Animal Blood Donors: The Next Best Thing to Giving Life, is Saving Life

Some time ago an adorable 12 year old Shetland Sheepdog named Trouble was diagnosed of Lymphosarcoma. Treatment very quickly ensued by using the CHOP-based chemotherapy protocol. Not long into the treatment, Trouble began coughing up blood, his stools were stained in bright red blood, gums and tongue pale. A quick test determined that he had suffered from internal bleeding, and a blood transfusion was required to save his life.

Blood or plasma transfusions occurs frequently in veterinary clinics and hospitals, and can be crucial in many situations including trauma, immune diseases, blood loss during surgery or, as in the case of Trouble, chemotherapy complications.

When a lifesaving transfusion is recommended, the natural question by worried pet parents is, “Where do you get this from?” People are generally surprised to find out that just like for us people, there are canine and feline blood banks.

Veterinary blood banks are a fairly new concept, developed during the past 15 to 25 years, and there are essentially two kinds: Community based donor programmes using volunteer dogs and cats and Veterinary practices that house and care for their own group of donor animals who live on the grounds of the veterinary hospital/clinic.

Community-based donor programmes rely on volunteers to bring in their pets for blood donation. There are several veterinary practices that has this kind of programme, including The Joyous Vet and Jireh Vet. Benefits to volunteers can include free annual health exams and blood work, heartworm prevention and food. Some programmes may even offer a return gift of blood at no cost if the donor ever needs it during his or her lifetime.

How does it work?

Fit, healthy donors are selected to ensure the blood they provide is of best quality and also that the process is not detrimental to the donor. For most programmes, donor pets must be between one- to six-years-old, be free of any medications, and dogs need to weigh at least 25 kgs. Prior to becoming a blood donor, all animals are screened for infectious diseases and are given a full veterinary exam to ensure that only healthy dogs and cats enter a donation programme.

Next, their blood is typed. Dogs have 6 major (but up to 13 different) blood types and the preferred donor is antigen 1.1 negative. In the dog world, they are considered the “universal donors” and are similar to type O universal donors in people.

Donor dogs and cats can “roll up their fur sleeves” every 2 to 3 months, but this varies by blood bank. If the dog has a calm temperament, sedation is not required—just plenty of head rubs and treats. The blood draw takes about 15 minutes. A single donation can be used to save up to four lives, because the blood can be separated into two components, red blood cells and plasma.

With people, donating blood is sharing the gift of life with those in need, and the same holds true for our pets. In the case of canine and feline donations, a person’s pet can save the life of another. Animals, they can be heroes too.

Interested in having your pet become a donor? If you live in Singapore, contact The Joyous Vet at 6769 0304 (Chua Chu Kang) / 6267 4137/8 (Yuan Ching), or Jireh Vet at 6556 0268, or alternatively ask your veterinarian.

With the help from a three year old German Shepherd named Sake, Trouble recovered from the critical blood loss, and went on to live like a puppy for another 9 months under alternative treatment. He succumbed to the illness on 4 Dec 2014. 

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