beings and within this environment they have put within their domestic cat companion, often without really giving thought to how a human world impacts a cat world. If you want to read about stuff which is dangerous to cats or hazardous to cats, there are a couple of links below the picture on this page which takes you to a lot of articles on most topics.

Toads are poisonous to cats
Toads are poisonous to cats. Image: MikeB

Toads and bufotoxin

Of course, not every home has a backyard with toads hopping around in a cumbersome way. In fact, today, a lot of domestic cats are kept inside the home all their lives but the indoor/outdoor lifestyle is still prevalent across the world.

The toad looks like an easy prey animal for a domestic cat. But it has survived for millions of years because it evolved a poison called bufotoxin which is contained in the large warts that cover the upper surface of the toad’s skin.

The poison is released from these warts if the toad is injured in that area. There is no real danger to humans because they usually don’t injure toads.

But of course, the domestic cat wants to injure the toad if they regard the toad as a prey animal. And interestingly, there are two warts containing this poison on either side of the top of its thick neck. This is the place into which a domestic cat might sink their fangs when making their killing bite. It makes you wonder whether this is part of the evolutionary process.

I’m told that it takes 20 mg of bufotoxin to kill a dog and therefore this is a serious threat to an inquisitive and perhaps reckless feline.

It seems that most domestic cats tend to leave toads alone because they’ve learned that it tastes bad having nipped one in a previous attempt at attacking it.

However, we know that domestic cats vary in their behavioural habits and characteristics. The particularly aggressive hunter may dive in and bite and suffer a major trauma or even death.

Bufotoxins

Bufotoxins also contained within some plants and mushrooms. A scientific study tells me that “the biologically active substances produced by toads of this species include dopamine, epinephrine, serotonin, norepinephrine and bufagenins”.

Bufotoxins acts in a digitalis-like way resulting in ventricular fibrillation. The clinical signs are, salivation, headshaking, pawing at the mouth, and retching. Other signs include seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, dyspnoea, vomiting, lying down or collapse. In the USA, toad poisoning is mostly reported from Texas and Florida according to a veterinary toxicology report dated 2007.

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