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How Animal Blood Banks Can Save Your Pet

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Thousands of pets require blood product transfusion every year as the result of injury/trauma, toxin ingestion, surgery or other diseases. Advancements in veterinary medical care have increased the need for blood transfusions. Also, as pets have become an important part of the family, many pet owners want to do everything possible to keep their pets alive. When this occurs, how do they get the necessary blood products?

Here are the two most common ways. Often blood is purchased from an animal blood bank. Or a veterinarian will use a "donor" pet in their office to orchestrate a transfusion.

Veterinarians and their staff often use their own pets as donors however having blood on hand from an animal blood bank can save precious time when an emergency transfusion is required.

There are animal blood banks scattered across the country that draw and store blood, making it available to veterinarians. Some animal blood banks are nonprofit organizations that work with volunteer donor pets in the community. Others are for profit businesses that house large numbers of donor pets and sell blood. Some blood banks are organized to immediately ship blood products for emergency use.

What is blood?

Blood is the complex fluid (technically it is considered a "tissue") that flows through the body's veins and arteries. "Blood" consists of blood cells that are suspended in a fluid called plasma. Blood carries oxygen to cells. It contains fluids, minerals and hormones that nourish tissues. Blood also carries cells that help eliminate toxins and infections.

How is the blood used?

Packed red blood cells (PRBC's) are units of blood concentrated in red blood cells with minimal amounts of other fluids. These units of concentrated blood cells are commonly used to treat blood loss and anemia. Common causes of blood loss in young dogs include bleeding secondary to trauma, or blood loss from toxins such as rat poison that interfere with the blood clotting system. Anemia may occur in young cats from several infectious diseases. Older pets can acquire anemia from a kidney disease, cancer or autoimmune diseases – or they may bleed from tumors.

What do the animal blood banks do?

Animal blood banks organize healthy pets for regular blood draws. This blood is drawn into bags and "spun down" to divide the blood into different components. Commonly, blood is separated into packed red blood cells and plasma. These components are used to treat different medical problems. Most blood banks focus on dogs however some blood banks also supply cat blood. Because cats require sedation to donate blood, they are not commonly included in volunteer blood drives. Most cat blood will be drawn from resident donor cats or employee pets.

Blood donors are generally rotated on a schedule that allows a fresh supply to be available to balance the blood product expiration dates. A unit of packed canine red blood cells is good for 30 days. Plasma is frozen and remains viable from 90 days up to 1 year, depending on how it is stored and its required use.

No sedatives or anesthesia is required for the donor dog. A unit of blood is drawn from the dog's neck while he is lying down and comfortable. Donations generally take about 15-30 minutes and the donor is rewarded with treats and lots of love when the donation is complete. Dogs generally donate approximately 450 milliliters (~ 16 oz) and cats can donate approximately 55 milliliters (~ 2 oz) of blood.

If you are interesting in having your dog become a donor – ask your veterinarian for the animal blood bank nearest you.

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