Zinc, the metallic element commonly used in many household items and products and found naturally in some food and mineral sources, is an essential element. Zinc is important for immune system function and thyroid function but too much zinc can cause serious health problems.
What Is Zinc Poisoning?
Zinc poisoning refers to toxicity related to zinc products. Zinc poisoning in dogs is more common than most people think and one of the most common causes of zinc poisoning in dogs is dogs ingesting the USA Lincoln penny. Pennies minted after 1982 are 97.5 percent zinc.
Zinc is also found in a variety of other household products such as:
- Metal nuts, bolts, board game pieces, zippers, staples, toys, jewelry
- Skin creams including diaper rash cream and sunscreens, shampoos, and deodorants
- Vitamins and over the counter cold remedies and lozenges
Symptoms of zinc poisoning may occur within two hours of ingestion but in some cases, symptoms may not appear until a few days after ingestion. Symptoms are also dependent upon the amount and type of zinc ingested relative to your dogs body weight. Certain forms of zinc are more readily absorbed by the body than others. For instance, ingestion of a zinc oxide cream may only cause stomach upset, whereas ingestion of even one penny can cause life-threatening toxicity.
Signs of Zinc Poisoning in Dogs
- Lack of appetite
- Orange colored urine and feces
Initially, your dog may have stomach upset resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, and stools that have a black tarry appearance. They might also become less active, dehydrated, and lethargic.
At higher doses or for longer exposures, your dogs skin, eyes, and gums may appear yellow. This is called jaundice and is due to a high concentration of bilirubin, a normal bile pigment for med as a result of a breakdown of hemoglobin present in red blood cells. Their stools and urine may be orange or have an orange tint.
If zinc poisoning is not treated, it can result in life threatening anemia, a condition in which the blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells), seizures, kidney and liver damage, heart problems, and death.
This can be life-threatening to your pet, so contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice your dog ingest zinc or any of these symptoms.
Diagnosis of Zinc Poisoning
Your veterinarian will start by obtaining a history and performing a physical exam of your pet. An exam will often reveal pale mucous membranes, rapid heart rate, dehydration, jaundice, and abdominal pain.
Your veterinarian will obtain bloodwork and urine to run routine laboratory tests including complete blood count, chemistry, electrolytes, and a urinalysis. By obtaining and running bloodwork and a urinalysis, your vet will be able to see how your dog’s internal organs are functioning as well as check for dehydration, to measure zinc concentrations, check for anemia, and other blood problems consistent with zinc poisoning including liver or kidney damage. Your vet may also take X-rays to see if a metal object can be identified.
As with any toxicity, early treatment and diagnosis is crucial. Your veterinarian will prevent absorption, promote excretion of the zinc which has already been absorbed and provide medical treatment for symptoms your pet is displaying.
This will most likely include if the zinc object is still in the stomach inducing vomiting or retrieving the object with an endoscope, if it is safe to do so, in order to reduce the amount of zinc absorbed by your pet’s body.
Treatment also includes managing convulsions and seizures, treating heart abnormalities, blood transfusions to treat anemia, medications that protect the gastrointestinal tract and to stop vomiting, and providing intravenous fluids to address dehydration.
Unfortunately, often caregivers do not see their dog ingest zinc and due to this the early signs (vomiting, inappetence, diarrhea) of zinc poisoning can be mistaken for just a gastrointestinal upset. This is why it’s important to not self-treat or diagnose your dog and contact your veterinarian when symptoms are noticed. If you know your dog ingested zinc, contact the Pet Poison helpline and your veterinarian.
Prognosis of Zinc Poisoning in Dogs
The prognosis for Zinc poisoning depends significantly on various factors including when symptoms were first noticed, when treatment was started, and how well your dog responds to therapy. As with any toxicity, early treatment and diagnosis is crucial. The prognosis is good if your vet starts treatment immediately and removes the zinc containing object before serious symptoms occur.
How to Prevent Zinc Poisoning
Keep all zinc-containing products including pennies, creams, and vitamins away and out of reach from pets.