The ubiquitous role of zinc in health and disease


Address correspondence and reprint requests to
Julia E. Cummings, Four Seasons Animal Hospital, 3210 Old Tunnel Road, Lafayette, CA 94549, USA.


Objective – To review zinc physiology and pathophysiology and the importance of zinc toxicity and deficiency in veterinary patients.

Data Sources – A review of human and veterinary medical literature.

Human Data Synthesis – There is a significant amount of original research in humans and animals on the role of zinc in multiple organ systems. There is also significant data available on human patients with zinc abnormalities.

Veterinary Data Synthesis – Zinc deficiency has been studied in dogs with genetic disease and dietary deficiency leading to dermatological disease and immune deficiency. Zinc toxicity has been described after ingestion of metallic foreign bodies containing zinc.

Conclusions – Historically, the role of zinc in health and disease has been studied through patients with toxicity or severe deficiency with obvious clinical signs. As the ubiquitous contribution of zinc to structure and function in biological systems was discovered, clinically significant but subtle deficiency states have been revealed. In human medicine, mild zinc deficiencies are currently thought to cause chronic metabolic derangement leading to or exacerbating immune deficiency, gastrointestinal problems, endocrine disorders, neurologic dysfunction, cancer, accelerated aging, degenerative disease, and more. Determining the causal relationships between mild zinc deficiency and concurrent disease is complicated by the lack of sensitive or specific tests for zinc deficiency. The prevalence of zinc deficiency and its contribution to disease in veterinary patients is not well known. Continued research is warranted to develop more sensitive and specific tests to assess zinc status, to determine which patients are at risk for deficiency, and to optimize supplementation in health and disease.