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Winter is one of the most difficult times of year to collect life-saving blood from donors due to holidays, flu outbreaks and harsh weather deterring people who might normally donate, according to the American Red Cross. That’s why the rescue group has declared January Blood Donor Month.
It’s not just people who need blood when they are sick or injured. Pets also occasionally need blood for surgeries and transfusions. In fact, with advancement in veterinary medicine, pets need blood more than ever for emergency and internal medicine, critical care, oncology, and orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Additionally, cats sometimes need transfusions for anemia, which causes a reduction in red blood cells.
There is a national shortage of safe and blood-type compatible blood for companion and working animals, according to the North American Veterinary Blood Bank (NAVBB). Each donation can help save two to four dogs or cats in need.
If your dog or cat is healthy, consider having them donate blood to save other animals’ lives.
Here are some things to consider about pet blood donation:
In the past decade, a number of regional canine blood banks have popped up to make canine blood products widely available to veterinarians. Before that, vets had to rely on dogs of staff or clients. Some blood banks have their own bloodmobiles, which they take to veterinary hospitals and dog clubs in search of donors.
Cat blood banks don’t work because feline blood can’t be stored the same way as canine blood, according to International Cat Care, so veterinary hospitals have to rely on other local pet cats as donors.
What are the requirements for my dog to give blood?
The AKC Canine Health Foundation says dogs must meet these criteria:
- Dogs of various sizes and breeds can meet donor requirements, and their weight determines how much blood they can donate.
- Age and weight requirements vary slightly across programs, typically ranging from one to nine years of age and 35 to 50 pounds or more without being overweight.
- They must meet basic behavioral and health requirements. All prospective canine donors must be calm, friendly, and obedient; donors should also be receptive to strangers, cooperative without their pet parents present, and comfortable being examined and handled physically.
- They must be in good health and current on vaccinations, including distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza, hepatitis, and rabies; they cannot be on any medications except flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives.
- Has never received a blood transfusion.
What are the requirements for my cat to give blood?
The IndyVet blood donor program says cats must meet these criteria:
- Be between one and eight years of age and weigh 9 pounds or more
- In good general health and current on all vaccinations
- Pass comprehensive blood screening, blood typing, and infectious disease screening
- Have never received a blood transfusion
What is the donation process like?
Dogs and cats are given a complete physical examination, blood chemistry profile and complete blood count before they donate. Prospective canine donors are screened for other conditions like Brucellosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme Disease. Cat donors are screened for FeLV, FIV, heartworm, Bartonella (PCR), Anaplasma (PCR) and three types of Mycoplasma (PCR).
Pet blood donation is a fairly simple and straightforward process, taking only about 15-30 minutes. Dogs will give about one half to a full liter, depending on size, and cats about four tablespoons.
Dogs are usually not sedated, but cats may be put under light sedation. The pets lay on their side atop comfortable bedding and are soothed while the area on and around their jugular vein is cleaned and prepped. Once the area has been sterilized and, if necessary, clipped or shaved, blood is then drawn through a needle into a sterile container. The red blood cells donated will be replenished by the body within two to three weeks, says IndyVet.
Just like humans get cookies and juice for giving blood, dogs and cats get a few rewards too — belly rubs, treats and IV fluids to help hydrate and replace blood lost during the procedure. Sometimes they are given toys or other swag.
Some canine and feline donors, like humans, may experience soreness or minor swelling at the site, yet most can resume their normal routines within a day of donating.
What happens to the donated blood?
Once the blood has been collected, it is separated into components. Canine and feline blood is made up of white and red blood cells, platelets, and plasma, each with their own healing properties. For example:
- Red blood cell transfusions are useful when treating anemia, cancer-related blood loss, and to supplement the body’s waning production of red blood cells as a result of illness such as bone marrow disease.
- Plasma is rich in anti-coagulants and proteins. Plasma transfusions are used to treat ailments such as internal bleeding, deadly canine diseases such as Parvo, inherited bleeding disorders, and hemophilia.
Do dogs have blood types, like people?
Yes, they do. However, canine blood varieties are commonly referred to as “groups.” Dogs have over a dozen different blood groups, six of which are fairly common. Like humans, dogs can be classified as universal donors based on their group. Blood from dogs belonging to the universal donor group, about 40 percent of all dogs, are compatible with any prospective recipient’s blood.
Do cats have blood types, like people?
Yes. Cats have three basic blood types: A, B, and AB. Most are type A; only about 5% of the population is type B, and AB is extremely rare. If a cat is type AB, it cannot be a donor but can receive a transfusion of either A or B type blood. Unlike in dogs and people, there is no blood type in cats that is considered to be “universal.”
What’s in it for me and my pet?
Besides the warm fuzzies you will feel knowing your pet’s blood donation will help save other pets’ lives, there are a few other benefits:
- Pet parents can save on preventative care or receive reimbursement toward future care; they also benefit from extensive blood screening and typing.
- This information offers pet parents valuable medical information about their pets which could be useful in emergencies.
- Many blood banks offer pet parents free food, veterinary services, and lifetime blood transfusions for the donor and/or other pets in the donor’s household. The North American Veterinary Blood Bank even offers a free day of doggie daycare for donors in North Virginia.
Where can I find a place for my pet to donate blood?
If you are interested in enrolling your pet(s) in a blood donation program, contact your local veterinarian, veterinary school, or emergency veterinary clinic for more information. Among the national chain pet hospitals that collect pet blood are BluePearl and DoveLewis.