There Will Be Blood…

Oct 24, 2016 / Emergency/Critical Care / General Care / Cats / Dogs

[blood transfusion]

…and that’s a good thing!

With Halloween coming up, gory costumes and fake blood are all the rage. However, it is important to remember that blood is a very valuable commodity in the medical world. Many human conditions and emergencies require blood transfusions, which is why people are encouraged to donate blood regularly.

[halloween pet safety]

These friends attended a party at the College of Veterinary Medicine as the wolf in granny’s clothing and Little Red Riding Hood. Read tips on pet safety at Halloween.

In fact, blood transfusions are not just for humans. Cats and dogs with certain medical conditions also need donated blood. Dr. Mauria O’Brien, a veterinary specialist in emergency and critical care at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says that blood transfusions are typically done at referral hospitals or emergency clinics. This is because it’s often not financially practical for general practitioners to provide this care, either to purchase the blood or to have a sufficient supply from donors.

Blood Transfusions Save Lives

There are various reasons why a dog or a cat may need a blood transfusion. Animals that are anemic (have a low red blood cell count) need donated blood to keep their bodies running normally.

“Pets can become anemic due to trauma, like being hit by a car, or due to ruptured tumors, especially splenic tumors,” Dr. O’Brien says. “A dog with parasites or one that has accidentally consumed rat poison would also need a transfusion.”

Another illness that would require extra blood is immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. This is when the animal’s body starts attacking its own red blood cells, leading to a dangerously unhealthy state.

Blood Typing in Pets

As most people probably know, all blood is not the same. Many differences exist between species, which means that human blood cannot be given to a pet, and dog or cat blood cannot be used interchangeably.

[blood transfusion puppy]

A very ill puppy found on the side of the road received medication, and blood and plasma transfusions to save her life at the University of Illinois Emergency Small Animal Clinic.

Similarly to human blood, animal blood has different blood types. Dr. O’Brien explains, “Cats have type A, B, or AB blood. Most cats are type A. Exotic breeds, like Persian, Abyssinian, Cornish and Devon Rex, Birman, and Somali are typically type B. Siamese cats are the exception, being mostly type A.” Cat typing can easily be done in house and in just a few minutes.

Dogs are a little different and more complicated. “Dogs are considered universal blood donors only if they are negative for certain blood antigens, which is something the donee’s body recognizes as foreign. Blood types can be determined by a laboratory,” she says. Because it is not as quick and easy to test a dog’s blood type as it is with a cat, dogs should ideally only receive “negative” blood.

It is very important to type a cat’s blood and give it the correct blood type. Giving a type B cat a type A blood transfusion can kill the cat.

Blood Donor Pets

So where exactly does this blood come from?

“Friendly dogs and cats of any breed can donate blood,” Dr. O’Brien explains. “Dog donors are typically between 1 and 7 years and must weight over 50 pounds. Cats are usually between 1 and 10 years and must weight over 10 pounds.”

A typical blood donation appointment lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. A complete physical examination is performed, the animal is sedated, the blood is drawn, and then the animal is woken up.

“The reason the donors usually get sedated to donate is because the process can take longer than their patience,” she says.

Just like we usually get a T-shirt or a gift card for donating blood, there can be benefits for a pet donating as well. The animal usually gets free blood work done to make sure he is healthy. The client may also receive vaccines and heartworm, flea, or tick preventative for free, depending on the practice.

Dr. O’Brien reminds people that “not all practices have a donor program and not all practices ask client-owned pets to be donors. It is a lot of work, time, and expense to run a donor program out of a practice.”

If you have questions about blood donations, contact your local veterinarian.

By Danielle Engel