by Josh Babcock | Photos by Francisco Aguilar-Contrer
For ducks, pennies don’t bring much luck — a one-cent coin could actually cost them their life.
That was the case for Wazzu, an Indian Runner duck who showed up at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital this spring struggling to walk, losing weight fast, and feeling ill.
“I did my best to treat her, but she wasn’t making much improvement,” Wazzu’s owner, Heathear Bloom said. “I saw online someone said their duck had similar symptoms and had swallowed a metal washer. I thought an X-ray may reveal the cause of her condition.”
So, Bloom hopped in the car and the two drove from Latah, Wash., to WSU.
“Sure enough, there it was as plain as day,” Bloom said.
The radiograph showed Duck, later named Wazzu for the work of WSU veterinarians, swallowed a coin and it was stuck in her gizzard.
Due to her symptoms and knowing the foreign body was likely a coin, Dr. Marcie Logsdon, the lead veterinarian on the case, suspected the culprit was a post-1982 penny.
“She was showing signs consistent with zinc toxicity and pennies minted after 1982 contain high levels of zinc,” Logsdon said.
Despite efforts by WSU’s Exotics Team to remove the object via endoscopy, Wazzu would ultimately require surgery to have the item removed.
Bloom said at that time she wasn’t sure if she could move forward with the procedure.
“As much as I wanted to save this silly bird, I just couldn’t afford the estimated cost,” she said.
Logsdon recommended WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund, which was setup by WSU veterinary students in the mid-1990s to help animals in need of special care. Since that time, more than 1000 caring people have given to support the Good Samaritan Fund.
“I got a call later that they had approved $350 to be put toward the surgery,” Bloom said. “I was thrilled because I didn’t have high hopes. Most people don’t think of poultry on the same level as the family dog or cat, so I assumed she may be turned down for the surgery.”
Wazzu received the surgery the next day.
“We made a small incision into her ventriculus (gizzard) and were able to remove it,” Logsdon said. “It was a penny, but it didn’t look much like a penny anymore.”
The penny was black, corroded, and riddled with holes from an estimated two to three weeks of Wazzu trying to digest it. There was no sign of any writing, copper, or Abraham Lincoln.
“There was really no telling it was once a form of currency,” Logsdon said.
Logsdon said the more Wazzu’s body continued to digest and break down the coin, the more toxic zinc she became exposed to, and the sicker she became.
She said, ultimately, the swallowed coin would have killed her if it wasn’t removed.
Besides a small scar now hidden by feathers, the two-year-old is living the best days of her life now.
“She is doing very well,” Bloom said. “She did a lot of her recuperating in the front room where she watches TV with me from her bed.”
As for the penny, it sits on a shelf in Bloom’s home.
“I show it to people when I tell the story of my coin-consuming avian friend and the crazy predicament she got herself into,” Bloom said.