If you think your dog or cat has swallowed a penny, this is a medical emergency. Do not wait to see if the penny will pass. Call your veterinarian and arrange an emergency visit immediately. This also goes for other items with high zinc content.
Pennies look deceptively like copper, but pennies minted after 1982 are about 98% zinc. At first, the zinc and foreign bodies only irritate the gastrointestinal tract. Signs of this irritation include vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. A dog’s or cat’s stomach acid can break down the zinc quickly, allowing it to pass into the blood stream. A high level of zinc in the blood causes red blood cells to burst – a condition known as intravascular hemolysis. Signs include:
. Inner cheeks or gums are pale and/or yellow
. Rapid breathing
. Dark urine
Severe or lengthy intravascular hemolysis can lead to organ failures and death. Just one penny can be fatal to a dog or cat. Smaller dogs are at greater risk because pennies will have to digest longer, releasing more zinc, before they are small enough to pass out of the stomach through the pyloric sphincter.
If it takes you a long time to get to your veterinarian, giving the dog an antacid may help slow the release of zinc into the bloodstream. Consult with your veterinarian about this strategy when arranging your emergency visit. Treatment will involve x-rays to identify the location of the zinc object and surgery to remove it. In severe cases, blood transfusions, chelation therapy, and/or treatment for organ failure may be needed.