Are Pickerel Frogs Poisonous to Humans or Pets? (Dogs, Cats)

Pickerel frogs are medium-sized frogs that are frequently confused with Leopard Frogs. They can be identified by their brown, copper, or green coloration with distinctive square spots in two rows down their backs. But, are pickerel frogs poisonous?

Pickerel frogs are mildly poisonous. When frightened, they produce skin secretions that are toxic or distasteful to many predators. These secretions are very irritating when they come in contact with your eyes and mucous membranes, but can be fatal to small animals such as mice or other amphibians.

Despite their toxic skin secretions, pickerel frogs are usually harmless to humans. Their toxins are only harmful when ingested (such as when you pick up a pickerel frog with your bare hands, then rub your eyes before washing your hands).

As a safety precaution, wash your hands after handling pickerel frogs (or any other frogs). Before washing your hands, do not touch anything, especially not your eyes or mouth.

When left alone or when handled with a few safety precautions in mind, pickerel frogs can be harmless creatures.

Pickerel Frogs Are Only Mildly Poisonous

Pickerel Frogs produce mildly toxic skin secretions which make them unpalatable to some predators. People unfortunate enough to ingest these secretions may experience irritation, but they are not lethally toxic. Still, the secretions can kill other amphibians.

Because of the toxic secretions, most mammals, birds, snakes, and other frogs will leave pickerel frogs alone.

Still, these frogs do have some predators. For example, bullfrogs, green frogs, northern water snakes, and garter snakes as well as some fish have developed immunities to the secretions.

In fact, the name “pickerel frog” comes from the fact that fishermen often used these frogs as bait to catch pickerel fish.

Pickerel Frogs Are Not Venomous

If you are like most people, you have probably (at least once) used the words “venomous” and “poisonous” interchangeably. But you should know that there is a significant difference between these two terms.

Sure, they both refer to toxins that could be harmful to us, but the difference lies in how these toxins are delivered.

  • Venom is actively injected, usually through stings, fangs, or barbs (think rattlesnakes, scorpions).
  • Poison on the other hand is delivered much more passively and has to be absorbed/ingested into your body. It can be ingested when it comes into contact with your eyes, lips, mucus lining of the nose, or open cuts on your skin (think poison dart frogs).

In other words, if an animal has to bite or sting you to inject its toxins it is venomous. If an animal secretes its toxins on its skin, then you can ingest those toxins when you eat, lick or touch the animal, it is poisonous.

Pickerel frogs are poisonous but not venomous

Pickerel frogs secrete toxins on their skin to stop predators from eating them, but cannot actively inject these toxins into a predator. This means they are poisonous, but not venomous.

What Other Ways Do Pickerel Frogs Defend Themselves?

Apart from toxic secretions, pickerel frogs have other ways to defend themselves from predators.

As the first line of defense, they have a coloration that helps them camouflage or blend into the leaves and other debris in their environments, escaping the notice of most predators.

However, sometimes camouflage alone is not enough, so pickerel also have very quick responses. If a pickerel frog sees a predator getting too close (such as a bird or a snake), it can use its powerful hind legs to quickly leap into the water and dive to the bottom to hide.

Pickerel frogs can use their hind legs to leap into the water and escape a predator
Pickerel frogs can use their powerful hind legs to quickly leap into the water to escape a predator.

If the frog is not close to a body of water, it can make quick erratic hops to confuse and distract the predator, giving the frog enough time to escape.

Pickerel frogs will only rely on their toxic skin secretions to defend themselves if they cannot escape a predator.

Are Pickerel Frogs Dangerous to Humans?

Although poisonous, pickerel frogs are typically not dangerous to humans. The toxic skin secretions they produce are not strong enough to be of serious harm to humans. Granted, they may cause some irritation or discomfort, but only when they are ingested.

This can happen when you handle a pickerel frog with your bare hands, then rub your eyes without first washing your hands.

Ingesting toxins this way would most likely give you a very painful sting, similar to the feeling you get when chili gets in your eye. It may even cause inflammation in the mucous membranes of your eyes.

You can also ingest the secretions when you handle a pickerel frog with open cuts or scratches on your hands. This would most likely lead to an intense burning sensation and a feeling of numbness at the point of contact.

The toxic secretions of the pickerel frog can also be ingested through your lips and mouth, and the mucus lining of the nose. For example, you handle a pickerel frog, then stick your fingers in your mouth or pick your nose without first washing your hands.

For this reason, it is a good idea to avoid handling pickerel frogs. Although their poison is not lethal when ingested by humans, it can still be very irritating.

Pickerel frogs should be observed without physically touching them.

If you ever need to handle a pickerel frog, remember to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth until you have washed your hands.

Also, avoid handling pickerel frogs with your bare hands if you have open cuts or scratches on your hands.

Toxins Aren’t the Only Thing to Worry About

Almost all amphibians can carry bacteria that can make humans sick. One important bacteria is salmonella.

Pickerel frogs (and other frogs) can carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract and continually pass them off in their waste.

The bacteria usually do not cause any illness in the frog – so a pickerel frog carrying salmonella bacteria can look very clean and healthy, but the bacteria can be transmitted to humans.

Salmonella bacteria
Salmonella bacteria

Humans can be exposed through either direct or indirect contact with the frog its droppings, or anything the frog came in contact with. (For example, if you touch a pickerel frog, it is droppings or water where the frog has been, then touch stick your fingers into your mouth without first washing your hands).

Exposure to salmonella can lead to an illness known as salmonellosis which is characterized by diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

Most infections only cause mild illness, but sometimes, the bacteria can spread to the bloodstream leading to serious illness.

Fortunately, you won’t get sick by simply touching a frog, the bacteria can only cause illness when they are ingested. Therefore, thoroughly washing your hands immediately after touching a pickerel frog should keep you out of harm’s way.

It is not a good idea to let children under the age of five or people with weakened immune systems handle any amphibians. This is because they are at higher risk of getting a salmonella infection. Children, in particular, tend to stick their fingers in their mouths much more frequently than adults. Doing this after handling a frog can make a child very ill.

Are Pickerel Frogs Poisonous to Dogs or Cats?

Since pickerel frogs produce toxic skin secretions when threatened; a dog, cat, or any other pet that attacks one will likely get a mouthful of bitter toxin and let go right away.

Ingesting these secretions may cause a dog to drool, foam in the mouth, or even vomit. Although only mildly poisonous, the secretions are still strong enough to make a dog (especially small dogs) or cat sick.

In sufficient quantities, (such as when a pickerel frog is eaten), the toxins can kill a dog or cat if it isn’t treated.

Your dog (or cat) is most likely to have an encounter with a pickerel frog from March through September when frogs are the most prevalent. Especially in the very early morning hours or after dark when frogs are more likely to be active

If you find your pet harassing a pickerel frog, quickly separate the dog from the frog. If the dog has the frog in its mouth, quickly remove the frog from your pet’s mouth. Call your veterinarian or pet poison control line afterward for further instructions.

While waiting to get help, you can reduce the amount of toxin absorbed by doing the following:

  • Use a clean damp cloth to wipe the gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth
  • Wash the cloth thoroughly between wipes
  • Continue this process for 10 minutes

Alternatively, you could flush the mouth of your pet with large amounts of running water. Be careful to rinse the oral cavity but not force water down the throat. Try to point the dog’s head downward to decrease the chances of water being swallowed or inhaled.

Immediately following this, contact your vet. Do not wait for your pet to develop poisoning symptoms before you contact your vet.

Frogs Can Carry Parasites

Fogs are known to carry tapeworms and other parasites. This means if a dog eats a pickerel frog, it is not only at risk of poisoning but may also consume parasites and develop a parasitic infection.

Also, dogs much like humans dogs, and cats can contract salmonella bacteria through contact with frogs. If a dog licks, bites, or eats a pickerel frog, it could develop a salmonella infection.

Salmonella infections in healthy dogs are very rare. This is because dogs have strong stomach acids that kill the bacteria before they can cause any harm. Old or sickly dogs are more likely to develop a salmonella infection.

Safety Precautions to Take When Handling Pickerel Frogs

Generally, it is not a good idea to handle amphibians. This is because they have a very delicate absorbent skin that allows liquids and gases to pass through.

This means that oils salts, lotions perfumes, soap insect repellents, and other substances you might have on your hands can pass right through their skin and end up inside their body.

For this reason, it’s advisable to observe frogs from a distance without physically touching them.

If you ever need to handle a pickerel frog (such as moving it out of harm’s way), take the following precautions to protect both you and the animal.

Before Handling 

Make sure your hands are thoroughly washed off and are very clean. Not just clean from dirt, but also from any soap residue, lotions, or other substances that could harm the frog.

After washing your hands, dry them (preferably with paper towels), then re-moisten with dechlorinated water.

Even better, you could wear protective gloves (powder-free vinyl gloves or nitrile gloves).

Wearing gloves will not only prevent you from coming in contact with toxins and bacteria that may be on the frogs’ skin but will also protect the frog from harmful substances you may have on your hands. The gloves also have to be moistened with dechlorinated water.

When Handling 
  • Keep the frog away from your eyes nose and mouth and, be very careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • As you handle the frog, do it very gently and with care so you do not injure or stress the frog in any way. Frogs and other amphibians only secrete their toxin to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Therefore, stressing a pickerel frog will make it secret it is toxins all over your hands.

Frogs should only be handled for a short time. Handling a frog too long can cause stress to the animal and dry out it is skin.

What to Do After Handling
  • Very thoroughly wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap under running water.

Even if you were wearing gloves, it is still a good idea to go the extra mile by washing your hands. As earlier mentioned, pickerel frogs secrete toxins and may carry bacteria that can be harmful, so it’s best to protect yourself.

Before washing your hands, do not touch anything, especially not your eyes, and do not put anything in your mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are pickerel frogs poisonous to touch? Pickerel frogs are indeed poisonous to touch. Remember, they secrete toxins all over their skin, and you can ingest these toxins if you do not wash your hands after touching a pickerel frog.

Are pickerel frogs poisonous to humans?  Pickerel frogs produce toxic skin secretions that can be poisonous to humans when ingested. These secretions may cause some irritation, but they are not lethally toxic so you probably won’t have to rush to the emergency room. However, eating or licking a pickerel frog could make you sick.

Are pickerel frogs poisonous to dogs? Pickerel frogs produce noxious skin secretions that are poisonous when ingested by a dog. This means if your dog eats, licks, or bites a pickerel frog, it is at risk of poisoning. In sufficient quantities, pickerel toxins can kill a dog if it isn’t treated.

Are pickerel frogs poisonous to cats? Since pickerel frogs produce toxic skin secretions, they can be poisonous to cats. A cat that licks, bites, or eats a pickerel frog may ingest the frog’s toxins. In sufficient quantities, the toxins could be fatal if the cat isn’t treated.

Final Thoughts

Pickerel frogs are interesting amphibians that are completely harmless when left alone. The only danger comes when you handle them so it’s best to leave them alone!

If you ever need to handle a pickerel, doing it very carefully and washing your hands immediately afterward, should keep you out of harm’s way.

Be mindful of the frog too! Substances on your hands could harm a pickerel frog. Also, frogs generally do not like being handled by anything bigger than them – so you should keep your frog handling to a minimum!

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