Pennies Are Bad For Dogs to Ingest

Zinc Toxicity in Dogs: Common Cents Caution for Pets

Swallowing pennies come at a high price for dogs that develop zinc toxicity.

Humans aren’t the only species with money troubles. Did you know that pennies can be hazardous to your dog’s health?

One-cent coins used to be made from 100 percent copper. Which is nontoxic to dogs. In 1982, the government began minting pennies that were made mainly from zinc (much cheaper). They coated them with a thin layer of copper, keeping the look of a penny (pretty isn’t always better). When swallowing a penny, the copper coating of the newer penny dissolves in the stomach acids. It then leaves a wafer of toxic zinc.

A few years back I saw a dog who had been sick. He was vomiting for two days and his blood work revealed both anemia (low red blood-cell count) and elevated kidney values. There are many causes for these type of symptoms. There are infectious disease, immune-mediated disease, inflammatory disease and toxins that count for low blood levels. That’s just to name a few for dogs.

His owner had no idea if he’d eaten anything out of the ordinary. X-rays revealed a round metallic object in the stomach. You guessed it, the dog ate a penny. An endoscope was used to remove the penny. The dog recovered during the course of the week with intensive supportive care. A very expensive penny that the owners paid for!

Just like in this case, you might not know what your dog ingested. Symptoms may show within a couple hours to a couple days after ingestion.

If you think your dog ate something dangerous call your vet immediately or ASPCA Poison Control Hotline (888) 426-4435, or National Pet Poison Helpline (800) 213-6680.

Common Toxicity Signs

The clinical signs and potential problems caused by zinc toxicity include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Blood-tinged urine
  • Icterus (yellow mucous membranes including gums and the “whites” of the eyes)
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Hemolysis (which is the destruction of red blood cells)
  • Anemia

Sources Of Zinc

Many dog owners might not realize that zinc is harmful. They might not be aware of some of the common sources pets have access to it.

Beyond pennies other potential sources of zinc include hardware. These include nuts and bolts, dietary supplements, and (surprisingly) zinc oxide–based skin creams, such as diaper rash ointment and sunscreen.


The zinc should be removed promptly. Especially if the object possibly made of zinc is seen on a radiograph. Supportive care then becomes crucial. It includes fluid therapy to keep circulation to the kidneys adequate, helping to prevent failure.

A blood transfusion may be necessary to combat anemia. Anti-nausea medications are indicated to stop nausea. As well as stomach protectants (antacids and “coating” medications). These medicines are used due to the corrosive nature of zinc.

Researchers are still actively looking at methods for binding excess zinc in the circulation. Similar to the way lead poisoning is treated by binding lead. Unfortunately, this is not yet available.

Prevention Of Toxicity

  • In addition to coins, be mindful of the nuts and bolts on your dogs’ kennels as they may contain zinc.
  • Do not use ointments and creams on the fur or skin of your pet.(Unless directed by your veterinarian.) Ointments usually get licked off causing toxicity.
  • Keep vitamins, dietary supplements and topical creams far out of your pets reach.

Many people are unaware of zinc toxicity syndrome. They do not realize that pennies swallowed by dogs are far more dangerous than a “simple” foreign body.

As always, prevention is best: ”Penny wise, pound foolish” has a whole new meaning.


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