Blood Donors

We have all heard of blood transfusions in human medicine, but during their lifetime your pets may also need a blood transfusion, and for these emergency situations we need to have a source of blood available. However, unlike in humans, there is no easily available blood bank and so we rely on willing donor pets to provide a fresh blood donation when a critical patient needs a transfusion.

We are in constant need of blood donors, and we kindly ask that all pet owners consider putting their dog or cat on our register. This would mean that if we have a requirement for a blood transfusion, we may call you and ask you to bring your dog or cat down to the Penwortham branch at short notice. In doing so, you may very well be saving the life of another pet, and making their family very happy and grateful.

Vet Faye Nolan recently saw one such case which illustrates how donor pets really can make a difference:

Sylvester is a 1 year old domestic short haired male neutered cat. He was initially presented to us as inappetant, having possibly lost some weight, and he was generally off colour. On clinical examination he appeared very pale and quite dehydrated.

Sylvester was admitted to be placed on a drip and so that we could run a full blood test to look at his red and white blood cells and his biochemistry. The blood sample revealed Sylvester to be very anaemic, with a microhaemocrit of 6 (normal being over 35).

The cause of the anaemia was unclear at this stage but it was non-regenerative, which meant that the body was not producing any further red blood cells to replace the ones that had been lost/destroyed. There were no signs of haemorrhage so this meant that either the body was failing to produce new red blood cells, there was a bone marrow problem, or the body was attacking the red blood cells once they entered the circulation. This could have an infectious cause (e.g. feline viruses) or could be caused by immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia. Treatment with steroids was started, and we tested Sylvester for Feline Leukaemia Virus (FLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Fortunately, he tested negative for both of these, so we decided that a blood transfusion was necessary if Sylvester was to have any hope of recovering.

As with humans, cats have blood types – A, B and AB. It is very important that the same type of blood is used for donation. Luckily, one of our vets has a cat called Alfie who fitted all the criteria, and so we sent a sample of his blood to a laboratory to find out what blood type he was. We had the result within a couple of hours – Alfie’s blood type matched that of Sylvester, and so he could be used as a blood donor.

Alfie was sedated so that he wouldn’t be stressed by the process, and a transfusion was performed. Both donor and recipient showed no ill effects, and very quickly Sylvester's microhaematocrit increased from 6 to 16. Following the transfusion a bone marrow biopsy was performed which rules out any problems with the production of red blood cells, and a blood smear showed us that regeneration was now occurring.

Over the next two weeks, Sylvester continued to improve in his general demeanour and his microhaematocrit increased to 34. We gradually reduced his steroid dose over the following five months and have now stopped all medication. At his last check up, Sylvester had a microhaematocrit of 42, meaning he is now back in the normal range, and he is a happy, healthy cat, enjoying life with his loving family. However, without the availability of a donor cat, the outcome for Sylvester would have been very different.

If you are considering allowing your pet to become a blood donor, please read the following criteria.

Your dog should:

  • be healthy and in good physical condition

  • be over 25kg

  • be up to date with vaccinations

  • be aged between 1-8 years

  • have not travelled abroad

  • not be diabetic

  • have a suitable temperament to allow blood to be taken with the minimum of stress

Your cat should:

  • ideally be an indoor cat, although all cats in good health and with a good physical condition may be suitable

  • be over 4kg but not obese

  • be up to date with vaccinations

  • be aged between 1-8 years

  • have a calm temperament (although we sometimes sedate the donor cat to minimise stress)

  • not be on any medication

  • not be diabetic

If your dog or cat is a match, please contact the Penwortham branch today – you could be helping to save the life of someone else's much-loved pet.