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This may come as a surprise to some, but companion animals require blood transfusions during certain disease processes just like humans do. Diseases that require blood transfusions include internal bleeding, immune-mediated diseases that destroy red blood cells, bone marrow or kidney disease that stops the production of blood, or massive blood loss from injuries such as lacerations or bleeding out of a surgical site. The need for canine and feline blood products has greatly expanded over the past 20 years, which is due to the advancement of veterinary medicine and advances in medical care. It is now commonplace for animals to receive blood transfusions for the treatment of multiple disease processes.
Blood Donation Basics
Due to the need for blood products, veterinary blood banks were formed to create a safe and reliable source to supply veterinary hospitals. Veterinary blood banks can be commercial and just specialize in collecting blood products and shipping to veterinary hospitals, or can be set up within veterinary hospitals to supply that hospital and its surrounding areas.
Blood can be donated by healthy pets or collected every 6 – 8 weeks from resident blood donors in designated donation facilities. Designated blood donors are typically greyhounds, due to their large size and docile demeanor.
Blood banks can be set up by veterinary hospitals or independent facilities. Equipment required for blood banking includes supplies to draw blood, a centrifuge to separate out blood products into plasma and packed red cells, a blood fridge and plasma freezer, and sedation-related items (if needed). A veterinarian is required to perform a history, physical examination, and blood work screening to ensure that each pet is a good candidate. A veterinary technician and support staff are required to perform the blood collection.
Rules for Animal Blood Donation
Donor requirements include:
- Weight of over 50 lbs (dog) or 10 lbs (cat)
- 1 – 7 years of age
- Negative for infectious diseases
- Normal results from routine blood testing
- Up-to-date on vaccinations and taking regular flea/tick and heartworm preventatives
- Not on any medications and clinically healthy
Ideally, dogs should have calm demeanor, and allow handling and blood draw with minimal restraint or stress. More often than not, cats are sedated to ensure a safe blood draw. The maximum blood donation for a dog and cat is 22ml/kg and 15ml/kg, respectively. For example, a 50 lb dog can donate approximately 500ml (one half of a liter) and a 15 lb cat can donate approximately 60 ml.
After donation, a small bandage is applied to the donation site, typically the jugular vein on the neck, for one hour. Once a pet is recovered from sedation, they should be allowed to rest and offered a small meal. Sometimes, pets are given subcutaneous fluids equivalent to the amount that they donated to replenish their hydration. Either way, pets recover very quickly from uneventful donations. Pets can safely donate blood every 3 – 4 months.
Risk of Transfusion Reaction
Prior to a blood transfusion, all pets must have their blood type determined. Dogs have two blood types: DEA 1.1 negative and DEA 1.1 positive. Cats have three blood types: A, B, and AB. Although dogs that have never had a blood transfusion can receive any blood type for their first transfusion, cats must receive the blood type that matches their own blood type to avoid transfusion reactions. Type AB cats, however, can receive A blood type donations.
Transfusion reactions commonly manifest in elevated body temperature, but can also include destruction of red blood cells, low blood pressure, hives, or life-threatening, transfusion-associated lung injury. Pets are very closely monitored while receiving transfusions to quickly detect any reaction and slow or stop the transfusion.
Knowing that your pet’s blood donation can save one or multiple lives is worth the short visit to the blood bank. Many blood banks will also incentivize the experience with free or discounted lab work, food, or services. Blood donation can be a rewarding experience for you and your pet. If you are interested in your pet donating blood and they fit the criteria listed, contact local veterinary blood banks and see if they are accepting applications for new blood donors.