Animal Blood Donors: Pets giving pets the gift of life
Not long ago an adorable Dachshund-mix puppy named Sunny was brought into our ER because he was having trouble breathing and was coughing up blood. A quick blood test determined that he had eaten rat poison, and a blood transfusion was required to save his life.
The need for blood or plasma transfusions is a frequent occurrence in our referral hospital, and can be crucial in many situations including trauma, immune diseases, blood loss during surgery or, as in the case of Sunny, for eating rat bait.
When a lifesaving transfusion is recommended, the natural question by worried pet parents is, “Where do you get this from?” People are generally surprised when I answer, that just like for us people, there are canine and feline blood banks.
Veterinary blood banks are a fairly new concept, developed during the past 10 to 20 years, and there are essentially two kinds: collection centers using volunteer dogs and cats and centers that house and care for their own group of donor animals who live on the grounds of the blood bank.
Community-based donor programs rely on volunteers to bring in their pets for blood donation. There are several veterinary schools that participate in this kind of program, including University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Incentives to volunteers can include free annual health exams and blood work, heartworm prevention and food. Some programs even offer a return gift of blood at no cost if the donor ever needs it during his or her lifetime.
Animal Blood Resources is an example of the second type of blood bank. It obtains donors through partnerships with rescue groups, providing a working solution for unwanted adult dogs and cats. These donors are given a temporary home where they can frolic and play, including getting trained for agility! Additionally, there is a force of volunteers who groom, cuddle, walk and play with them. After one year of providing their lifesaving service, every animal is adopted into permanent homes in great health and well socialized.
How does it work?
For most programs, donor pets must be between one- to six-years-old, be free of any medications, and dogs need to weigh at least 55 pounds. Prior to becoming a donor, all animals are screened for infectious diseases and are given a full veterinary exam to ensure that only healthy dogs and cats enter a donation program.
Next, their blood type is determined. For example, dogs have six major (but up to 13 different) blood types and the preferred donor is antigen 1.1 negative. In the dog world, they are considered the “universal donors” and are similar to type O universal donors in people.
Donor dogs and cats can “roll up their fur sleeves” every 2 to 3 months, but this varies by blood bank. Sedation is not needed—just plenty of head rubs and treats. The blood draw takes about 10 minutes. A single donation can be used to save up to four lives, because the blood can be separated into two components, red blood cells and plasma.
People understand how important it is to donate blood, and the same holds true for our pets. In the case of canine and feline donations, a person’s pet can give the gift of life to another. Just one more reason why animals are my heroes!
Interested in having your pet become a donor or adopting a retired donor? If you live in California, contact the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at (530) 752-1393, or ask your veterinarian or local shelter.