By Emily Gantt
Published: 02/23/2021, edited: 08/10/2021
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Zinc is a vital mineral that all organisms need to survive — even plants and single-celled organisms. From immune support to promoting thyroid function, zinc is a major player in the canine body. But what does zinc do for dogs exactly? And what is zinc anyway?
What is zinc and where does it come from?
Zinc is the most prevalent mineral in a canine’s body, second only to iron, and is essential for many important bodily processes. Zinc aids in the formation and replication of RNA and DNA, but it affects nearly every organ system from the skin to the endocrine system.
Dogs get 100% of their intake from the food they eat, mainly from animal products, but some veggies are also high in zinc. There are zinc supplements for dogs on the market, though most dogs don’t require them.
What does zinc do for dogs?
Zinc is imperative for brain function, cell division, and immune health for humans, but what does zinc do for dogs?
For starters, it helps regulate the thyroid, promotes wound healing, and helps maintain the fur, skin, and nails. Zinc plays a critical role in immune health and can help prevent dogs from getting sick — it can also help them get well faster when they do get sick. There is even evidence that zinc can prevent the replication of coronaviruses like COVID-19 in humans and canines.
Zinc deficiency has been dubbed "the silent killer of canines" because it’s usually not diagnosed until the late stages. The trouble with this illness is that many of the symptoms appear unrelated, and since it’s so rare, many vets don’t even consider it.
Huskies and Malamutes seem to be more at risk for this type of deficiency. Though experts aren't exactly sure why Huskies and Malamutes seem to be more susceptible, it's thought that these breeds need more zinc than others for normal bodily functions.
Since dog food manufacturers fortify food with zinc, vets believe zinc deficiency is a malabsorption problem rather than a malnutrition issue. Certain foods (like grain-rich, highly processed dog foods) can prevent zinc from being absorbed by the body.
Canines need a consistent influx of zinc to survive since their cells don’t keep stores of it like other vitamins and minerals. When the body doesn’t have enough zinc to carry out normal bodily processes, a deficiency occurs. Some cases are mild and can be treated with supplementation, but if this condition progresses, it can be deadly.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency
- Stunted growth in puppies
- Loose stools
- Dry and cracked paw pads
- Opportunistic infections
- Poor wound healing
- Sexual dysfunction
- Organ failure (in severe cases)
- Dry, scaling skin around the eyes and muzzle
Too much zinc can be just as dangerous as an insufficient amount. Dogs can have zinc poisoning from all sorts of sources; one common reason is the ingestion of pennies.
The formation of zinc salts in the body is the main concern since these are quickly absorbed by the body tissues and vital organs like the stomach. The beginning stages of zinc poisoning are mild with vomiting and diarrhea, but these potent salts can cause jaundice, dehydration, seizures, and even death.
Common zinc-containing items dogs swallow include batteries, sunscreen, ointments, deodorant, and jewelry, to name a few. Zinc poisoning is a costly condition to treat and may require surgery, induced vomiting, and medications to minimize the amount of zinc the stomach absorbs.
Symptoms of zinc poisoning
High hemoglobin levels in blood and urine
Zinc is a vital mineral for all life forms, affecting the body from the cellular level. Without zinc, your pup could be susceptible to all sorts of opportunistic infections and illnesses.
But like most things, too much zinc can be a bad thing. Seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your pet has a zinc deficiency or if they ingest a substance with high levels of zinc. Worried your pet isn't getting enough zinc? Chat with a vet today!