The Danger of Red Back Spiders and Toads

The Red Back Spider and the Cane Toad commonly cause problems for pets. It is important that you know how the dangers and how to help your pet should it become poisoned by one of these nasty pests.

Red Back Spiders

As pets go, Guinea Pigs are the most susceptible to the bite of a Red Back. Cats come next and dogs are the most resistant to the bite, but they are certainly not immune.

In America, they call the Red Back a Black Widow and in New Zealand, they call it the Katipo.

Red Back Spiders mate in December and January. The female then produces a web with several round egg sacks. These sacks hatch about three weeks later.

Signs of Red Back Poisoning

After a Red Back bites, your pet will show intense pain at the site of the bite, especially if touched. Cats will usually salivate excessively and will produce thick, ropy saliva. The cat will be distressed, restless and breathless. It will usually show muscular weakness or tremors and muscle paralysis.

Red Back Spiders often bite cats on the tongue. This causes the cat great distress. Its tongue will protrude from its mouth. Veterinarians have reported an occasional and unusual symptom in cats that have been poisoned by a Red Back – the sporadic “stretching” of the outside toe of the hind limbs as if it the cat has a mild cramp.

Dogs are less susceptible to the bite of a Red Back Spider but the signs are similar. Pain at the site of the bite occurs and the dog may also vomit.

An antivenene is available and is rapidly effective. While it is not always used in dogs, it is usually lifesaving with cats.


Toads are a common cause of poisoning in dogs. The toad can poison cats too but this is not very common.

Toads exude a milky white toxin from poison glands behind their eyes. They squeeze this poison onto the surface of their skin when they are under threat. Toads do not spit or squirt the poison as commonly believed, and they don’t bite. Dogs and cats are poisoned when they mouth the toad or sometimes when the toads poison gets into their eyes.

The toad’s poison is also dangerous to humans and deaths have occurred. Some adults have even been affected when they absorbed the poison through cuts in their skin after handling a toad.

Toads exude a milky white toxin from poison glands behind their eyes and they squeeze this poison onto the surface of their skin when they are under threat.

In China, they have used toad poison as an expectorant, a heart stimulant and as a diuretic. It has also been used as a remedy for toothache and sinusitis. In Africa and South America, toad venom has been used on the tips of arrows as a poison.

Toads were introduced into Australia in 1935 to control the cane beetle – a disastrous move as toads have no natural enemies in Australia. Australian Terriers and Fox Terriers also think this was a dumb idea, as they are the breeds most often affected by toad poisoning.

Signs of Toad Poisoning

Due to its corrosive and irritant nature, the poison will cause profuse salivation soon after your pet bites the toad. Following this, vomiting often occurs, especially in cats. Cats also show hindquarter weakness and a fixed trance-like stare.

If your dog is poisoned, it will usually suffer from seizures or convulsions. These convulsions are usually fatal unless you seek urgent veterinary attention.

The poison can also affect the heart of dogs and cats, causing immediate cardiac arrest.

After it has mouthed a toad, it is vital that you remove all trace of the poison from your pets’ teeth and gums. Using a jet of water from a hose is an effective way of doing this. The water jet should be directed forward out of your pet’s mouth, not down into its throat.

Toads are a nocturnal menace. They regularly poison dogs, such as Terriers, which often chase small animals. To prevent the problem, do not allow your dog to go outside unattended at night. Take it out on a lead if the need arises.

Place two or three bells on your dog’s collar. The bells will not affect the toad, but you will learn to recognise the telltale jingling sound the bells make when your dog is “suspiciously active”. Immediate investigation when the bells are ringing may save your dog’s life.

If your pet is poisoned

If you suspect a Red Back Spider, a toad or anything else has poisoned your pet, you will have a good chance of saving its life with prompt action.

Make contact with your veterinarian and transport the dog to him or her as quickly and quietly as possible. Keep your pet warm and gently restrained. If it is convulsing, it can damage itself by knocking against objects and it may not recognise you. It may also become quite vicious. Handle an effected animal with extreme caution.

Be on the look out for Red Back Spider and Toads – they are a danger to pets.

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Dr Cam Day

Dr Cam Day

Vet Behavioralist

Dr Cam Day is a Veterinarian consulting full-time in pet behaviour in South-East Queensland, Australia.