I saw a headline recently that caught my attention from the sheer craziness of the animal involved in the story.  The headline was Puppy Survives Swallowing 113 Pennies.  Why would any animal swallow that many pennies? Then I got to wondering, how many dog owners  know that swallowing even one penny can be cause for concern for their four-legged friend?

It’s true that this story is not the norm, most dogs will only swallow one or two pennies, not 113!!  In our ER we see a case about every 4 months where a dog has found a penny and decided to find out how it tasted.  The problem is the contents of the penny.

All pennies minted after 1983 have a zinc core covered by copper.   Pennies are just heavy enough that they tend to stay in the stomach even when the animal has been given medication to make him or her vomit.  The acidic environment, depending on the amount of food in the stomach, can cause the penny to break down rapidly.  Once the penny starts to corrode the zinc is released into the bloodstream and causes anemia and liver damage.  It could take a few hours to a couple days before signs of toxicity start to show up.

Signs of zinc toxicity and anemia can include extreme tiredness, vomiting, bloody urine, decreased appetite, and seeming depressed.  These signs signify the need to get your dog to the vet very quickly.

Radiographs and blood tests will be used to determine the cause of the symptoms.  Once penny ingestion and zinc toxicity is determined the immediate treatment goals will include decreasing zinc absorption, correcting anemia, minimizing liver damage, and removing the penny.  Most likely the penny will be surgically removed although endoscopy may by possible if the penny is still sitting in the stomach.  The time it could take to allow the penny to pass, if it even will, could cause irreparable damage to the liver or even death.

Once the penny is removed the patient may need a blood transfusion to correct the anemia and will be given IV fluids to flush the liver to help the body get rid of the zinc. Additionally, the dog may receive Pepcid for stomach upset and/or an anti-nausea medication to prevent vomiting.  Supportive care may be needed for additional days or weeks depending on the amount of toxicity and how the animal responds to treatment.

Other common objects or products that contain zinc include zinc supplements, diaper rash ointment, sunscreen containing zinc oxide, automobile fuses, wire, and some nails. But the one most often overlooked is still the penny.

The moral of the story…you can’t count your pennies with your hound dog by your side!