Zinc Poisoning in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 9, 2011

Zinc Toxicity in Cats

Zinc is among the most important minerals required for maintaining a healthy cat. It is also be lethal and cause toxicity in cats when absorbed in large quantities. More commonly referred to as zinc toxicity, it occurs when a cat ingests an exorbitant amount of zinc-containing materials.

Symptoms and Types

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Excessive hemoglobin levels in blood
  • Excessive hemoglobin levels in urine
  • Jaundice
  • Orange colored feces


Ingestion of zinc-containing materials, such as:

  • Nuts
  • Bolts
  • Staples
  • Nails
  • Board game pieces
  • Zippers
  • Some toys
  • Jewelry
  • Pennies
  • Certain lozenge brands
  • Some lotions


Your veterinarian will take a detailed history of your cat, including any incident of ingestion of unusual materials which may have precipitated the symptoms. He or she will also perform a complete physical examination on the animal. Routine laboratory tests include biochemistry profile, electrolytes, urinalysis, and a complete blood count. The complete blood count may reveal anemia due to zinc-related destructions of Red Blood Cells (RBCs) with possible formation of Heinz bodies, or granules present in the red blood cells. The complete blood count may also reveal variations in red blood cells coloration known as polychromasia.

The biochemistry profile, meanwhile, may reveal abnormally high levels of hemoglobin and bilirubin in blood. If biochemistry profile shows derangements -- like high levels of blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, liver enzymes, and pancreatic enzymes -- it will indicate multiple organ failure, which is not a good sign.

While examining your cat's blood, the veterinarian may also note abnormal red blood cells with an unusual dark ring surrounding a dark center known as target cells; this is associated with anemia.

Due to rapid destruction of red blood cells, your veterinarian will administer a test called packed cell volume (PCV), which will calculate the number of viable red blood cells. This test is important in determining whether a blood transfusion is required.

To confirm the diagnosis, however, your veterinarian will order laboratory tests to measure the levels of zinc in your cat's blood. These tests can also help evaluate your cat's blood clotting mechanism, an indicator of zinc toxicity. In addition, X-rays are often used to confirm if your cat has ingested zinc-containing materials.


To prevent further damage, removal of the object is imperative. To maintain the bodily fluid levels as well as promote urination, intravenous fluid therapy is initiated. Drugs to lower the stomach acidity and promote the release of zinc will also be instituted. In case of severe red blood destruction, blood transfusions may be required.

Living and Management

Prompt treatment is crucial in saving the life of a cat with zinc toxicity. Subsequent check-ups will be required to monitor the health of the patient and to evaluate the progress of therapy through laboratory testing.

Often, the levels of zinc in the blood drop quickly once the source is removed. However, cats with severe complications like multiple organ failure have poor chances of survival.

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