Pets, like people, can be injured or contract an illness that results in massive blood loss or contaminated blood. Blood transfusions may be the only way to save their lives. This means that it’s as important for pets to donate blood as it is for people. Your pet can be a hero and that’s a wonderful opportunity for any animal.
The most common reasons for pet blood transfusions include major injury (car accident), poisoning, and illness like biliary or tick bite fever.
How do I know if my pet can be a donor?
Dogs need to be between one and eight years old, healthy and free of infections and parasites, not pregnant and not on any medication before to donate blood. Although heavier dogs are preferred (50 pounds and up), smaller dogs can also donate blood.
Cats need to weigh at least 10 pounds, be between two and seven years old, healthy and free of infections and parasites, not pregnant and not on any medications. They must test negative for feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) before they can donate blood.
It is not recommended that pets who have previously received blood donations become donors.
What is the process?
Your pet will first undergo a physical examination to make sure that she is healthy. The vet will measure your pet’s blood pressure, listen to their heart and lungs, etc. A blood test will check for any underlying problems and the quantity of red blood cells.
Once everything is in order, the donation can begin. Cats are sedated for blood donations, however, it’s preferable not to sedate dogs. If your pet needs to be sedated, make sure that they don’t eat beforehand to prevent vomiting. Blood donation is slightly riskier for cats than for dogs, so fluids are often administered before, during and after the collection to minimize negative side-effects.
Blood is collected into a blood bag, just like humans. A syringe is inserted into a large vein in either the neck or foreleg. The amount of blood collected depends on the weight of your pet. A standard canine unit is about 450ml whilst a cat would usually donate about 50-60ml.
After the donation, pets are given a snack to push up their blood sugar. They bounce back pretty quickly, although you might not want to take them for a long hike the same day.
How often can pets donate blood?
As with humans, it is recommended that pets donate blood no more than once every three months to prevent any side-effects such as anemia.
Do pets have blood types?
Dogs and cats have blood types, just like humans and donors and recipients types should match. Most dogs receive the universal dog blood type, no matter what their own type. In the case of a first-time blood transfusion, an exact match is not necessary because dogs’ blood doesn’t have naturally occurring antibodies that reject the transfusion. After this, the recipient’s immune system starts to produce antibodies and subsequent transfusions require an exact match to prevent side-effects.
Cats’ blood does contain naturally occurring antibodies so an exact match is necessary for all transfusions.
There are blood banks set up for dogs but cat blood cannot be stored in the same way so donors need to be found in an emergency situation.
Although the risk of donating blood is higher in cats than in dogs, if your pet fits the criteria and has been examined by the vet, there is very little danger and when compared to the life-saving capabilities, it’s definitely worth it.
Every unit of blood can help save up to four lives. So if you are interested in helping your pet save a life (or four!), contact your veterinarian for more information.