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Asked by Todd L Ross in
Blood Transfusions
Veterinary Medicine
Dog Health

Where do veterinarians get blood for animal blood transfusions?

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Todd L Ross
July 02, 2019 7:21PM

When humans need transfusions, they can usually get them easily, thanks to organizations like the Red Cross that sponsor blood drives across the country. Animals also regularly need transfusions, but finding appropriate donors can be much more difficult.

Generally speaking, veterinarians are responsible for finding their own sources, and to keep their supplies consistent, they’ll often rely on a few reliable donor animals. These are often pets belonging to the clinic’s staff.

When donors aren’t available, veterinarians can buy through blood banks. However, it has to be properly typed; dogs, for example, have at least eight different blood types. Cats have three blood types, and certain breeds are more likely to have certain blood characteristics. Samples also need to be checked for infectious diseases before the donations are used for transfusions.

“Dogs in general are very tolerant of other dogs’ red blood cells,” veterinarian Jonathan Bach told the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Cats are different, and it is more important that they have a compatible crossmatch.”

Because of this, veterinary clinics prefer to keep tested universal donations on hand. That often means periodically bringing a few animals in to get the necessary blood. Some clinics also have onsite donors, which are animals cared for by the clinic that often come from shelters where they would have been euthanized.

The good news: Donations aren’t a big deal for the animals. A typical transfusion takes about 7-10 minutes. Dogs are rarely sedated, but cats usually are, since they’re more likely to experience stress during the procedure.

After full testing, the donations are often separated into their components (plasma, platelets, and white and red blood cells) to meet the needs of different patients. This allows each donation to help as many animals as possible.

If you’re interested in making your pet part of a donor program, contact your local veterinarian or veterinary school. You’ll typically receive a free health screening (including otherwise costly bloodwork) for your pet, and you’ll get the peace of mind that comes with doing a good deed.