If your dog ate a tube of zinc oxide, you are rightfully concerned, zinc oxide can be harmful to dogs when ingested and it's important to report to your vet any significant ingestion as soon as possible. Zinc oxide is found in many topical products nowadays and more and more dogs are reported to get ill from them. These products are either applied to human skin and licked off or dogs ingest them directly from chewing on a tube of zinc oxide left inadvertently in Rover's reach. Fortunately, when caught early, zinc oxide poisoning in dogs can be treated with success, but time is of the essence if your dog ate a tube of zinc oxide.
Products with Zinc Oxide
Zinc oxide is present in several topical products that are available by prescription or over the counter.
Nowadays, products containing zinc oxide include diaper rash creams (Desitin, Balmex, Boudreaux Butt Paste), sun blocks and a variety of creams, lotions and ointments applied topically to the skin to treat scars, burns and other forms of skin damage.
Zinc oxide is also found in a variety of anti dandruff shampoos, hemorrhoid ointments, calamine products and dental cements.
Zinc oxide is produced from a trace mineral known as zincite which, when mixed with oxygen, results in zinc oxide. The product obtained is not water soluble, making it appealing for being used in creams and products for skin care.
The inquisitive nature of dogs makes them prone to lick products off the skin of their owners or if a tube or bottle of a product is left in reach, most dogs will enjoy chewing on it leading to ingestion of the product. This leads to many cases of zinc oxide poisoning in dogs when significant amounts are ingested. But how much is too much?
My Dog Ate a Tube of Zinc Oxide
Whether the zinc oxide your dog ingested is toxic or not will depend on several factors such as the amount ingested, the concentration, the size of the dog and clinical signs developed.
Obviously, the more the dog ingests the more likely the chances for serious problems. Concentrations of zinc oxide vary by products . For instance, the average diaper cream may contain anywhere between 10 percent and 40 percent zinc oxide, while sunscreen may contain anywhere between 1 and 25 percent.
Generally, licking just a bit of sunscreen off of a child's face (like less than a spoonful) is less concerning than a dog eating a whole tube of diaper cream, points out veterinarian Dr. B. Also, if the puppy or dog managed to ingest the tube along with the zinc oxide then another sign to watch for are signs of a bowel obstruction.
Size also matters, it takes less product to create problems in a small dog weighing just a few pounds, versus a large dog weighing many pounds. What's the toxic dose of zinc oxide in dogs? According to veterinarian Dr. Matt, the toxic dose of zinc oxide in dogs is 45 mg per pound.
Signs of Trouble
Zinc oxide products are known for being very irritating to the dog's digestive tract. As a result, dogs who ingest it, end up having repeated bouts of white, frothy vomiting shortly after ingestion ( generally within four hours). This vomiting is actually a good thing as it helps the dog's body get rid of the substance and therefore self-decontaminates, which lowers the rate of absorption. Some dogs also develop diarrhea, on top of vomiting.
While just a single lick of zinc-containing product may just lead to digestive upset, more concerning is repeated exposure to zinc products (like a dog licking it every day) which can lead to systemic zinc toxicosis affecting the whole body and leading to hemolytic anemia and organ failure.
We can see an example of this from the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. A dog developed a rectal mass and after surgery, the owner repeatedly applied a zinc oxide cream to the area in hopes of letting the dog heal faster. The dog was readily licking it off and, by the fourth day, the dog became ill. It was estimated that the dog must have ingested about a 3/4 of pound dose of the 40 percent zinc oxide cream. The dog fortunately recovered after supportive care.
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"If your pet ingests a topical cream containing zinc, you may not need to worry unless it was ingested multiple times or in large amounts. However, certain types of topical medications (e.g., skin cancer or psoriasis treatments) can be very dangerous – or even deadly - to pets."~VCA Animal Hospital
What To Do If Your Dog Ate a Tube of Zinc Oxide
If your dog ate a tube of zinc oxide consult with your vet. Your vet may provide you directions on how to induce vomiting using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide if the ingestion was recent (within 2 hours). Generally most dogs are vomiting sooner than later on their own since zinc oxide acts as a stomach irritant, but the sooner it's out of the system the better.
In dogs who are not showing any symptoms, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center advises to give the affected dog some milk in hopes of at least minimizing the absorption. There are chances that the milk can help coat the stomach and therefore help decrease the body's absorption of zinc.
When vomiting occurs, owners should withhold food and water so to give the stomach some time to rest and recover. Food and water should then be introduced gradually several hours later ideally under the form of an easily digestible diet such as cooked white rice and boiled chicken or meat baby food without garlic or onion given in small frequent meals.
In the case of dogs ingesting part of the tube as well, owners must be on the lookout for signs of an intestinal blockage (repeated vomiting lasting more than 24 hours, lethargy, lack of appetite, inability to keep water or food down). Adding bulk to the diet under the form of whole grain bread, cooked brown rice or plain pumpkin may help pass parts through the digestive tract, but a vet should be seen if the dog's vomiting persists.
Contact your vet if your dog has been vomiting blood or there is blood in the stool. The presence of blood can be indicative of damage to the dog's gastrointestinal tract, explains Dr. Tina Wismer, veterinarian and Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology. The damages may consist of stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Also see your vet if your develops pale gums, which is sign of anemia and may show up generally within a day or two, explains veterinarian Dr. G. Usually though this is a sign seen with continued ingestion, rather than a one-time event. Generally, after the vomiting subsides dogs should start feeling better after 12 to 24 hours.
"Zinc oxide exposures are typically not life-threatening. Most owners are able to manage the signs at home, but veterinary care might be needed if clinical signs become persistent."~Samantha Wright, Brandy R. Sobczak,
At the Vet's Office
If your dog ate a tube of zinc oxide, your vet will request information about the dog's history, the type of product ingested, how much and how long ago. It is helpful to bring along the product packaging so the vet can evaluate the concentration of the product and whether there are any other concerning ingredients.
If the dog's vomiting is persistent, the vet may decide to give Cerenia for dog vomiting. Cerenia may be given by injection considering that the pill form may not be kept down.
After the vomiting stops, the vet may prescribe stomach protectants to protect the stomach lining from any further damage. The vet will monitor for any electrolyte abnormalities, and fluids may be given as needed to prevent dehydration. In dogs who develop hives or facial swelling as an allergic reaction response, vets will administer diphenhydramine or other anti-allergy medications.
As always, with zinc toxicity in dogs, it's important to practice caution. If you have any doubts about how your dog is feeling or you're not sure how much was ingested, play it safe and see your vet or emergency vet if your vet is closed. Your vet may want to run some blood tests just to ensure nothing is going on systemically.
"The good news is that zinc is a horrible irritant to the stomach lining so they often vomit up most of the ointment before it has time to sit in the acidic stomach environment and get absorbed." Dr. Kara, veterinarian
- Vet Street, Lotions, Creams and Prescription Medications: Should My Pet Be Licking Me?
- DVM360: Toxicology case: How to help dog owners manage zinc oxide toxicosis
- DVM360: Toxicology Brief: Too much of a good thing: Zinc toxicosis in dogs
- Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, By Stephen J. Ettinger, Edward C. Feldman