Lisa Goldstein, DVM
Giving the Gift of Life
It was almost closing time at our clinic when a woman ran into our waiting room screaming that she had just found a dog lying in the street who had been hit by a car. The veterinary technicians rushed the dog into the clinic on a stretcher. “Lucky” was alive, but he was in shock and unable to move. We immediately began treatment to stabilize him, provide pain relief and treat his wounds.
Despite administering large volumes of fluids and drugs to treat the shock, Lucky’s gums remained pale and his abdomen tender. An ultrasound revealed fluid in his abdomen; a stomach tap told us this fluid was blood. Lucky’s spleen had ruptured and we had to remove it immediately or he would die. He would also die if we didn’t have enough blood available to transfuse him during and after the surgery – and we didn’t. We had exactly one unit of blood, and the nearest emergency hospital that could supply us with the blood we needed was three hours away. Thankfully, one of our technicians, Dawn, is the parent of a young, healthy Great Dane named Nathaniel who she volunteered as a blood donor. Dawn ran home to get Nathaniel while we prepped Lucky for emergency surgery.
The Donor Checklist
Every day hundreds of animals need blood transfusions, but there are few national animal blood banks. With such a severe shortage of blood, many clinics depend on larger emergency hospitals when they need blood. Typically, when an animal donates blood, she is typed and checked for blood-borne infectious diseases. Similar to human blood types, there are five major canine blood types, and one is a universal donor, like our “O negative.” When veterinarians purchase blood from a bank, they get the universal blood type, which can be used once on almost any animal without much chance of side effects or adverse reactions. However, if an animal needs multiple transfusions, the chance of a reaction goes up considerably with each one.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Requirements for blood donors vary from state to state. If you’re interested in having your pet become a blood donor, contact your local veterinarian, veterinary school, emergency animal clinic or one of the following blood banks:
Many veterinary schools have set up blood donor programs. There usually are requirements that the donors must meet. For example, Midwest Animal Blood Services requires that a donor dog be healthy and friendly, weigh more than fifty pounds, be between one and seven years old, be current on vaccinations and free of parasites. The animal must be free of any medications except for heartworm and/or flea prevention drugs. Her heart must be sound (no murmur), and she must have the universal blood type (the bank will type the animal’s blood). When an animal meets these requirements, her blood will be drawn and sent out to a lab to test for infectious diseases, and then she’ll be given a general health profile.
Good Deeds Get Rewarded
The actual process of donating blood is quite simple. It takes about 30 minutes and does not require anesthesia. Blood is taken from the jugular vein – the large vein that runs along the neck. Giving blood will not hinder your pet’s normal activities, but you may want to let her rest easy that day and give her some extra tender, loving care. In addition to the obvious benefit of helping to save another animal’s life, there is sometimes a monetary reward for donating your pet’s blood. Some veterinarians offer the donor family a discount on future veterinary services. Dawn, for example, received $150 toward veterinary care for Nathaniel (which came in handy after he ate a five-pound box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day and needed his stomach pumped). Though few, the drawbacks of donating blood may include a slight swelling at the site where the blood was taken. Also, if your pet is timid and afraid of doctor visits, it might be too stressful a favor to ask of her.
Thanks to Nathaniel and the Good Samaritan who stopped and rushed him to the clinic, Lucky survived his ordeal. When his guardian was located, she came to the clinic with a big bouquet of roses for the woman who stopped for him and a big bag of dog biscuits for Nathaniel. But her most important purchase was a new padlock for her backyard gate.
Dr. Goldstein is a veterinarian practicing in Southern California.
© 2002 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2002