In the field of human medicine, giving blood transfusions
to patients is a routine procedure. Hospitals have large
stores of donated blood at the ready, to use whenever it
may be required. In veterinary medicine, we do not have
quite as many willing volunteers, so it is not so easy to
keep stores of blood.
Generally, if a blood transfusion is required, a suitable
donor is found and the blood is taken then and there. My
Labrador, Joskin, and my Siamese cat, Ernie, have both been
regular blood donors for the practice.
Because of the practical difficulties in taking blood from
animals, we tend to only use transfusions in exceptional
circumstances. This week, however, those "exceptional
circumstances" arose twice in two days!
Firstly, a transfusion was required for a severely anaemic
dog. Thus, as usual, I fetched Jos from my house, and we
took blood from him.
In dogs, this is done with no sedation, from the jugular
vein in the neck. The donor dog has blood tests performed
first to ensure they are fit and well, and can safely donate.
If it is the recipient dog's first transfusion, cross-matching
the blood to ensure the two dogs are the same blood group
is not essential. This is because - unlike humans - dogs
do not have antibodies which attack the blood cells of a
different blood type. If the same dog requires a second
transfusion, however, they MUST be blood typed, because
the first transfusion can cause these antibodies to form,
so if incompatible blood is given a second time, a fatal
transfusion reaction can occur.
In cats, these antibodies DO exist in some cats, so it
is potentially dangerous to transfuse a cat without matching
the donor and recipient blood groups first. Thus, when we
look for a suitable donor cat, we also check their blood
group. Donor cats must also be checked for feline leukaemia
virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Not
suprisingly, cat donors DO require sedation, and they are
also put on a drip to replace the blood volume removed.
Secondly, 2 days later, a dog required a transfusion to
provide her with essential "clotting factors"
that she did not have, to prevent her haemorrhaging during
an operation to remove a tumour from her spleen. Obviously,
I needed to find an alternative donor, as Jos had done his
duty already that week!
This situation had never arisen before, so I racked my
brains, and eventually decided to ring the Turner family,
from Burbage, to ask if they would mind volunteering one
of their three chocolate Labradors.
When searching for a blood donor, there are certain criteria
we look at. The most important are size, general health
and temperament. An ideal donor should be around 30Kg or
heavier, but this must be lean weight (ie: they must not
be obese). They should
be fit and well, ideally 8 years or less, and not receiving
any medication. They must not have travelled outside the
UK (ie: on a Pet Passport).
A good temperament is essential, as the donor has to sit
very still for about 5-10 minutes, whilst we insert a rather
large needle into their neck! Fortunately, "Cassie"
the chocolate Labrador fulfilled these criteria perfectly.
My own dog, Joskin, is the most placcid animal you could
wish to meet, and actually wags his tail as we take blood
from him. I thought it would be hard to find another dog
as amenable as he is, but Cassie proved me wrong and was
Thus, our "blood shortage" problem was solved.
However, Joskin is now 9 years old,and has whispered in
my ear that he really should have retired by now! Hence
we are appealing to dog owners in the Hinckley area to register
their dogs as potential donors. We would be grateful if
anyone who has a dog that meets the above criteria could
contact the Fairfield surgery (01455 637642), so that we
can keep your details on file. If used, your dog will get
the benefit of receiving a full health check and screening
blood tests before hand.
We would also like to hear from owners of potential cat
donors. The criteria for cats is that they should be large
cats (over 5Kg lean body weight), fit and well and under
8 years old. Temperament is slightly less important as sedation
As a regular blood donor myself, I always feel proud to
have "done my bit". Although our animal donors
probably don't feel the same, the praise and treats they
get afterwards more than make up for it!
Young BVSC CertSAM MRCVS
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