This is a sad, tragic story, but it’s one you should know about: A penny minted after 1982 has enough zinc in it to kill your dog. That’s what happened to a West Highland White Terrier named Sierra, who died last month after eating a single penny.
“I used to call her my walking heart on four legs; just one of the nicest dogs,” owner Maryann Goldstein told CBSNews.com.
It wasn’t the first time the little dog had eaten money — she required surgery after eating 32 cents as a puppy — but it was the first time she had eaten one of the newer, deadlier coins, which have a zinc center surrounded by copper.
Sierra became ill, and Goldstein took her to the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado, where an X-ray revealed a penny and a quarter in the dog’s stomach.
“I couldn’t believe it, that she ate change again,” said Goldstein. “I just couldn’t believe it. And this time she wasn’t so lucky.”
By the time they found the penny, it was too late. Sierra was too far gone. According to Dr. Jenna Ashton, who treated Sierra, the stomach acid digested the penny and released the zinc into the system. The zinc causes red-blood-cell destruction, leading to kidney and liver damage.
“They die from lack of oxygen,” Ashton said.
Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a staff veterinarian at Petplan pet insurance, told CBSNews.com that symptoms of zinc toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, red-colored urine, or looking jaundiced.
As for Sierra, Goldstein wears her ashes around her neck, in a cross-shaped locket.
“There’s nothing I can do,” she says. “She’s simply gone.”
If your dog eats change, consult your veterinarian or call the ASPCA Poison Control Center at (888) 462-4435.