How Would You Know a Frog or Tadpole is Sick?

Here's a list of symptoms often seen in sick frogs. (Cane toads also get sick - there is a page in the Cane Toad section for the symptoms of a sick toad.) If the frog has the first symptom in the list OR at least TWO of the rest of the symptoms in this list, it is mostly likely suffering from an illness or parasites.this frog is thin, slimy and spotted with red feet - each is a sign of illness

  • sitting out in the open during the daytime (such as in the middle of a lawn or on a road or driveway)
  • very thin
  • extremes of colour such as very pale or very dark or weird shades like red, khaki, grey, etc.
  • lumps, abscesses, lesions or other types of holes or tears in the skin
  • doesn't hop properly or is very weak when it tries to move
  • red or pink flush or 'pimples' on the belly (ventral surface)
  • freckles, blotches, pale spots or black patches on the back or legs (other than those which might naturally occur on the species)
  • is producing a very slimy coating on the body without trying to rub the coating forward with its arms or legs
  • doesn't right itself when placed on its back
  • eyes are cloudy or there is a retractable see-through membrane that is completely or partially covering the eye
  • body is swollen up with either air or fluid
  • underside of the body is red, pink or orange, esp. towards the back end of the body
  • rear legs seem to be crippled and lack proper coordination and jumping force
  • front half of the body looks normal and back half looks stuntedfrog's skin is an important barrier - ANY imperfections are signs of illness
  • has any deformities such as wrong number of toes, misshapened eye or missing eye, bent bones in the legs, etc.

Some illnesses being researched (such as ranaviruses and chytrid fungus) have dramatic impacts on tadpoles and large numbers of dying metamorphs can be an indication of either of these serious amphibian diseases but tadpole deaths in particular can have toxins or poor husbandry. Always try to find someone who can receive tadpoles or do testing on them because monitoring the spread and incidence of these diseases is so important. If you can't find anyone quickly, at least store the dead tadpoles in the freezer with a label on the container (or inside a double bag) so that they can be sent to a researcher later. Depending on where you are, we might know of someone in your area to help.

If you are in North Queensland and find a frog with two or more of the above symptoms, we ask you to turn it in to the frog hospital for treatment and so that records can be kept of where diseases are active. We have a chance of making the frog well if you get it to us quickly but, if the frog should die before transporting it, drop it in to us anyway so that we can do a basic post mortem to retrieve useful information. To do this:the frog might look okay on top, but when you turn it over....

  1. Always, ALWAYS ALWAYS wear disposable gloves or a plastic bag over your hand to handle the frog/toad
  2. put the frog into a plastic container with a secure lid with air holes in it
  3. add just a tiny bit of clean water and put a couple leaves into the container if it is a see-through one
  4. secure the lid
  5. ring or email us (email is in the Notice board; phone is (07) 4088-6572) seven days a week
  6. label the container with your contact details, the exact location the frog was found (exact street address or name of a property and coordinates) and any observations about its behavior and the symptoms it had

With frogs that are already dead when you find them, they can be frozen instead.

During the winter months, chytrid fungus can be a major problem and the symptoms for this disease are not listed on this page so that they can't be confused with the symptoms for other diseases. You can find out about how to recognise chytrid in our chytrid recognition page.

Sick Tadpoles?

With tadpoles, it is not always so obvious. If there is a mass die-off of a batch of tadpoles, the problem might be the water quality, chemicals (such as fluoride in your tap water or a neighbour's herbicide or pesticide spraying) or illness within the tadpoles. It is hard to determine which of these might be the cause unless you can get the very freshly dead tadpoles tested by an appropriate lab. If you believe there might be a problem with the pond or aquarium, have a look at our Raising Tadpoles page to see if your setup is consistent with the best setup for tadpoles. The survival problem might be easily corrected through a change of submerged plants, a pump left on longer for more oxygen, a flyscreen over the top to keep out birds and native rats, change of source for your water supply, or some other simple change. If you've set up everything correctly and tadpoles are still dying in large numbers, there might be a problem within the tadpoles.

If any of the tadpoles in a clutch/tank/pond have any of these symptoms below, please contact us quickly:

  • bloating in the abdomen
  • air bubbles in the bodybends in tails can be like L's, S's or tails can be "cut short" or stunted
  • continued weight loss until the tadpole looks like a head and skinny tail with no body in between
  • a large number simply aren't getting any bigger
  • difficulty swimming or swimming in circles or on its side
  • strange growths on the body such as lumps or pale pathes that look like snowflakes stuck to the skin
  • tadpoles metamorph but all die within a few days or weeks
  • tadpoles are very washed out in colour or some go extremely dark in colour
  • any have bends in their tails (see photo) or their tails are only half as long as they should be
  • multiple arms or legs or missing arms and legs
  • tree frog tadpoles which can't climb out of the container when they try to metamorph and are found drowned in the container (this symptom does not apply to ground dwelling frogs who are normally unable to climb walls))

If you believe there might be something wrong with your tadpoles, please save what's left and contact us. We will set them up here and see if the problem continues - if it is not corrected by the husbandy change and if there is evidence of a disease, we can send specimens away for testing and/or advise you about your setup.

If you are outside this region, please try to find a vet or a local university with a zoology or environmental science program. Very few groups take in frogs but you might be lucky where you are located!


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