Flor's Amphibian Crisis and Why Vets Can't Treat Their Own Pets
Friday. The day began inauspiciously with my son’s cracked braces and an impromptu visit to the [ever-vacationing] orthodontist (I should have been an orthodontist. It’s not as sexy as being a vet and you have to touch people’s mouths—but that Maserati!). Next up was the death of my beloved, twelve-year-old Lexus. I only hope the mechanics can resuscitate her so I can get one more year out of her. Then came the worst: My mother’s dog, an avid huntress, took her backyard stalking a little too far. Today she nabbed a toad instead of her usual rat (there’s no accounting for taste).
Flor (flower, in Spanish) is a nine-year-old Jack Russell terrier with a penchant for anything 1-smaller than her and 2-that moves. Simple (and usually safe) criteria, but today was another story. This morning, hot on the heels of my automotive crisis, Flor got a mouthful of poisonous toad.
The gardener at my mother’s house noticed Flor looking strange. She was salivating wildly and shaking her head. My mom, who was uncharacteristically still at home, washed her mouth out and called me. It took no longer than five minutes for me to run over (I live two houses down), hose her mouth out again, and get her in my [out-of-town] father’s [brand new luxury] car.
Two blocks later the seizuring began. Try driving a car you’ve hardly ever driven before with an intermittently seizuring and freaking out Jack Russell and I think you qualify for some special driving certificate. I’ll call the Infiniti people—perhaps they’ll make a commercial reenacting the blood, the vomit and the danger of it all. Thrilling TV—for once.
Knowing my own hospital to be hitting peak performance at this time of day (10 AM), I avoided it altogether and turned into the [closer] parking lot of my boyfriend’s specialty hospital. This is going to cost me, I thought. One way or the other.
Was it the miles? (only one more block and I would have been at my place) or was it the equipment? (we have the technology). No. It was neither. It was the fact that I could not cope with my own emergency.
By the time I rushed in the back door with Flor she was in full-out seizure mode. I was visibly shaking and completely unhinged. It was time for someone else to do the work.
Based on the look of her, Flor had received a whopping dose of toad. Bufus marinus, to be exact. Here in Florida we have these large, lumpy-bumpy, introduced species of toads that lurk near backyard swimming pools and love to munch dog food and hang out in their water bowls. You’d think they’d find a more appropriate venue for their maraudings but these toads just don’t care. One lick and the dog is either suitably repulsed or down for the count. Flor, being a Jack Russell, was probably undeterred by the one-lick warning shot. She went back for the full dose. At fourteen pounds it was more than a mouthful. It was deadly.
The toad has this nasty toxin it secretes from these little glands near its ears (they have ears?). The toxin first irritates the dog’s mucous membranes (hence the foaming at the mouth, head-shaking and biting of the tongue, etc.) then attacks the nervous system (bringing on seizures within minutes) and finally, as if the rest wasn’t enough, the poison targets the heart (cardiotoxicity), leading to deadly changes in its rhythm.
When she arrived at Miami Veterinary Specialists, Flor was seizuring, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth and nose (after biting her tongue repeatedly), and had a temperature of 104.9. Dramatic stuff, this toad’s venom. Dr. Wosar gave her a big dose of Valium to calm the seizures—to no effect. Now the troops went in for the IV catheter. Her seizures were getting worse. It took four veins to make it stick. More Valium—nothing. Phenobarbital, a stronger anticonvulsant—better, but still seizuring. Finally, he set up a continuous infusion of propofol (an anticonvulsant anesthetic)—and that did it.
This whole time I was pacing, looking at the floor, and trying hard not to get in anyone’s way. I knew I was useless. Obviously, this vet can’t treat her own pets.
Six hours later, she’s still getting the propofol drip—but she’s receiving less than before. Her EKG no longer blips with telltale curves from the toad’s cardiotoxin. She’s going to be fine. Drunk and disheveled as she is now, she’s still more than earned her new family nickname: Cazasapo (which, in Spanish, means The Toad Hunter).
So much for my day off—and the pedicure I was in dire need of (and still am). Luckily (by the skin of her teeth), Flor will live to see another day of squirrel-racing and rat-catching in her suburban dominion. Now if only I could get my hands on that toad…actually, I think the gardener already saw to that.