Just like in human medical emergencies, giving blood to a veterinary patient can save a life. There are programs where owners can register their dog and sometimes their cat to become a blood donor. Critical care animals with clotting issues, cancer, anemia or some types of injury (such as having been hit by a car that caused internal bleeding) need blood or plasma. Depending upon the city where you live, there may be a volunteer based animal blood bank. Check with your veterinarian or veterinary assistant to receive a list of local animal blood banks that may be near you. Keep in mind that while some blood banks utilize both dog and cat donors, many are dog only banks.
There are certain guidelines for a pet to become a blood donor:
- They must be friendly and even tempered
- They must be between the ages of one to six years old
- They must be in general good health
- They must be current on vaccines and on heartworm preventive medication (if the area you live in is prevalent with heartworm)
- Females must be spayed and have never been pregnant
- They must have never been a recipient of a blood transfusion
- Cats must be indoor cats only and cannot have a heart murmur
- They must be a large dog (over 50 pounds) or a large cat (over 10 pounds)
If your pet meets these requirements, an initial blood screening with a physical examination must be preformed and you may have to commit your pet to donate six to eight times a year for dogs and four to six times a year for cats.
The actual blood donation usually takes around 30 minutes but many hospitals require the pet to stay for several hours after donating as nourishing fluids are given to replace the blood that was removed. Sedation is not usually necessary for dogs and they will need to be fasting for 10 to 12 hours prior to donation. During an average dog blood donation, approximately 450 milliliters or 16 ounces of blood will be taken. A catheter is usually placed so the replacement fluids can be given intravenously.
Cats are usually given a mild sedative to keep them calm. During an average cat blood donation around 60 milliliters or 2 ounces of blood are taken and replacement fluids are given under the skin to hydrate them. The area around the neck is shaved and surgically scrubbed as the jugular vein is utilized for obtaining the blood.
Being part of a blood donation program not only means you and your pet are saving lives but your pet will receive annual blood work, heartworm, Lyme disease and other screening tests for free.
Most blood banks have some type of donor program along with membership requirements. Membership usually includes benefits such as free blood products for the life of the donor and its housemates.