Yohann, a three-legged rescue greyhound from Scotland, was recently recognized for saving the lives of 64 dogs. He doesn’t have any superpowers—he is a blood donor. Pets, like people, may require a blood transfusion due to blood loss during surgery, severe trauma, or sudden anemia brought on by disease or poisoning. When blood is needed, it’s needed NOW. And that’s the real challenge.
Veterinarians are currently struggling with an animal blood shortage. More often than not, they rely on their own pets and those of their staff (if they are good donor candidates) to provide blood in critical care situations. But what happens when an on-call donor isn’t available and your pet is in need of life-saving blood?
How can your pet help?
Every blood donation has the potential to save up to three lives. To ensure the safety of the patient as well as the donor, there are several criteria that need to be met before a pet can donate blood. Criteria can vary slightly depending on the blood bank or country but here are some typical requirements:
- Be between one and eight years of age
- Dogs must weigh over 55 lbs and cats must weigh over 9 lbs (with good body condition)
- Be healthy and well-tempered
- Does not take medication other than heartworm/parasite preventives
- Be up to date on core vaccinations
- Have normal blood work, such as complete blood count, biochemical profile, and heartworm and tick-borne disease tests; cats must also test negative for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia
- Have never been outside the resident country (or continent in some cases)
- Some blood banks require that cats are indoor-only pets
- Veterinary records are available upon request
Safety precautions are on par with those in human blood banks. A veterinarian will examine your pet and give some light sedation to keep her calm and comfortable. A technician will perform the blood draw, monitor your pet throughout the procedure (which usually takes about 10 minutes), and may give some fluids under the skin to keep her hydrated, especially if she’s a cat.
Donating blood is a rewarding experience and often comes with extra perks! Some blood donation programs require that your pet either donates a certain number of times or is “on call” when an emergency strikes. To ensure their “volunteers” keep up with the criteria for donations, they provide year-round routine veterinary services, including wellness exams, vaccinations, blood screening, and monthly preventives for heartworm, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites—a value of up to $650 (depending on where you live) for services pet owners will pay for anyway! Some will even provide a free bag of high-quality pet food with each donation. Best of all, if your pet ever needs a blood donation, they will provide as many units as she needs, free of charge.
Not all programs require this level of commitment and still offer perks, whether it’s complimentary blood screening, pet food, a bandana fit for a furry hero, or a combination of rewards, volunteers always get something back for their selfless acts of kindness.
If you think your pet could be another pet’s “blood” hero, talk to your veterinarian to learn more about the process and how to find a reputable animal blood donor program near you.