Blood Transfusions

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The Elixir of Life – Could your Pet be a Blood Donor?

We are all too aware that a human blood transfusion can save a life. With stocks of blood running low, we are regularly asked to give blood through various media messages. But what about our pets, do they need blood transfusions too? The simple answer is ‘yes’! When pets become severely anaemic a transfusion is often required. Pet blood is in short supply and donor dogs and cats are always needed.

Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body which is vital for life. If the number of red blood cells is low, the patient is anaemic. Severe anaemia is life threatening.

 Anaemia occurs because of three different disease processes: red blood cell loss (e.g. internal bleeding), red blood cell destruction (e.g. haemolytic anaemia) and reduced red blood cell production (e.g. bone marrow problems). The number of red blood cells is defined by a number called the PCV (or packed cell volume). When the PCV drops below 12-14% the anaemia is severe and a transfusion is usually needed.

Just like people, dogs and cats have differing blood types. We need to ensure that each patient receives blood of the correct type to reduce the risk of complications, this is particularly important in cats. We always perform blood typing, and sometimes cross matching, before performing blood transfusions in our patients.

If your pet needs a blood transfusion the blood will come from one of two sources.

In the UK most canine blood comes from the Pet Blood Bank, a charity responsible for the collection and distribution of canine blood throughout the country. At Woodcroft Vets we regularly host blood drives on behalf of this charity. We also try to store this blood at our Veterinary Hospital and Cheadle Hulme practice at all times so that it is always on hand should our patients need it at a crucial time.

In addition to stored blood from the Pet Blood Bank, we also have an active register of clients and their pets that are willing to donate blood as it is needed. Unfortunately, for cats we do not have access to stored blood and rely completely on our own register of feline blood donors. We only have a small number of donor cats on our feline register and they are predominantly staff pets.

We fully appreciate that making the decision to allow your dog or cat to give blood is something that takes time and careful consideration. We can assure you that at all times during blood collection  your pet’s happiness and comfort is our main concern and they will be accompanied by trained Veterinary Surgeons & Nurses at all times. 

Blood is in short supply and donors are not always available. By donating a unit of blood, your dog or cat can help save the life of a much loved pet, truly giving the gift of life to others.

If you would like to register your cat or dog as a potential blood donor with Woodcroft Vets, please contact us for more details.

Which patients can give blood?

Dogs must:

  • be between 1 and 8 years of age
  • be fully vaccinated
  • have no history of travel outside the UK
  • be healthy and not on any medications
  • be greater than 25kg in body weight

Temperament is important as your dog will need to be relatively still whilst we collect the blood. Ideally, your dog should enjoy coming to the vets.Dogs cannot donate blood if they have done so in the past 2 months. 

The requirements for cats are similar with the ideal blood donor being greater than 4.5kg. In addition, donor cats are screened for infectious diseases and must be gently sedated so that we can procure about 50mls of blood over 15-20 minutes. Cats requiring sedation need to have been fasting for the previous 4-5 hours.

What are the risks to my pet?

In dogs and humans, the risks associated with donating blood are low. In cats, although the risks are still low they do need a little more thought. Cats need sedating which sometimes reduces blood pressure.

In addition, the loss of blood during donation can also reduce blood pressure. Woodcroft Vets always administer intravenous fluids after every feline donation to reduce the risk of low blood pressure. For the vast majority of cats, a small drop in blood pressure for a short period of time is well tolerated. However, if your cat has an occult (i.e. not evident during a routine examination) systemic problem (e.g. early kidney disease and heart disease), a small drop in blood pressure may be more problematic. 

If you are thinking of registering your cat on Woodcroft Vets donor register we would ask you to think carefully about the small risks involved and balance them against the potential life-saving benefit for another cat.

What will my pet receive in return?

All dogs and cats added to Woodcroft Vets own blood register will receive a full health exam. In addition, we will take a blood sample (haematology and biochemistry) to check that they are healthy enough to give blood should the need arise. 

We will also ascertain the blood type of your pet. Cats will be screened for infectious diseases including Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or ‘Cat AIDS’).

If your cat or dog is asked to give blood in the future, we will obtain an up-to-date medical history and perform another full clinical examination. 

Repeat blood screening, and blood pressure assessment in cats, may also be performed. Finally, we give you a free bag of Royal Canin pet food in return for your pet’s blood donation.

Being a charitable organisation, the Pet Blood Bank are not able to specially reward clients after one of their blood drives (even if it is hosted by Woodcroft Vets). However, rest assured that any blood donated at these convenient collection sessions will be put to good use, saving lives across the UK. 

Dogs receive a toy and a special Pet Blood Bank bandana (indicating that they are blood donors).

What happens when my pet gives blood?

After the appropriate checks, an area of fur is shaved from the underside of your pet’s neck allowing us to access the jugular vein and collect the blood. Local anaesthetic is applied to this area. The clipped area may be quite large as sometimes we need access to both the right and left jugular veins. Cats are usually sedated. 

This is rarely necessary for dogs. In cats, once the blood is removed, intravenous fluid therapy is administered and, if necessary, the sedative is reversed. Your pet is then observed very carefully during the recovery period. Patients are kept warm and comfortable and usually discharged on the same day.

How is the transfusion administered?

The recipient pet has an intravenous catheter placed and the donor blood is attached to a giving set and administered through the catheter. An infusion pump or syringe driver is used to ensure the blood is administered at the correct rate. 

Each patient is constantly monitored by a veterinary nurse. Physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature are measured every 5 minutes to objectively assess the signs of any potential transfusion reaction. 

A transfusion reaction occurs when the recipient pet mounts an immune response against the ‘foreign’ donor blood. If the recipient patient starts to show abnormal signs, the blood administration is discontinued. The whole process takes 2-4 hours. 

Transfusions do not require any specialised equipment. However, because of the time and cost associated with screening both donor and recipient cats, as well as the collection and transfusion process itself, blood transfusions are expensive.

We very much hope you will volunteer your pet to donate blood either at one of our Pet Blood Bank hosted blood drives or via our own blood donor register. Registration on our donor list is especially important in cats, as we only have a very limited number of donors (particularly cats of blood type B). However, it is not a decision to rush into and all of our vets are happy to discuss any concerns you may have.

Rest assured we take our responsibility for your pet’s health very seriously and take all the precautions necessary to ensure that all transfusions are carried out as safely and as smoothly as possible.

Please feel free to contact us to discuss our blood donor register further.