Cornell Univ Vet Specialists Save Bichon Frisé with Zinc Toxicity after Eating Pennies

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 4.22.42 PMCornell University Veterinary Specialists (CUVS) in Stamford, Connecticut, has received Level I certification from the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS). A Level I Emergency and Critical Care facility is a 24-hour acute care facility with the special resources and staff to provide sophisticated emergency and intensive care. Level I certification distinguishes CUVS as a facility at the highest level of veterinary trauma, emergency and critical care. CUVS is the first such facility in the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey region and one of only 13 Level I facilities nationwide.

The value of top-level care was recently demonstrated in the case of Caramel, a 7-year-old Bichon Frisé. Caramel’s veterinarian referred her to CUVS when she became extremely ill. Blood tests indicated anemia and jaundice, and an abdominal radiograph showed coins in her stomach. Caramel’s veterinarian suspected that she was suffering from zinc toxicity, which can occur when an animal swallows something—such as sunscreen, and pennies minted after 1982—containing zinc.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 4.22.00 PMCaramel was in shock when she arrived at CUVS. She had a weak pulse, low blood pressure and signs of abnormal brain function.

“I thought she was minutes from death,” says Caramel’s owner, Daniel Del Vecchio.

The CUVS specialists who examined Caramel agreed with her veterinarian’s suspicions. Zinc causes breakdown of blood cells, resulting in anemia and jaundice. Profound jaundice had caused her abnormal brain function and seizures.

Caramel was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where she was given a blood transfusion and intravenous fluids to treat the shock and anemia, and medication to reduce brain swelling. After several hours of aggressive therapy, she was more stable. The CUVS team then used endoscopy, a minimally invasive alternative to surgery, to remove the pennies from her stomach.

“The doctor was very professional and took me through every issue, to the point where I could make a decision,” says Del Vecchio. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

Caramel spent four days at CUVS, receiving continued therapy and close monitoring around the clock.

“[CUVS staff members] kept me well informed—not just updates, but caring and concerned conversations,” says Del Vecchio. “It was a wonderful feeling to know she was in great hands.”

At the time of her discharge Caramel was eating, drinking and wagging her tail. Del Vecchio says she is “completely and fully recovered.”

Dr. Susan Hackner, CUVS’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Operating Officer, says collaboration is the key to good outcomes like Caramel’s. “Our goal is to work seamlessly with the pet’s family and their primary care veterinarian to offer the best possible medical options and solutions for each individual pet.”

“VECCS certification is a terrific step forward for the specialty,” Hackner adds. “It creates a set of standards to which facilities can aspire and work toward. It enables pet owners to make educated decisions about their pet’s care, especially in emergency and critical situations in which these decisions can have significant impact.”

As the largest university-affiliated veterinary specialty and emergency center in the country, CUVS redefines the delivery of veterinary specialty and emergency medicine by bringing together the best of specialty private practice with the best of academia to benefit pets, owners and the profession. Among the staff are three board-certified emergency and critical care specialists, providing specialty coverage 365 days a year; experienced overnight emergency doctors; an outstanding nursing staff with several veterinary technician specialists, and sophisticated in-house diagnostic and treatment capabilities. Other CUVS specialists are on-call 24/7 for emergency surgery, diagnostic imaging or consultation. For more information, call (203) 595-2777 or visit the website at