• Dogs Licking Cane Toads: How dogs are using cane toads to get a hallucinogenic high
We all know people can develop addictions to various things and substances but it turns out even your pets can have addictions.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 19:30

Marie Flink was at home one day when she noticed her dog Bam Bam was acting unusually happy, that's when Ms Flink knew something was wrong.

It turned out that Bam Bam had developed a taste for licking cane toads - a common problem for dogs in areas populated with toads.

"It’s like looking at a person, if they’ve, I don’t know, perhaps taken something," says Ms Flink. "You can just tell that they are a little bit crazy perhaps."

"She just looked a little bit, a little bit crazy and then she was you know, licking her mouth... and running around."

"It was her eyes I think that also you know gave her away a bit. She just looked a little bit out of it."

102 cane toads were introduced to Australia in the 1935 as a way to get rid of cane beetles. It turned out they loved the climate and started breeding rapidly.

There are now more than 1.5 billion of them across the country with a large concentration in tropical states like Queensland.

As a way of protecting themselves, Cane toads secrete a toxin that when consumed by dogs can make them act like they're on drugs.

"Generally, we’re presented with dogs that are salivating profusely," says Dr Kirsty Fridemanis a Brisbane Vet who has had to treat pets for cane toad toxicity. "They’re quite hyper-excited and they often can be tremoring... worst cases they’re seizuring or they can even go into cardiac arrest."

"Dogs are curious, they want to put things in their mouth to have a bit of an idea of the smell and the taste and then find out what it is."

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Professor Rob Capon from the University of Queensland has been studying cane toads and the toxins they release.

He says there's a good indication that cane toads could cause hallucinations because of the chemical makeup of the toxins.

"The parotid gland on the toad we believe is probably descended from an aberrant adrenal gland, which has gone mutant and has generated this large gland which can produce all these toxins," says Professor Capon. "The other sorts of chemistry that are produced there are adrenaline, dopamine, as well as a compound bufotenin."

"Bufotenin affects the central nervous system, and elicits a hallucinogenic response."

But considering the prevalence of cane toads in Australia and the difficulty removing them Ms Flink says she now needs to keep a close eye on Bam Bam.

"I don’t think we can stop the cane toads from being in our backyards, it’s just part of being in Queensland," says Ms Flink. "The best thing that I’ve found is just to monitor the dogs activity when they go down at night."

"If they start chasing any toads, or go into the bush or something, I’ll make sure to stop them."

Produced by Gabriel Virata and Nick McDougall.

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