Pets get into mischief all too often—running out the open front door, jumping on your grandparents, or stealing cookies off the counter. Since pets don’t have thumbs, they explore objects with their mouths, which also gets them into trouble when they eat inedible delicacies. Cats tend to exercise a little more discretion when it comes to gulping down inedible objects, but we’ve seen our fair share of felines who ate things they shouldn’t. But, dogs are the main culprit in swallowing socks, sticks, toys, and other items that should never enter a stomach. 

Although we routinely think of pigs as the perfect coin-holding animals, occasionally pets act as piggy banks. One particularly naughty dog recently visited our hospital after swallowing six pennies, a dime, and a nickel. While the owner wasn’t worried about losing such a small amount of change, we knew those pennies could add up to a big bill. We were right—that 21 cents turned into $2,500 for the owner, and not, unfortunately through an impressive compound interest rate. To save this pooch from embarrassment, we’ve changed her name to protect her identity. We thought “Penny” was a fitting name—read on for her story.

Penny’s problem: The diagnosis

Pets who eat something they shouldn’t, such as a handful of coins, often display signs like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. We wanted to get to the bottom of Penny’s gastrointestinal distress, so we snapped a few X-rays of her abdomen, looking for clues in her stomach and intestines. On Penny’s X-rays, we noticed several brightly lit areas, indicating metal circular objects were inside her. We suspected that Penny had turned herself into a canine piggy bank, and headed to surgery to remove the coins. 

Penny’s problem: The complications

Although removing smooth-edged metal objects, like a handful of change, is relatively simple, the real problem lies with the types of coins lying in the stomach acid. While it was difficult to tell the age of the coins after being worn by the stomach acid, that knowledge was vital for Penny’s prognosis and surgical recovery. 

One of the most well-known zinc-toxicity sources is the ingestion of pennies minted after 1984, which are 97.5% zinc. Since Penny had six pennies trying to dissolve in her stomach acid, she was in serious trouble. The stomach’s low pH releases the free zinc, which forms caustic zinc salts. These salts corrode the tissues, and often are dispersed throughout the body, affecting the liver, kidneys, muscles, bones, and pancreas. They also interfere with the metabolism of other vital ions, and inhibit red blood cell production and function.

Zinc toxicity in pets can lead to red blood cell destruction, jaundice, cardiac arrhythmias, and seizures. As the zinc ions attach to the red blood cells, covering them like a cloak, the immune system becomes confused and attacks all the red blood cells, leading to a hemolytic crisis where the pet becomes severely anemic. 

In Penny’s case, her immune system had started destroying her red blood cells. She was unable to regenerate these cells fast enough, so we had to step in. 

Penny’s problem: The treatment

Penny needed two blood transfusions to save her life. Unlike people, dogs have many more blood types, and groups within those types. Needless to say, blood transfusions for dogs can be complicated, but an anemic dog can have one transfusion without worrying about blood type. After that first transfusion, antibodies will develop and attack additional incompatible blood supplies, creating a severe hemolytic reaction. A second blood transfusion must be repeated within four days to prevent a reaction, if blood typing is not available. 

After matching Penny with the correct blood type, we began her transfusion. We monitored her carefully during the entire procedure to ensure she had no reaction. Every 15 minutes during the first hour, we checked multiple vital signs including:

  • Temperature
  • Heart rate
  • Respiratory rate and effort
  • Gum color and capillary refill time
  • Blood pressure
  • Attitude and awareness

Most dogs will react during the first hour of a transfusion, so we then monitored Penny’s vital signs every 30 to 60 minutes until one hour after her transfusion was complete. In Penny’s case, we decided that she needed additional blood to boost her red blood cell count to a comfortable level, and we monitored her closely for the 24 hours following her second transfusion.

After Penny’s second transfusion, she was feeling like a brand-new dog, and ready to go home—hopefully not to hunt out any spare change. While Penny’s story could have ended tragically, we have our blood donor pets to thank for offering life-saving blood supplies in these situations. 

We hope you ensure your loose coins are safely in a purse, or a traditional piggy bank, but if your pet decides to become a bank, or she has any other problem, we’re always here to help—give us a call.