If you have never had the experience of having to give your pet a blood transfusion you may never have wondered about where the vet gets the blood, or that pets actually need to have a transfusion just like a human. Blood transfusions are usually given for both acute and chronic conditions. Acute conditions may stem from surgery, trauma from being hit by a car for example, bleeding from eating rat poison, an inherited disease, or acute hemolytic anemia. Chronic conditions include cancer, liver failure, bone marrow failure, chemotherapy reactions, or immune-mediated blood cell destruction.
Blood transfusions are expensive with costs of up to $300 for a unit of fresh or frozen plasma, or up to $500 for transfusion with whole blood which is used when the pet has lost a great volume of blood. For a pet in crisis they may require up to $1,000 of plasma or whole blood in one day’s time. Whole blood is more costly as it contains not only red blood cells, but also coagulation factors, white cells and platelets – whole blood has to be used within 24-hours of collection or it is no longer usable.
Just like humans, pets also have different blood types. Dogs have about 12 different blood types with Type A negative blood the universal donor. Cats have 3-groups of blood types with some variation in each group. There is no universal donor among cats, however some purebred cats have Type B, and only rarely Type AB. Most all domestic shorthair cats have Type A blood. Blood types need to be matched, just like with humans, however, dogs may be able to take a blood transfusion that does not match one time. Horses lead the pack with more than 15 different blood types, and only 5% of horses have a universal donor blood type.
Local Donor and Blood Banks
Local donors are usually pets that the vet knows that are available to donate blood in acute situations. The vet will already know the donor blood types for matching and will plan the transfusion to be accomplished within the 24-hour period for whole blood. There are also numerous commercial veterinary blood banks throughout the country that accept blood donations on a larger scale. Typically, the blood or plasma from blood banks has been refrigerated for up to 46 days for viable use, or frozen for up to 5-years.
Be a Donor!
Talk with your vet about the possibility of your pet becoming a blood donor. Your pet may save another pet’s life just for donating a unit of blood. You can also visit Dog Blood Donors and register your dog right on the site – this is a national directory that you can sign up with.
Generally your dog should weigh at least 50-pounds, be between 1 year and 7 years old, be up to date on all vaccinations as well as free of parasites. The only medications allowed for a donor dog are heartworm and flea prevention drugs. The donor dog cannot have a heart murmur and it needs to have the universal blood type. The typical blood donation from a dog is about 450 ml.
For cats to donate, they need to be between 2 years and 6 years of age and weigh at least 10 pounds. They need to be up to date on all vaccinations, and like dogs, only be on heartworm and flea and tick medications. Cats are sedated for the process and the amount of blood they donate is about 2 ounces.
Horses need to meet more health requirements and testing prior to becoming a donor; however a horse can donate 5 to 6 liters of blood at a time. The qualities to evaluate for being a blood donor are health, gender, breed, size, and temperament. The minimum weight of a horse should be at least 1200 pounds. They can donate once a month if all lab work and health remain good.
Donating blood will take about 30 minutes to complete. No anesthesia is needed. The blood donation is taken from the jugular vein in the neck. There should be no affect to your pet’s normal activities, however you may want to give a bit of rest and reduced level of activity for the rest of the day. Very often donation of blood comes with monetary compensation, which is a nice reward for helping other pets in medical need.