When human beings are in need of blood, whether that be through injury or illness, they can turn to blood banks, facilities that store and distribute blood that was donated by volunteers. Our canine and feline family members are just as susceptible to injury and illness as we are, and they may also require transfused blood in order to heal.
From a relatively young age, we are introduced to the idea of giving blood to help other people, but many pet-parents are not as often made aware of the opportunity for their pets to donate blood as well. Keep reading for everything you need to know about canine and feline blood banking.
What are the differences between canine, feline, and human blood types?
While all mammals have blood that is made up of red cells, white cells, and platelets, there are actually several differences between human, canine, and feline blood types.
Canines have eight different blood types that are recognized as international standards. These are DEA 1.1, DEA 1.2, DEA 3, DEA 4, DEA 5, DEA 6, DEA 7, and DEA 8. Canines may be positive for either DEA 1.1 or DEA 1.2 or negative for both, but they cannot be positive for both DEA 1.1 and DEA 1.2.
Dogs that have only DEA 4 or DEA 6 can serve as donors for the majority of the canine population. Still, only DEA 1.1 negative blood is considered a universal donor, while DEA 1.1 positive blood is a universal recipient. It can generally be stored for several weeks with no adverse effects.
Felines, like humans, have types A, B, and the universal recipient AB, although AB type blood in felines is rare. There is no Rh factor, so no positive or negative, and there is no O blood type, nor an equivalent universal donor blood type. Unfortunately, cat blood tends to degrade much more quickly than either human or canine blood. It can only be stored for a day or two at most before it becomes unusable, making blood transfusions for cats a much trickier proposition.
Where do veterinarians get blood from?
There are multiple ways that veterinary professionals can acquire the blood that they need to save the lives of their patients. One source of blood can be found in closed colony blood banks. In the majority of cases, these private colony banks take healthy rescue dogs or cats from shelters and house them for a certain length of time, often between one and three years, in order to draw blood from them.
Due to abuse and neglect allegations that were leveled against some closed colony blood banks, there are very few of these remaining in the United States. Some veterinarians choose to keep and care for a few animals at their office for blood transfusions. This is especially true in the case of cats as feline blood has an extremely short shelf-life and is unable to be safely stored longer than about a day or two.
The most common way for veterinarians to collect blood for transfusions is the same way that human physicians collect blood: from generous donors. Both canines and felines can donate blood to help their fellow pets, either directly to blood banks or, in some cases, at their veterinarian’s office. While blood drives that elicit blood for human beings are a well-known way to help our fellow man, blood donation by our four-legged family members does not always get the same amount of attention, which can lead to detrimental shortages in blood.
What are the requirements for my pet to donate blood?
The rules at each specific donation center can vary somewhat, so you will want to check with them directly, but they tend to be somewhat similar in nature. Most facilities have a minimum weight requirement, typically somewhere around 50 pounds for dogs and within a pound or two of ten pounds for feline donors.
There are generally age requirements as well; almost all of the donation centers start eligibility at a year old both for cats and for dogs, but the age at which they retire donors often varies. For dogs, donor centers may retire their volunteers at anywhere between seven and nine years of age, with cats generally retiring at around nine years of age as well.
All of the donation facilities require that your pet is friendly and undergoes medical testing to ensure that they are healthy. While dogs are given free rein to interact with other dogs when off duty, cats who donate blood are required to be indoor cats.
How does donation work?
In most cases, you drop off your companion for anywhere from half an hour to up to two hours at the clinic, although some pet-parents may choose to wait in the waiting room. Cats generally receive sedation before donation, but it is often unneeded for dogs. The process of collecting the blood takes only 10-15 minutes, and it is typically captured directly from the jugular vein. After their blood has been collected, pets are offered water to help replenish their fluids, as well as an abundance of treats and TLC.
Where can my pets donate blood?
Although there are no specific canine or feline blood banks in Brevard County, there are a few of them scattered throughout Florida.
Approximately 150 miles to the north of Brevard County is the Southeast Veterinary Referral Center, and around 200 miles to the south is the Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialists, both of which offer donors perks like free physical exams, including bloodwork, and discounts or credits towards additional veterinary services.
The University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, around 150 miles northwest of Brevard County’s Space Coast, accepts donations of canine blood as well, offering a bag of dog food with each donation along with their free physical exams and bloodwork.
The Veterinary Emergency Referral Center in Pensacola also accepts volunteers for contributions. Some veterinarians also facilitate the donation of blood or may be able to an appropriate private donation facility as well.
The need for canine and feline blood is often overlooked, and shortages can mean dire outcomes for some patients. While you may be able to plan ahead by banking blood with your veterinarian for certain procedures, such as a preplanned surgery, the need for blood is often both unexpected and urgent. While some areas have been affected by shortages of suitable canine or feline blood, this doesn’t have to be the case. If your pet is eligible, look into donating.
If you don’t have a pet that is eligible to donate, help spread the word by sharing this article!
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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