Poison Alert: Zinc in Pennies Toxic to Pets

Many canines will eat just about anything. While less common, there are kitties who also chow down on a variety of bizarre items. Pets that consume unusual items not intended for food account for almost half of the visits to veterinary clinics and emergency rooms.

The reason that they do this is not yet completely understood. Although many folks hypothesize that this quirky behavior is the result of dietary insufficiencies, hormonal disease and mineral imbalances; veterinarians claim there is no scientific evidence or documented cases of disease to support these theories.Items found around the house commonly considered benign if ingested, can prove lethal to pets.

In fact, according to a recent CBS News article, an unfortunate dog named Sierra in Colorado recently died as a result of eating a penny. The coin poisoned this beautiful West Highland White Terrier because zinc is contained in all pennies minted after 1982. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, zinc is a substance that is toxic to cats, dogs and other pets.

Maryanne Goldstein told CBS Denver that Sierra was always drawn to pocket change; recalling that as a puppy she required surgery after she swallowed 32 cents worth of the coins. However, this past March, Sierra became extremely ill and was once again brought to the vet. A stomach X-ray divulged that she had consumed both a quarter and a penny. Her devastating illness and ultimate demise was caused by the zinc which the penny contained.

In an email to CBS News, veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Jackson gave the reason why these newer minted pennies are highly toxic. She explained that it’s because the pet’s stomach gastric acid rapidly reaches into the penny’s zinc center and the zinc is quickly absorbed into the animal’s body. Zinc tampers with the production of red blood cells and the longer the substance is in the body, the greater the risk to the destruction of these cells. Vomiting, lack of appetite, red-colored urine, lethargy or jaundiced appearance are some of the symptoms of zinc toxicity.

Dr. Jackson cautions that while “zinc toxicosis is more commonly seen in dogs, cats also can get sick from eating pennies. Be sure to bank your spare change before curious pets can get their paws on it–and if they do, get them to the emergency vet.”

Fortunately however, a Jack Russell terror named Jack became one very lucky pooch after consuming 111 pennies last March. He began vomiting and appeared quite ill, so his owner rushed him to the vet, who removed them endoscopically, four to five coins at a time. Jack happily survived the ordeal and lived to bark about it.While the common expression, “a penny for your thoughts” is used to ask someone what they may be ruminating over, if we change the phrasing ever so slightly to, “think about your pennies!”, keeping this statement in mind may save your pet’s life.

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© 2014 by Catherine Grant, Comforts At Home Pet Sitting. 

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Catherine Grant, MA

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