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My husband always leaves his loose change lying around the house. We recently got a new puppy for Christmas, and she constantly picks things up off the floor.  Should I be worried that she might eat a coin?

            You raise an excellent question that many pet owners learn about the hard way.  It is common for pets, especially puppies, to ingest coins.  Most coins are not toxic to dogs, but pennies minted after 1982 contain zinc.  Zinc is toxic to dogs and can be quite dangerous, even fatal. Zinc is not only present in pennies, but can also be found in batteries, paints, skin creams, zippers and screws. It can cause a severe anemia in addition to potential kidney and liver problems.

            We, as veterinarians, take all coin ingestions seriously and treat them accordingly.  The stomach’s acidic environment leads to rapid release of zinc from pennies leading to formation of highly toxic and corrosive zinc salts.  Once absorbed, the zinc is transported to the liver, and can also accumulate in kidneys, bones, pancreas, prostate, and muscles. 

            Symptoms of zinc toxicity can occur rapidly. These symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, poor appetite, diarrhea, jaundice, and discolored urine.  If you suspect your puppy has ever eaten a coin or coins, you should bring her to be evaluated by your veterinarian.

            The most common problem diagnosed by veterinarians due to zinc ingestion is anemia. It is unclear how the anemia develops, but it is often severe and may require blood transfusions to resolve as it can be life threatening. In order to confirm the diagnosis of zinc poisoning, an abdominal x-ray should be taken to look for any metal in the stomach or intestines.

            Here at the Oradell Animal Hospital, when a coin is noted to be in a dog’s stomach on x-ray, we recommend immediate removal via endoscopy because the most successful treatment is dependent upon removal of the toxic substance as early as possible.  Endoscopy is a non-invasive, non-surgical method of identifying and removing foreign metal under general anesthesia.  We often remove coins with an endoscope, even if an animal presents to the hospital as an emergency in the middle of the night.  Depending on the health of the patient, many animals are stable enough to go home following endoscopy. However, some of the more critical patients may require further treatments such as blood transfusions, chelation therapy, and steroids. 

Dara Zerrenner, VMD, DACVIM (Internal Medicine)

Dr. Zerrenner received her Veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Oradell Animal Hospital and completed her residency in internal medicine at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Zerenner is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Her professional interests include endocrinology, gastroenterology and nephrology. She loves spending time with her husband Kieran, daughter Devin and son Ryan. She also loves to travel.