Protect Your Pup: The Common Penny Could Cost Your Dog Its Life

Written by: Claire Beaudreault

August 2, 2015

By now you probably know the foods that are most poisonous to dogs. But did you know that pennies minted after 1982 can be extremely harmful, and in some cases deadly, if ingested by pups?

Brain, super sleuth dog from Inspector Gadget, may have loved his human Penny, but the coins pose a serious threat to dogs. Though the American one-cent pieces were once made completely of copper, newer pennies contain zinc. Zinc can cause kidney failure, blood poisoning, anemia, and even death.


In 2013, a Jack Russell Terrier from Manhattan recovered after consuming 111 pennies. (He was trying to get to a bag of bagels. Further proof that New York bagels are the best in the world.)


Sadly, many other pups have not been so lucky. Brooklyn-based musician Jessica Jurgens tells the story of her precious baby Chihuahua, Bird. One day, in December 2012, she noticed that her pup had lost her appetite. After work, she came home and Bird was nowhere to be found:

“I called her name, and nothing. I ran to my room and turned on the light, only to see a weewee pad saturated in what looked like red wine, but was actually bloody urine. Bird was lying in a heap of laundry, and though she couldn’t move, her ears perked, and she was able to give her tail a wag when she saw me. Her pink belly was a sickly yellow shade, as were the whites of her eyes, and she was lethargic. I knew this was bad. I grabbed her, her favorite toy, Tigre the tiger, and went directly to an emergency vet in Manhattan.

The X-ray image is forever burned in my mind. The vet said it looked like she swallowed a coin. She mentioned that if it were a penny from after 1982, they were mostly zinc, rather than copper, and were highly toxic. I’ve never been one for prayer but I found myself wishing really hard to something in the hopes that my friend would pull through.”


The cost of treatment, blood transfusions, extraction, and round-the-clock care sent Jurgens into thousands of dollars of debt. A veterinary hospital staffer offered a possible solution:

“She mentioned that if I waved ownership of my dog, my heart, that they would risk no expense at trying to nurse her back to health. I had never heard of such a proposition. I wanted Bird to live a nice full life, so I signed over my rights to her in hopes that she had a chance. I asked what would happen to Bird if she pulled through, and was informed they would adopt her out to a ‘good home.’ I couldn’t imagine anyone loving her as much as I loved her- but I said my goodbyes and I held her for as long as they would let me, my eyes nearly swollen shut at this point…. I walked to the train, at 3am, empty dog carrier in hand, crying hysterically and inconsolable.”


“….I spoke with family friends who were veterinarians, and were not afraid to give me the harsh truth, and they all concurred that a dog this size, who was already at the point of yellow skin and peeing blood, lethargy, was probably past the point of no return.

After about 36 hours emergency vet said Bird’s kidneys had failed her, she had zinc toxicity poisoning- and that she should be put down. Even though she was technically not in my possession anymore, I asked if I could be with her in her last moments, and they agreed that was best.”

bird happy times unnamed

Here are some common signs and symptoms of zinc toxicity to watch for:

-Pale gums (anemia)
-Shortness of breath or increased breathing
-Increased heart rate
-Discolored urine
-Jaundiced gums
-Lack of appetite

If you suspect your dog has swallowed a penny, or any zinc-containing item such as human vitamins, other metal objects, or ointments and creams, please contact your veterinarian immediately.

Sources: CBS News, Pet Poison Hotline
Featured image via The Penny Floor

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Written by: Claire Beaudreault

August 2, 2015

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