Toad Paralysis: Legitimate Crisis or Misunderstanding?

European Fire-Bellied Toad

Paralysis is defined medically as a loss of strength and/or the inability to control muscles or muscle groups. A natural result of paralysis is immobility. Because most of us lack the knowledge to truly understand paralysis, we might confuse a lack of movement with a physical inability to move. Take toad paralysis, for example. Herpetologists may notice a toad is not moving and assume it is paralyzed.

It is quite possible that an immobile toad is afflicted with paralysis. If so, the question is one of what is causing it. Some causes are only temporary. Others are temporary but, without treatment, destined to become permanent. In the amphibian world, there are four common scenarios that could lead a herpetologist to believe they are observing a toad with paralyzed legs. All are worth looking into.

1. Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) in amphibians is a condition that can make an animal’s bones too weak to support its weight. It is almost always caused by nutritional deficiencies. For example, a lack of calcium in a toad’s diet could lead to MBD. A lack of vitamin D or an imbalance between phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin D can also cause the condition. Even a lack of exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to MBD.

The question is, how would you know? It is not like you can take your pet toad down to the hospital and have an MRI done. In most cases, a physical examination of the toad’s legs is sufficient. Using hands covered with latex gloves, the herpetologist would gently feel the legs to see if they are soft and spongey. They should not be. They should be strong and stiff.

2. Kidney Blockage or Disease

Kidney disease or a blockage of the kidneys could cause edema in the limbs. Edema is swelling caused by an excess buildup of fluid. If it is severe enough, edema could prevent a toad from moving its legs. The condition is easy enough to spot because the toad will appear bloatedOpens in a new tab..

Both kidney disease and intestinal blockages can cause serious edema. When it occurs in pet toads, it is frequently the result of the animal accidentally ingesting gravel from its enclosure. Until it passes the gravel, it is going to have problems. Unfortunately, kidney blockages can also be fatal.

3. Bacterial Infection

Yet another cause of toad paralysis is bacterial infection. An infection can cause edema, but it can also facilitate the nutritional deficiencies that lead to MBD. Separately, bacterial infections can cause an overall decline in a toad’s health to the extent that it barely moves at all. In such a case, you are not really dealing with paralysis per se. You’re dealing with a toad whose overall health is in decline.

4. Low Body Temperature

The last possibility is low body temperature. A toad may appear paralyzed because it remains stationary for hours at a time. But the real problem is that the toad’s internal systems have begun to shut down in response to falling temperatures. Being a cold-blooded creature, a low internal body temperature would induce hibernation.

If this is the case, you can get your toad moving again by raising the temperature in its enclosure. The toad’s body will acclimate to the warmer air, thus restoring full function and mobility.

A toad with paralyzed legs could be suffering from MBD, a kidney blockage or kidney disease, bacterial infection, or the natural results of low body temperature. Careful observation may reveal the cause. As long as the animal is otherwise healthy, waiting to see if the situation resolves itself is acceptable.

Photo Credits:

Featured Image (European Fire-Bellied Toad): Marek SzczepanekOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 3.0Opens in a new tab.

Western Spadefoot Toad: TakwishOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 2.5Opens in a new tab.

American Toad: CephasOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 3.0Opens in a new tab.

Common Spadefoot Toad: Franco AndreoneOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 2.5Opens in a new tab.

Helmeted Water Toad: José Grau de Puerto MonttOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 3.0Opens in a new tab.

Common Midwife Toad: Christian FischerOpens in a new tab. – CC BY-SA 3.0Opens in a new tab.

Mexican Burrowing Toad: Pstevendactylus – CC BY-SA 3.0Opens in a new tab.


I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

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