Save a Life: Pet Blood Banks

By Tatiana Garrett

One of the things I really love about my career with animals is that I’m always learning something new. Last week I was able to explore a blood bank for pets. Until then, I didn’t realize that blood donor programs for pets even existed, so I wanted to spread the word that pet people can volunteer to help save the lives of other pets (and possibly even their own). There are restrictions—not every cat or dog can be a donor—but if your pet can donate, please consider doing so and saving lives.

Although veterinary blood banks have existed for approximately twenty years, there is still no national registry so this is a great opportunity to reinforce a very important message for every pet parent—develop a relationship with your local veterinarian and veterinary emergency center (if your vet isn’t open 24-hours/day). Ask if they have a blood donor program. If not, they may be able to refer you to a local option.

Aside from being a life-saving hero, there can be many benefits to donating. Volunteer donors to the Animal Emergency Treatment Center (I visited their Chicago hospital) receive: a $25 credit towards AETC hospital services for each donation, an ID tag and bandana letting everyone know s/he is a blood donor, annual screening blood work until retirement, a complete physical examination and red blood cell count at each donation, blood products at no charge for the donor’s lifetime, and lots of cookies and hugs. Every blood donor program will have their own benefits, but it’s great to know about incentives. Veterinary costs can be significant so an eligible pet can potentially save substantial amounts of money for their caregiver by being a volunteer donor for a program with incentives like the ones mentioned above.

There are quite a few reasons why a pet might need a blood transfusion: Traumatic injuries, poisoning, surgical procedures, or certain diseases/maladies. A pet in need could require a blood transfusion or blood plasma. Staff at AETC told me that four dogs’ lives can be saved with each unit donated. If your beloved pet faced a trauma and needed blood, would it be available?

Just like people, cats and dogs have unique blood types and some can be more rare than others. Pets with rare blood types can develop a relationship with their local bank and ask to be notified in instances of a blood shortage.

Not every pet will be eligible to donate, and specific restrictions may vary for each clinic. In general, you must have a healthy pet that will not be too stressed by the donation process. In my work at zoos, I saw great apes and dolphins be trained to give voluntary blood samples, so it’s quite feasible to train cats and dogs to be calm donors as well.

Restrictions for donors at the AETC are:

Dogs: Greater than 50 pounds, 1-7 years of age, current on vaccinations and on heartworm and flea/tick preventative, in good health, no history of breeding or previous blood transfusions, and must have a good disposition.

Cats: Greater than 10 pounds, 1-7 years of age, current on vaccinations and Feline Leukemia/Feline Immunodeficiency Virus negative, indoor only, in good health, no history of breeding or previous blood transfusions, and must have a good disposition.

When I visited AETC to explore a pet blood bank, I observed a dog and cat making donations. The pets appeared calm and seemed to love the attention from the staff and their parents. I also met two foster kitties with rare blood types who were donors through their foster mom. Before leaving, I met a sweet elderly German Shepherd who had been a long time donor before retiring and had recently received a donation herself that was needed after internal bleeding from issues surrounding a tumor. These stories touched my heart and I hope that everyone reading this takes a moment to consider donating to a veterinary blood bank. Just as it does with humans – giving blood saves lives.

Watch my visit to AETC: Chicago Tails at AETC

Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails” on Watch312.com.


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