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All Your Questions Answered about Pet Blood Donation

The Importance of Blood Donation for Pets

Dog and cat blood donation saves lives. Metropolitan Veterinary Associates offers a blood bank for use on our patients. This means that at MVA, we store donated blood and separate blood products from healthy dogs and cats. Blood donation is the only option in the United States for pets in medical need of blood, as blood substitutes are not readily available here. Emergency animal hospitals, specialty referral hospitals, and university settings are where you will most commonly find life-saving pet blood transfusion procedures being performed.

Blood transfusions in dogs and cats are used for anemia resulting from traumatic injuries, clotting disorders, blood loss during surgery, toxin exposure like rodenticide ingestion or snake bite venom, parasites, autoimmune disease, or cancer.

There are over seven canine blood types. However, dogs have two main blood types that we check for: DEA 1.1 Positive and DEA 1.1 Negative. These two types are used for transfusions. Dogs with DEA 1.1 Negative blood type are considered to be the universal blood donors, as their blood type is not likely to result in an adverse reaction in most recipients.

Cats have three blood types – A, B, and AB. A is the most common type. There are no feline universal donors. If a cat is mismatched with their donor for blood, they can have a life-threatening reaction to donated blood. Therefore, especially with cats, it is vital to type and cross-match the donor and recipient before a transfusion.

Veterinary hospital staff will type a donor’s blood and cross-match that donor with the recipient to be sure the recipient can safely receive the donation. Cross-matching can often be done by mixing blood components of the donor and recipient to see if a reaction shows incompatibility. Often, a cross-match is done just before a transfusion. A portion of donated blood to be frozen may be kept aside from the major portion to use for cross-matching with potential recipients in the future.

The Process of Pet Blood Donation

Canine and feline blood donors must be screened to see if they are healthy enough to donate blood and if their blood can be utilized in practice. At MVA, our pet donors meet the following criteria:

  • Dogs must weigh at least 50lbs and cats must weigh at least 10lbs
  • Must be in good body condition and free of infectious diseases
  • Must be between one to eight years of age
  • Must pass an in-person annual physical evaluation
  • Annual bloodwork (Complete blood panel, infectious disease screening, and blood typing)
  • No heart murmur
  • A friendly disposition, be happy to meet people
  • Be capable of calmly being restrained for the donation procedure
  • Up to date on vaccines
  • On monthly flea/tick/heartworm prevention
  • Cats must be indoor only
  • Must be able to donate as needed (not more frequently than every eight weeks)

Once a pet is accepted to donate blood and it is determined what volume of blood may be safely collected from a donor, they are prepared for the donation. A maximum of 10% to 20% of a donor’s blood volume will be collected for blood donation each visit. Before each donation, a small amount of blood will be drawn to ensure your pet is not anemic and can safely donate.

The blood donation procedure takes approximately 5-10 minutes, where your pet is gently held seated or lying down. A small patch of hair will be shaved with clippers on the neck (one or both sides), so we have clean/unobstructed access to the vein. Keep in mind that clippers can sometimes cause mild irritation to some pets’ skin.

Using a sterile procedure, a donor is prepped, and a catheter with tubing attached is placed into their vein. The blood is then collected into one or more sterile bags. The bags contain a solution that prevents the blood from clotting. The time it takes to collect blood depends on the volume taken and the ease of collection. Once the donation is complete, the catheter is removed from the donor. The collection bags are appropriately sealed with or without blood separation and processed to be used immediately or chilled for future use.

After the blood draw, as in human medicine, light pressure will be applied to the area, and a light bandage may be placed to reduce potential bruising. If a bandage is placed, it can be removed 1 hour after returning home. Although occasionally, despite our best efforts, bruises may be noticeable.

Cat donors sometimes need supplemental intravenous fluids with more significant blood donations to replace fluid loss. They are monitored closely after the procedure for any issues requiring attention.

After the donation, we will feed your pet a nutritious meal, provide water during their time with us, and give them lots of love and attention. We will monitor them for approximately 30 minutes before clearing them to go home. We will inform you if it is safest to monitor them slightly longer. The actual donation takes only about 5 minutes, but you should plan on being at MVA for 30-60 minutes.

For 24-hours post-blood donation, we recommend avoiding heavy play and exercise and avoiding using neck leads on your dog during outside walks. No restrictions on food and water intake are necessary.

Your pet’s donated blood can be used right away in practice. Blood that is properly stored can be kept in a designated refrigerator for up to a month or a freezer for up to a year. Many dog and cat donors are used repeatedly as long as it continues to be safe for them. There are no long-term effects of donating blood.

We are happy to offer all our donors a free complete annual exam, bloodwork (full CBC/Chemistry and Infectious Disease Screening), MVA will cover the cost of blood products in the future should your pet ever need a transfusion, and the knowledge that you have helped a pet in need!

Pet blood donation is an important procedure to save the lives of dogs and cats needing blood. At Metropolitan Veterinary Associates, we are glad to be able to offer donated blood from our blood bank to our patients.