PITTSBURGH (CBS) — Dog owners could pay dearly if their pup gets hold of a penny. There’s an element in the coin that could be deadly to your dog. And veterinarians say it happens more often than you think.

Sierra, the West Highland white terrier, was a furry member of Maryann Goldstein’s family.

“Everybody loved Sierra and Sierra loved everybody,” said Goldstein. “I used to call her my walking heart on four legs, just one of the nicest dogs.

To Goldstein, Sierra was priceless. Sadly, it was a penny that cost the beloved pet her life.

“She, for some reason, had some type of attraction to change,” said Goldstein.

When Sierra was a puppy, she swallowed 32 cents.

The money was removed and the problem solved. But in March, Sierra got very sick. An x-ray showed a quarter and a penny in her stomach.

“I couldn’t believe it… that she ate change again and this time she wasn’t so lucky,” Goldstein said.

The penny was poison. Pennies minted after 1982 are copper with a zinc core.

“The stomach acid eventually digests the penny and releases the zinc into the system,” Dr. Jenna Ashton, a veterinarian, said.

Dr. Ashton says that causes red blood cell destruction, leading to kidney and liver damage.

“They die from lack of oxygen,” she says.

By the time experts at the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado found the penny, Sierra was dying.

Some of the signs of zinc poisoning in dogs are pale gums, lethargy and vomiting. The quicker you get to the vet the better.

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