Zinc Poisoning

Zinc is a heavy metal that is toxic to most domestic animals when ingested. It may be surprising to find how many of our everyday items contain zinc:

  • Pennies: Most cases of zinc poisoning in pets originate from dogs ingesting pennies. U.S. pennies minted after 1982 contain 97.5% zinc.  Canadian pennies minted after 1997  contain 4.5% zince. Even one U.S. penny could be toxic for a dog!
  • Self-care products: Zinc oxide is a less toxic form of elemental zinc that is commonly found in  sunblock, diaper rash cream, and calamine lotions. More toxic forms could be present in throat lozenges, anti-dandruff shampoo, deodorants, mouthwash, and some dietary supplements.
  • Household items: Not only is zinc found in newer batteries, but also in many of items stored in garages and sheds – some soldering formulas, nuts, and bolts for example. Zinc may also be found in many miscellaneous household items around your home – anything containing galvanized metals, rubber products, undergarment hooks, jewelry, zippers, staples, or even older board game pieces.
  • Cages: Beware of new wire cages, especially if homemade, as they may be coated (galvanized) with zinc. If your ferret or bird decides to chew on the wire, they may inadvertently poison themselves.

Decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea are often the first signs of zinc poisoning that you may see in your dog, cat, or ferret. The vomit or diarrhea may even be bloody. More progressed signs may include weakness, pallor, abdominal pain from pancreatitis, blood in the urine, or yellowing of the skin (jaundice).

Birds present a little differently. Early signs still include decreased appetite and vomiting, but they may also develop increased thirst,  dark green moist droppings, or be found sitting on the bottom of their cage with their eyes closed, feathers fluffed, and breathing shallowly.

It is likely that your pet will vomit on their own within 2 hours if they ingest a cream containing zinc oxide. However, zinc-containing items such as pennies may sit in the stomach much longer. If not removed, they can continue to release zinc to be systemically absorbed.

If you suspect your pet ingested zinc, you should immediately contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 to assist you with the next steps.


Written by:

Persia Salehi, PPH DVM student extern, Iowa State University, Class of 2023
Kathy Mackenzie, CVT, Veterinary Information Specialist II, Pet Poison Helpline