Warning after hiker's dog dies after biting poisonous toad in Fujairah

Extremely rare case prompts warning to dog walkers in wadis and mountains

Adrienn Remenyi and David Connell with their surviving miniature dachshund Frankie at their home in Ras Al Khaimah. Leslie Pableo for The National
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A hiker whose dog died in Fujairah after picking up a venomous toad has warned pet owners to keep their animals away from wildlife in the mountains of the UAE.

Adrienn Remenyi, who is Hungarian and lives in Ras Al Khaimah, was walking with her husband and two miniature dachshund dogs, Frankie and Porter, on March 8 in Fujairah.

Recent rains had left many wadis in the area brimming with water attracting additional wildlife.

I did not imagine that Arabian toad venom could kill a dog, so this is very unusual
Sandra Goutte, frog specialist at New York University Abu Dhabi

Arabian toads were a common sight on the walks the couple regularly took in the Wadi al Fay area, but Ms Remenyi had no idea their dogs would be at risk.

“We've been going hiking in the Dahir sulphur pools for years now and we've seen the toads before. They were there on that particular day,” said Ms Remenyi.

“At the time, we thought they were harmless frogs.

“Porter ran after one and bit into it. He then started shaking and foaming at the mouth.

“He dropped the toad and I flushed his mouth out with some water I had on me.

“Not even then did it occur to me that it was toxic.”

Fast-acting toxin

While the toad disappeared apparently unharmed, Porter’s health began to quickly deteriorate and his snout began to swell.

The couple returned to the car and called a local vet for advice.

“When we arrived home he started vomiting and I noticed that the swelling wasn't improving, but getting worse,” said Ms Remenyi.

“We took him to Dubai to see our usual vet.

“With a heavy heart, we came home, and got a call the next morning to let us know that there was no change in his condition.

“A couple of hours later, they called me again and said his breathing was getting worse so they were going to put him in an oxygen chamber.

“On the way in to see him, I got the call that he was given three rounds of CPR but he had died.”

Vets at the British Veterinary Hospital in Jumeirah 3 said the dog’s symptoms were similar to a snake bite, and if that was the case they could have administered anti-venom.

But as Porter had ingested toxins from the toad, there was no suitable anti-venom available.

An autopsy showed swelling in the dog’s head, thinned blood but no other organ damage – which are typical symptoms of toxicity. The veterinary bills totalled more than Dh8,000.

Dr Gareth Enslin, a vet at BVC who treated Porter, thought the dog had been bitten by a snake initially due to its symptoms.

“Normally, we see this kind of reaction with snake bites, when you get that kind of that swelling,” he said.

“We searched everywhere over his body and inside his mouth looking for any puncture marks that could indicate there was a snake.

“There were no wounds of any kind, so all we had was the detail of the toad inside the mouth.”

Dr Enslin said if Porter had eaten a frog a couple of months before, it could have been an allergic reaction.

“When he contacted again, maybe that started the anaphylactic reaction,” he said.

“If a dog interacts with anything like a frog or a snake, it is important to get him to the nearest vet as soon as possible, and try to record an image of what it has been in contact with to help the vets respond correctly.”

Low risk

The risk of encountering a venomous species in the UAE remains extremely low.

Of the 13 natives species of snakes, only the four vipers that live in rocky or sandy areas are cause for concern.

The distinctive triangular heads of the Arabian horned viper, Sindh saw-scaled viper, Oman carpet viper or Hajar saw-scaled viper, and Persian horned viper help identify these rarely seen, venomous snakes.

Scorpions such as the Arabian thick-tailed variety, found in sandy deserts and the Hottentotta jayakari, more commonly seen in mountainous areas, are also unlikely to pose any threat to humans.

Red back spiders are the most likely to cause discomfort with their bites, causing pain, vomiting and sweating.

The most venomous spider in the UAE is the violin spider or brown recluse spider, which can cause necrosis if it bites, although sightings are rare.

The Arabian toad is one of two found in the wadis of the UAE.

The other is the Dhofar toad which is green or brown with speckled markings and bulging eyes, but without the distinctive patterns of the Arabian toad.

Sandra Goutte, a research associate and frog specialist at New York University Abu Dhabi, said Ms Remenyi's case was extremely unusual and the toads were generally harmless.

“Typically these toads are found in wadis or a little bit higher up in altitude,” she said.

“Behind the eyes, the Arabian toad has these big glands which contain poison, but it's only for defensive purposes.

“This did exactly what it is meant to – defend against anything that tries to eat it.

“Typically not much does eat them, maybe birds but they know how to avoid the gland that secretes the poison.

“I did not imagine that Arabian toad venom could kill a dog, so this is very unusual.

“If people see them out when they are walking, they shouldn’t touch them at all and just leave them alone.”

Both of the UAE's native toads are extremely resilient and can survive in dry, hot environments across the Arabian Peninsula where other amphibians would perish to the extreme heat of summer.

“Unless there's definitely something else wrong with the dog, I find it extremely unusual it could have this reaction,” said Johannes Els, head of herpetology (snakes and reptiles) and freshwater fish at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah.

“There are stable populations of the Arabian toad here and elsewhere.

“But because of the location, my immediate suspicion was the dog was bitten by a carpet viper.

“They are fairly common and feed on the toads.

“I suspect the dog came across one of these and the snake gave it a bite, but it would be hard to tell.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 11:38 AM