Frogs & toads: injury or illness
I’ve found an injured frog/toad, what can I do for it?
It is often difficult to treat amphibians – place it in a sheltered part of the garden to recover or contact a vet for further advice.
You can also join the Garden Wildlife Health project and report your sighting of a dead or diseased amphibian. Visit the Garden Wildlife Health website.
If the injury appears slight and the animal is active and able to move freely, then it’s best to just move the amphibian to a sheltered part of the garden, away from the view of predators (such as cats and birds) and extreme weather so it can recover on it’s own. Dense foliage, dead wood or a compost heap are good places. Make sure it has the option to move to another part of the garden, should it want to.
During the summer, you may come across Common Toads that look as though they have a head injury – the face may look as if its caving in and it may be making a clucking noise as it breathes. This is the result of ‘toad fly’ – there is a species of green-bottle fly that lays its eggs on the head of a toad and, once the eggs hatch, the maggots will crawl up the toad’s nostrils and begin eating the soft tissue in the nose and head. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to help toads in this condition, though you may want to contact a vet for advice about humane killing.
Injuries such as skin abrasions should heal fairly quickly, so moving the animal to a quiet place, where it can recover and forage easily, will increase its chances of survival. If you think that an animal is seriously injured contact your local vet – though unfortunately they’re often unable to help with treating injured amphibians unless they have a specialism or interest in this field. Most vets treat wild animals for free but ring to check first. Wildlife hospitals are more likely to be able to offer assistance – the RSPCA may be able to help locate your nearest wildlife hospital. Some links are provided below but further internet searches may prove useful.
Please remember that amphibians are small, vulnerable creatures and it is unlikely that a severely damaged animal will be treated successfully.
I’ve found an ill frog/toad, how can I help it?
Like all living things, frogs and toads can suffer from a variety of illnesses and diseases – unfortunately these can be difficult to treat.
Occasionally you may come across frogs or toads that have picked up an injury or illness. We hear about amphibians with ‘milky’ eyes, growths on the skin and a particularly nasty condition called ‘toad fly’ (see above). You may also see weak or thin amphibians post-breeding or during periods of very dry weather.
Unfortunately there’s often nothing that can be done to treat these animals and it’s just a case of keeping them out of harms way whilst they recover (if they can). If possible, move them to somewhere in the garden where they are protected from predators and weather extremes.
Often these incidences are isolated but please get in touch if you have any concerns; ideally include photos of the situation so we can try and determine what’s going on.
If you cat brings home a live amphibian, return it to the garden if it seems uninjured or if you notice a number of frogs becoming thin and lethargic during the summer, please see the information on amphibian disease ranavirus.
I’ve found a frog with grey/white bumps on the skin, what’s wrong?
It’s likely this frog is suffering with herpes – this does not seem to adversely affect individuals.
One of the diseases frogs can pick up is herpes. This displays as grey or white lumps/bumps on the skin, usually on the back of the animals. As far as we know this does not seem to affect the frog at all. It is usually limited to one or two individuals and has no discernable affect on their health or behaviour. If you suspect differently please let us know.
I’ve found a swollen frog/toad, what’s wrong with it?
Swollen individuals could be carrying eggs, have an infection that’s caused them to take on water or have an intestinal blockage.
Female amphibians become noticeably swollen with eggs in spring. This is natural and they normally return to a smaller size once they have spawned. Occasionally, a bloated amphibian could be a female that is egg-bound – where eggs get stuck in the reproductive system. Try contacting a vet about this as they may be able to release the eggs; most vets treat wild animals for free but do ring to check first, also many may not be confident treating amphibians.
A swollen amphibian may also be indicative of a blockage in the gut. Unless a vet is able to help with this (which may not be possible) the outcome is, unfortunately, not good for these animals.
Sometimes Froglife receives reports of frogs (or other amphibians) that become noticeably bloated. The bloating is apparent all over body of the frog, rather that only the belly (which indicates the animal is carrying eggs or has a digestive problem). This unusual bloating is thought to be related to a hormonal imbalance which pulls water into the frog’s body causing it to swell. Symptoms often appear to subside over time but, again, a vet may be able to help by draining the fluid.
Toads also inflate themselves as a defence mechanism (to make them look too large to eat). They will ‘deflate’ when the perceived threat has passed.
If you have found a bloated amphibian that is dead this is likely to have occurred after death (especially if it died in the pond) rather than being a symptom of something that killed it.
Amphibian Health and Disease
Worldwide, one third of all amphibian species are thought to be threatened with extinction and many others face severe population declines. Habitat loss is the main cause of declines worldwide, but there is growing concern surrounding the threats posed by infectious disease.
Froglife has been working on the issue of amphibian disease in the UK for over 25 years. Visit the health and disease section to find out more about our work, the diseases that pose such a threat to our native species and how your information about dead amphibians is crucial to ongoing research.
I’ve seen toads killed on roads in spring, what can be done?
Froglife’s is campaigning for toad-friendly roads through our Toads on Roads project.
Common Toads migrate to ancestral breeding ponds each spring and sometimes their route takes them across a road. Consequently some roads have thousands of animals crossing and, inevitably, traffic leads to the deaths of hundreds of common toads in a matter of nights. If you come across sites where amphibians are dying on roads, please make contact with us, via our Toads on Roads campaign. We can add ‘amphibian migratory crossing’ sites to a database which forms a resource for the Government’s Department for Transport; this allows for road warning signs to be applied for from the local council.
Common Frogs and newts may also be found at ‘toad crossings’ but they don’t tend to migrate en masse as toads do.
Froglife also coordinates groups of volunteers around the country who undertake Toad Patrols, physically helping toads across roads while providing important data for research into recent road declines, and is campaigning for toad-friendly roads to be the norm.
I’ve found dead frogs/toads in winter.
Dead amphibians in ponds are likely to have suffered during icy weather. Any found away from water could have been caught out by a sudden drop in temperature or attacked by a predator.
Some amphibians, primarily frogs, will choose to overwinter at the bottom of ponds because the water temperature there stays fairly constant (whilst doing so they breathe through their skin). In severe winters, when a pond is completely frozen over for a prolonged period of time, various noxious gases which are released from decomposing vegetation/debris within the pond become trapped under the ice. This can ‘suffocate’ not only the frogs but many other organisms which are down there. This is known as winterkill. Lack of oxygen is not normally a problem as plants in the pond will still be producing it, providing enough light can get through the ice – try to clear snow from icy ponds if it’s lying for any length of time. It’s also a good idea to prepare your pond for winter by giving it a bit of a clear out in the autumn; if necessary, re-stock with native oxygenating plants too. After the ice has melted, the dead frogs will float to the surface of the pond and will often appear bloated. It can take some time for the bodies to rise.
Death of a few individuals through winterkill is a natural process and not a problem for the population, but some garden pond owners decide to reduce this cause of mortality. The best way to prevent winterkill is to place a ball in a pond before it freezes over and then remove it after the ice layer has formed. The hole that remains should allow gases to exit the pond. If the pond has already frozen over, place a bowl / pan of hot water on top of the ice until a hole has formed. In the longer term, removing excess decaying material from the base of your pond may help (but leave some material behind as it is a great habitat for many pond animals).
Other winter deaths can be due to sudden changes in temperature – as frogs and toads may take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage they can be caught out by unexpected frosts. They are also more susceptible to predation at this time as the cooler weather makes them more slow-moving.
I’ve found dead frogs/toads in spring.
During the spring common causes of amphibian deaths are predation, road mortality during migration and various effects of breeding.
Adult frogs are part of the diet of a long list of predators and they are most at risk during spring and summer when large numbers of adults may be gathered together. Natural predation can be upsetting to us but will do little real damage to the number of frogs in your garden population.
Predation is likely to leave no trace of the amphibian, but sometimes bodies are left behind. If you come across a dead frog, in some cases it is possible to tell what predator may have been involved. For example, herons and other birds may leave a pointed entry wound where they’ve stabbed with their beak and rats my leave bite marks around the belly where they try to pull out the internal organs; rats, stoats and foxes will all kill more than they will eat, especially when there are large numbers of prey congregating and are also known to stockpile bodies. Otters are one of the only creatures to predate on toads – most animals don’t as they find toad skin distasteful but otters will peel the skin from toads’ legs and eat the muscle underneath.
Predation is also linked to other factors, for instance tadpoles or frogs affected by pollutants may be easier prey. Similarly, amphibians suffering from disease may also be ‘easy pickings’.
Every year thousands of toads and other amphibians are killed on roads while migrating to their breeding ponds. The problem can be so bad that populations of toads have become locally extinct, sometimes in only a matter of years. In the days following migration the dried bodies of the squashed amphibians are seen to litter the road. Amphibians can also fall into roadside drains, from which escape is normally impossible. If there is a road you know of where every year numbers of toads are killed and you would like to get involved and help stop this from happening then see our Toads on Roads campaign.
Breeding-related: drowning or exhaustion
Female frogs and toads that arrive early to a breeding pond are immediately grabbed by males – sometimes several at once – which will often not let go until she expels her spawn. Competition for female toads can be higher than for frogs. Female amphibians can become exhausted from all of this male ‘attention’ and sometimes drown. Males may also succumb to exhaustion in some circumstances – lack of food, old age, etc. This is a normal part of amphibian behaviour and it is not advisable to try to separate these ‘mating balls’ as it is easy to accidentally damage the animals. Amphibians that die in water often swell up so don’t be concerned if the animals you find are very bloated.
I’ve found dead frogs/toads in summer/autumn.
During the summer and early autumn, predators and disease may be responsible for frog/toad deaths.
Adult frogs are part of the diet of a long list of predators so they are still at risk during summer when large numbers of adults may gather together at ponds during hot weather. Natural predation can be upsetting to us but will do little real damage to the number of frogs in your garden population. In most cases predation is likely to leave no trace of the amphibian, but sometimes bodies are left behind. If you come across a dead frog, in some cases it is possible to tell what predator may have been involved. For example, herons and other birds may leave a pointed entry wound where they’ve stabbed with their beak and rats my leave bite marks around the belly where they try to pull out the internal organs; rats, stoats and foxes will all kill more than they will eat, especially when there are large numbers of prey congregating. Otters are one of the only creatures to predate on toads – most animals don’t as they find toad skin distasteful but otters will peel the skin from toads’ legs and eat the muscle underneath.
Predation is linked to other factors. For instance, if pollution is a factor, then tadpoles or frogs most affected by pollutants may be easier prey. Similarly, amphibians suffering from disease may also be ‘easy pickings’.
This can be a particular problem to common toads in late August. A species of green-bottle fly lays its eggs on the head of a toad and, once the eggs hatch, the maggots will crawl up the toad’s nostrils and begin eating the soft tissue in the nose and head. This can cause them to make a ‘clucking’ noise as they try to breathe in air. This native parasite will, in most cases, ultimately lead to the toad’s death. If you find dead toads and the heads have a ‘caved in’ or ‘melted’ look then toad fly is the most likely explanation.
Amphibians that die in ponds/water tend to swell up after death, which is unrelated. Occasionally frogs, toads or newts are found with an inflated appearance. We do not know the cause of this, though it seems likely that some infection causes problems with the animal’s water balance, causing it to swell up with fluids. In many cases the animal recovers if left alone.
If you are noticing symptoms that are not described above it may be that you have come across adults suffering from an amphibian disease. Find out more about diseases.
What should I do with dead frogs/toads?
Remove from the pond, if necessary, and bury or burn the bodies to prevent the spread of disease.
Although disease is often not the cause of amphibian deaths it is best to be cautious when disposing of bodies. Burning or burying the dead frogs/toads is the best method – avoid compost heaps/waste vegetation piles, as bodies can be carried off by scavengers, and your green waste bin as this would involved the bodies being transported elsewhere.
One or two dead frogs/toads in a pond will not cause any problems but you may wish to remove them as they’re unsightly and too many decomposing bodies can overload the pond with nutrients.
Frogs/toads are being preyed on, what can be done?
Amphibians form a vital part of the foodchain and in most cases it’s not necessary to interfere; trying to exclude predators can do more harm than good.
Amphibians form a crucial part of the diet of many wildlife species so you can expect to see a number of predators in your garden, particularly if there are frogs present. Animals that will feed on amphibians include birds, foxes, rats, stoats, otters and hedgehogs.
Some amphibian predators, like grass snakes, have disappeared from many parts of the UK where they once thrived; having these animals in your garden is a privilege.
Adding a variety of places in your garden for amphibians to hide when disturbed is the best long-term advice. Log piles, rockeries, dense low-growing foliage and water bodies can all provide places where amphibians can flee from natural predators.
Cats, however, can pose a persistent problem. While some cats may ignore frogs, others will catch, play with and sometimes kill them. It can be difficult to exclude cats from a garden so, again, increasing the amount of frog-friendly habitat will help amphibians escape – especially habitats that cats will have trouble getting their paws in to. ‘Cat scarers’ are another alternative method to consider.
We would advise that pond-owners avoid using pond-netting. Sometimes the animals you’re trying to attract (like grass snakes or hedgehogs) can become caught and die.