Blood Transfusions

Written by Dr Rose Anderson

Although our patients are hairier and (usually) smaller than a human doctor’s patients, as vets we often deal with diseases and conditions that doctors see.    In the same way, the procedures we perform and the medications we use are often similar to doctors.  A condition we see quite commonly at our hospital are patients who are in need of blood transfusions.  Severe blood loss is usually due to 4 reasons:

  1. Bleeding from trauma such as road traffic accidents
  2. Abdominal tumours which have ruptured causing internal bleeding
  3. Rat bait poisoning
  4. Auto-immune diseases in which the body’s immune system thinks the red blood cells don’t belong in the body and so destroy the red blood cells.

Once we have decided that a dog or cat is in need of a blood transfusion our nurses and receptionists swing into action calling for a blood donor.  Fortunately we have a large list of pets whose owners have offered them up to save the life of another animal.  Our blood donor is brought to the clinic and a small area on the neck is clipped and cleaned.  Often the dog donor is so happy to be patted by our nurses that we can collect blood from the vein without any sedation.  If the dog donor is slightly anxious or if we are taking blood from a cat then the donor is sedated.

We aim to collect about 450ml of blood from a dog and 50ml from a cat.   Of course, we can’t take this from any dog or cat- our blood donors have to be of a good size in order to safely donate this volume of blood.  Conditions for blood donors are:

  1. Be physically fit and aged between 1 and 8 years old
  2. Be over 25kg in weight (greater than 5kg in a cat)
  3. Up to date with vaccinations and worming.
  4. Happy to have lots of affection from our nurses and accept a bag of food as a thank you.

Amazingly, although there are blood groups in dogs, we don’t necessarily need to blood type our donor and the patient.  This is important however if the patient needs a second transfusion.  Cats must be matched to the right blood group or else will have a bad transfusion reaction.

Blood transfusions are almost always the difference between the life and death of our patients.  As vets and nurses we are always grateful to owners and their pets who have put themselves available as donors.   Please contact your local vet if you would like to add your pet to their blood donor list.