Are Cuban Tree Frogs Poisonous to Humans, Dogs, or Cats?

Cuban tree frogs are native to Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands. However, they were introduced to the coast of Florida, as well as parts of Puerto Rico, and several other places around the Americas and are now considered an invasive species in those places. But are Cuban tree frogs poisonous?

Cuban tree frogs are mildly poisonous. When frightened, they produce a sticky skin secretion that is toxic or distasteful to many would-be predators. This secretion is very irritating when it comes in contact with your eyes and mucous membranes. It is also irritating to dogs or cats that ingest it via the mouth or eyes. 

Despite the presence of this skin toxin, Cuban tree frogs are unlikely to ever cause any serious harm to humans.

Their toxin is only harmful when ingested (such as when you pick up a Cuban tree frog with your bare hands, then rub your eyes or stick your fingers in your nose or mouth before washing your hands).

To be safe, very carefully wash your hands after handling any Cuban tree frogs. Before washing your hands, do not touch your face, especially not your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Cuban Tree Frogs Are Only Mildly Poisonous

Cuban tree frogs produce a mildly poisonous secretion that is toxic and/or tastes bad to many predators. People unfortunate enough to ingest this secretion may experience strong irritation and general discomfort, but the secretion is not lethally toxic to humans.

A dog or cat that has an encounter with a Cuban tree frog and ingests its secretion may salivate excessively or possibly even vomit.

However, there have been no documented deaths or serious injuries of pets from ingesting or attempting to eat a Cuban Treefrog.

“Poisonous” Is Not “Venomous”

If you are like most people, you have used the words ‘poisonous’ and ‘venomous’ interchangeably. However, you should know that there are significant differences between the two terms.

Sure both of these terms refer to toxins that can be harmful to us, but the key 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 toxin, it is venomous. If an animal secretes its toxin outside of its body, and you absorb the toxin when you come in contact with the animal, it is poisonous.

In this way, many snakes, spiders, and wasps are venomous (they inject their toxin when they bite/sting) – while many newtstoads, and frogs are poisonous (they secrete toxins on their skin).

Cuban tree frogs are poisonous but not venomous

Cuban tree frogs secrete a toxin on their skin, but cannot actively inject this toxin into a predator. This means they are poisonous, but not venomous.

Poisonous animals are typically not aggressive and are usually harmless if you don’t touch them or otherwise come in contact with their toxin. They only use their toxin to deter animals from trying to eat them.

Are Cuban Tree Frogs Dangerous to Humans?

Although poisonous, Cuban tree frogs typically aren’t dangerous to humans provided they are handled carefully. The only danger comes when their toxic secretions are ingested.

The toxin is not absorbed through your skin but can be absorbed through breaks or cuts on the skin, and the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, or mouth.

This can happen when you pick up a Cuban tree frog with your bare hands, then rub your eyes, or stick your fingers in your nose or mouth without first washing your hands.

Doing this would enable the toxin to be absorbed by your mucus membranes and likely lead to strong irritation and general discomfort.

If the toxin comes in contact with your eyes, you may get a very painful burning and itching sensation, somewhat similar to the feeling you get when chili gets in your eye. This sensation can last for more than an hour and may even cause inflammation in the mucous membranes of your eyes.

You can also ingest the toxin when you handle a Cuban tree 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 secretion of the Cuban tree frog can also be ingested through your lips and mouth, and the mucus lining of the nose. For example, you handle a Cuban tree frog, then stick your fingers in your mouth or pick your nose without first washing your hands.

In some people ingesting the toxic secretion of a Cuban tree frog may even cause allergy-like reactions like sneezing or a stuffy/runny nose.

For this reason, it is a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after handling a Cuban tree frog. Better yet, wear protective rubber gloves when handling or attempting to capture these frogs.

Although their poison is not lethal to humans, it can still be very irritating.

It’s Not Just the Toxin to Worry About

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

Cuban tree 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 Cuban tree frog carrying salmonella bacteria can look very clean and healthy, but the bacteria can be transmitted to humans.

Salmonella bacteria
Salmonella bacteria

You 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 Cuban tree 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 Cuban tree frog. The bacteria can only cause illness when they are ingested. Therefore, thoroughly washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap immediately after touching a Cuban tree frog should keep you out of harm’s way.

It is not advisable to let children under the age of five or people with weakened immune systems handle any frogs. This is because they are at higher risk of getting a salmonella infection. Children in particular are less likely to wash their hands and tend to touch their mouths much more frequently than adults. Doing this after handling a frog can make a child very ill.

Are Cuban Tree Frogs Dangerous to Dogs or Cats?

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

Ingesting this secretion may cause a dog to salivate excessively, foam in the mouth, or possibly even vomit. Although only mildly poisonous, the secretion is still strong enough seriously irritate a dog (especially small dogs) or cat.

Fortunately, there are no documented deaths or serious injuries of pets that have attacked or tried to eat a Cuban tree frog.

Still, it’s best to keep your dogs, cats, or any other pets away from Cuban tree frogs (and any other frogs) if you can.

If you find your pet harassing a Cuban tree frog, quickly separate the dog (or cat) from the frog. If the dog/cat has the frog in its mouth, quickly remove the frog from your pet’s mouth. Call your veterinarian or pet poison control helpline straight away for further instructions.

According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, you can reduce the amount of toxin absorbed (while waiting to get help) by doing the following:

  • Flush the mouth of your pet with large amounts of cold running water for five to ten minutes. A garden hose or sink sprayer can be used.
  • Be careful to rinse the oral cavity but not force water down the throat. Try to point the dog’s head downward so that the water runs out the front of their mouth, and is not being swallowed or inhaled.
  • Make sure to rinse the mouth, face, and eyes thoroughly.

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

Cuban Tree Frogs Can Carry Parasites

Cuban tree frogs can carry many parasites in their bodies. One parasite of concern is the rat lungworm.

This parasite is commonly found in the pulmonary arteries of rats (hence its name). However, researchers from the University of Florida discovered that some Cuban tree frogs in the state are also carriers of the parasite.

The researchers examined 16 Cuban tree frogs from Volusia County for parasites and found rat lungworm larvae in the frogs’ hind leg muscles.

This means if your dog or cat bites or eats a Cuban tree frog, it is not only at risk of poisoning but may also consume parasites and develop a parasitic infection.

According to the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, a rat lungworm infection in dogs can cause symptoms that include weakness in their hind legs — followed by paralysis, if they aren’t treated.

For this reason, it is advisable to contact your vet immediately you notice that your dog biting or eating a Cuban tree frog. Even if the dog does not have any symptoms of poisoning, it may have consumed parasites.

Safety Precautions to Take When Handling Cuban Tree Frogs

If you ever need to handle an American toad (such as moving it off a road), take the following precautions to protect yourself from the frog’s toxic skin secretions, or any bacteria that the frog may be carrying.

Before Handling
  • Wear protective rubber gloves.

Although this is not required, it is still a good idea to wear protective latex or rubber gloves. Wearing gloves will prevent you from coming in contact with any toxin or bacteria that may be on the frogs’ skin

If you have open cuts, scratches, or other breaks of skin on your hands, it is VERY HIGHLY recommended that you wear gloves. Remember, the poisonous secretion Cuban tree frogs produce can be absorbed when it comes in contact with breaks on your skin.

When Handling

  • Keep the frog away from your eyes, nose, and mouth and, be very careful not to rub your eyes, or touch your 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 poisonous amphibians only secrete their toxin to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Therefore, stressing a Cuban tree frog will make it secret it is toxin all over your hands.

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, Cuban tree frogs secrete a toxin and may carry bacteria that can be harmful, so it’s best to protect yourself.

Before washing your hands, do not touch anything (you could spread bacteria) – and remember not to rub your eyes, touch your face, or put anything into your mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

Are Cuban tree frogs in Florida poisonous? Yes, Cuban tree frogs in Florida are poisonous. When threatened by a predator (eg. a human, dog, or cat), they produce a toxic mucus from their skin that tastes bad to many predators. This mucus is very irritating and can cause a burning and itching sensation when it comes in contact with your eyes.

Are Cuban poisonous to humans? Cuban tree frogs produce a toxic skin secretion that can be poisonous when ingested by humans, usually through contact with the eyes, lips, mucus lining of the nose, or open cuts on the skin. However, the section is not very toxic, so it is not lethal to humans. It only causes irritation.

Are Cuban frogs poisonous to dogs? Cuban tree frogs produce toxic skin secretions that can be poisonous when ingested by a dog. This means if your dog eats, licks, or bites a Cuban tree frog, it may ingest the toxic skin secretions. These secretions are merely irritating, and won’t kill or seriously harm most dogs.

Are Cuban frogs poisonous to cats? Since Cuban tree frogs produce toxic skin secretions, they can be poisonous to cats. The secretions produced by Cuban tree frogs are not lethally toxic, so they may irritate but won’t kill or seriously harm most cats.

Conclusion

Cuban tree frogs are commonly found on and around homes and buildings, and in gardens and landscape plants in Florida. Although they are poisonous, their toxin is only mild so it will not be lethal to humans or pets.

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

Photo credits: Thomas Brown/ Wikimedia Commons, and Jim Mullhaupt/flickr.

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