SANIBEL, Fla. - Protect your pets. That's the warning tonight from veterinarians in southwest Florida after an invasive toad species shows up on Sanibel.
The toxic toads have existed in other parts of southwest Florida for decades. But because all it takes is licking one once to sicken your dog, officials are issuing a warning to all pet owners on the island.
The cane toad signals when it's in distress. And when threatened, can ooze a white goo from its shoulders.
"That's called the pituitary glands," pointed out Chris Lechowicz, the director of the Wildlife Habitat Management Program at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. "That's what actually has all the toxins there."
The problem is the pesky amphibian is appearing on Sanibel Island for the very first time. A female can lay up to 35,000 eggs.
"I think they waited until we had enough rain in order to fill up all those low areas and then they all started to breed at once," explained Lechowicz.
Experts say the toads live in residential neighborhoods and are attracted to bright lights and pet food. It's why they recommend keeping an eye on your dog or cat because contact with one of them can be fatal.
"When you do see them, it's definitely an emergency," said Dr. David Nichols, a veterinarian with Coral Veterinary Clinic.
The Sanibel office hasn't seen a case yet. But doctors at the Fort Myers location are handing out a warning flying because they treat about five cases a year.
"Most of the dogs we've had, had to get on IV fluids and [we've had to] keep them in the hospital for a while and we have lost some," explained Dr. Nichols.
Vets say if your dog comes in contact with one not to panic. Immediately hose your pet's mouth for 10 to 15 minutes using a side-to-side motion. Then, immediately take him or her to the veterinarian or emergency clinic.
The toads originated in Central and South America but started showing up on Sanibel last month.
"They'll actually eat dog food and cat food out of bowls, which is highly unusual for a frog," said Lechowicz.
If you live on Sanibel and see one of the toads, wildlife experts want you to snap a picture and send it to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at (239) 472-3984.