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My Dog Ate a Penny - What Do I Do?

Eating pennies can result in life-threatening zinc poisoning.

Swallowing a penny can easily be a life-threatening emergency for your dog.

The first and most immediate threat is choking. Since a coin is round like the airway, it can easily become lodged and obstruct breathing. If you think your dog is choking—acting panicked, pawing at the face or throat, and not making much noise—it is a dire emergency. Check out this article for first aid tips: "First Aid for Coughing and Choking in Dogs."

The next dangerous part of a swallowed penny for a dog is if it becomes lodged in the stomach or intestines, causing a physical obstruction. This results in vomiting or dry-retching, lethargy, not eating, and it can cause death. This condition often requires surgery to resolve.

The last life-threatening condition a swallowed penny can cause is zinc poisoning.

Zinc Poisoning in Dogs

Pennies used to be made mostly of copper, but in 1982, the US began producing pennies made primarily of zinc.

If your dog swallows a penny made after 1982, stomach acids will begin breaking down the coin, releasing zinc into the bloodstream, where it can cause zinc poisoning.

Zinc poisoning is a serious condition that destroys a dog's red blood cells. From there, it can cause liver damage, kidney and heart failure, and pancreatitis.

Signs of Zinc Poisoning in Dogs

Signs of zinc poisoning include:

  • Weakness/collapse
  • Pale or yellow gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dark brown to red urine
  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy

Initially, the GI symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, along with decreased appetite and lethargy occur. As the condition progresses and enough red blood cells are destroyed to result in anemia and then organ failure, gum and urine color changes and increased respiratory and heart rates occur, leading to weakness and collapse.

Treatment of Canine Zinc Poisoning from Pennies

Surgery may be required to remove the coins if they can't be removed using endoscopy.

Treatment for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances will likely begin before surgery and continue afterward. Anti-nausea medications may be required. Other care to support the liver, kidneys, and heart may be necessary. A blood transfusion may be called for if the anemia is bad enough. Chelation therapy to bind absorbed zinc may be needed.

Prognosis for this condition varies depending on the number of coins ingested and the size of the dog as well as how long the coins were eaten before treatment began.

If you see your dog ingest a penny, it's crucial that you get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible, even if you aren't seeing any symptoms yet.

Other Causes of Zinc Poisoning in Dogs

There are other ways dogs can develop zinc poisoning besides ingesting pennies.

  • Getting into human vitamins and other supplements
  • Eating human cold lozenges
  • Ingesting human zinc oxide creams (some sunscreens and some diaper rash creams)
  • Eating some acne medications
  • Ingesting galvanized steel nuts and bolts
  • Eating tacks
  • Chewing on/ingesting zippers
  • Eating batteries
  • Ingesting certain game board pieces or dice
  • Eating BBs
  • Ingesting some jewelry
  • Swallowing some auto parts

If your dog gets into anything you believe may contain zinc, call your veterinarian immediately or call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680.

Never give your dog any supplements containing zinc without your veterinarian's input.

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