A lot of people will look at you strangely if you tell them you’ve got a pet toad. Most people don’t understand the appeal, and clearly think you’re crazy for getting something that isn’t cute, fluffy and mammalian. But the truth is that toads really do make great pets!
There are hundreds of species of toad from all around the world, but you’ll never see the majority of them in the pet trade. Only a few dozen are regularly found on the market, and a number of those are really quite unusual. American Toads and Fowler’s Toads are among the most popular – hardy and not too demanding, they’re a perfect choice for the beginner toad owner.
It’s easy to think that toads are nothing more than ugly, warty frogs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. For a start, some toads can be very attractive. But more importantly for a long-term pet companion, toads always seem much more intelligent and aware than frogs. They don’t just sit around or hop about aimlessly – some species will learn to recognize you quickly, learn your routine, learn where their food is placed and at what time. Some toads will come out of their shelters to greet you when you approach!
Pet toads are truly fascinating and engaging creatures. They’re responsive and often quite bold. Some will feed from your hand (although this isn’t likely to be good for your health or the toad’s). This boldness may well be down to their biological adaptations that keep them relatively safe from most predators. Toads exude a variety of toxic substances from their skin, and not many animals are equipped to take them on. This gives toads a certain confidence and charm that you most people don’t expect from a small amphibian.
Your toad should also be with you for a very long time given the proper care and attention. Many species will live for 20 or even 30 years.
Caring for Toads
Most toad species have fairly similar requirements, but of course it varies depending on what part of the world the species is found in in the wild and what different toads like to eat. But setting up a toad tank/terrarium is normally very straightforward, as toads are well adapted to life on land and so most don’t need much water. Unlike frogs, many toads are very poor swimmers!
American Toads and other hardy species are quite forgiving of the mistakes a beginner is likely to make, and they can cope with cooler temperatures and lower humidity than tropical toads can handle. Once you’ve learned to look after something like an American Toad, it’s only a short step upwards to expand your collection to more exotic toad species. And as you get more experience, the possibilities are endless!
While an American Toad won’t strictly need much more than a tank, a shelter, some substrate plus food and water, other toads from warmer climes will need heat mats and high humidity environments. This requires purchasing thermometers and hygrometers and monitoring vivarium conditions more closely. Still, it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle with a little practise.
Food for Toads
This is the part that will put a lot of people off! Toads mostly eat insects, although some of the larger species might sometimes take small vertebrates as well. Food for toads should be live and wriggling – if it isn’t alive, you can try to wiggle it around yourself and hope your toad eats it anyway.
Toads eat a very large variety of insects in the wild, so you want to offer the greatest diversity of insects possible. This adds another layer of complexity to keeping toads, as you’ll have to care for a whole load of live crickets, mealworms etc just to feed them to your toad. The process is called gutloading, with the idea being that all the nutrition from the food in an insect’s gut gets passed on to the toad.
Many owners also go out of their way to catch more invertebrates in their back yards to offer something different from standard pet store insects. Most toads generally aren’t too picky with their insects and will eat crickets, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches, termites, aphids, butterworms, sow bugs, house flies, ground beetles, harvestmen, beetle grubs, earthworms, silkworms, moths, earwigs, grasshoppers and more besides.
You’ll probably also need to give your toad some calcium supplements and sometimes powdered multivitamin too, just to be sure that it’s getting the nutrition it needs.
The Chemical Problem
The biggest issue with caring for a pet toad is their sensitivity to chemicals in their environment. This means that cleaning out the tank will require special amphibian-safe disinfectant and lots of rinsing rather than using any typical household cleaning products. And all water (whether for drinking, soaking, cleaning or increasing humidity) needs to be dechlorinated or distilled. It’s not too much of a hassle, but it is something to consider.
A toad’s chemical sensitivity also leads to problems handling your pets. Your skin contains a whole cocktail of potentially harmful salts and chemicals – you should only ever pick up a toad with clean wet hands, and even that should ideally be avoided.
It’s also not completely safe for you. Many toads carry salmonella which can make you seriously ill, and their skin toxins can be dangerous to humans too. Extra care has to be taken with children, especially to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after touching a toad and don’t let their hands go anywhere near their eyes, mouth or any cuts or grazes.
The Chytrid Fungus Epidemic
The chytrid fungus causes an infectious disease in amphibians called chytridiomycosis. It has spread with alarming speed in recent years and is decimating amphibian populations around the world. As a result, many frogs, toads, salamanders etc are at risk of extinction, even if they were doing fine just a few years ago.
You should only buy toads from reputable breeders, and be aware of the risks of introducing infection or damaging wild populations if you bring wild-caught amphibians into a new area. Your pet amphibians can never be released into the wild unless they are a native species that was caught locally. Even then, your best bet is probably to talk to a local animal charity, zoo or herp group.
I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, because while toads may be struggling in the wild and generally seen as a highly unorthodox pet, you’ll never regret getting yourself one. We started off by asking ‘Do toads make good pets?’ and the answer is unquestionably yes. They’re charismatic and interesting, long-lived and engaging, unique and charming. Toads are some of our very favorite exotic pets!
If you’re thinking of getting your first toad (or frog), then we recommend looking at the care sheets on this site to see exactly what’s involved, and you should probably buy a book or two so you’ve always get all the information at hand. A couple of the best guides to keeping frogs and toads as pets are Frogs and Toads (Complete Herp Care) and Frogs and Toads: Your Happy Healthy Pet. Take a good look through them before you decide whether a pet toad is the right choice for you.