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Pets can donate blood too

Julie Steinbach, Contributing writer

Today’s pets benefit from an array of medical technologies developed for humans. But not many pet owners realize a relatively old standby — blood transfusion — is commonly used in veterinary settings.

There are many scenarios in which veterinarians use transfusions to save lives.

Patients who have experienced trauma resulting in life-threatening blood loss are the most frequent recipients. But transfusions also help pets with cancers that destroy blood cells and to prolong the lives of pets with kidney diseases. Many cases of poisoning, which sometimes kill by interfering with an animal’s blood-clotting ability, can be dealt with by blood transfusions.

In order to meet the veterinary need for blood, it’s necessary for pets to donate blood. Some veterinary clinics have their own blood donation program, allowing you and your cat or dog to help save the lives of others.

Dr. Carrie Stefaniak at Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists, in Milwaukee, is in charge of her clinic’s donation program. She says that finding donors can be tricky.

“It is challenging due to lack of awareness of donor programs and sometimes (due to the required) time commitment,” she says. “While we keep a supply of blood products on hand, on occasion a fresh whole blood donation may be needed at a moment’s notice and that need could arise on weekends, holidays or in the middle of the night.” 

Ideal donors have an even temperament, display a relatively high level of comfort in a veterinary setting and meet specific weight and health criteria, which are assessed as part of the extensive screening process. 

Once it is determined the pet will make a successful donor, some training is necessary. For dogs and cats to donate successfully, they will have to learn to experience the donation process as a positive activity. Heather Clingan, a certified veterinary technician at Lakeshore, works closely with Stefaniak in the clinic’s donation program. She says the process of drawing blood starts with the proper positioning.

“Dogs usually lie on their side during the donation,” she says. “And cats often sit in a sternal position, lying on their chest, not their side.”

The process lasts 10 to 15 minutes. Once completed, many treats and plenty of attention are given to the pets to ensure they associate the experience with something positive.

Clinics offer benefits in exchange for donations, including discounts and special services. Lakeshore’s donors receive a physical examination with each donation and an annual evaluation of the donor’s blood work. The clinic also offers reward credits.

“I know that the blood Booker donates helps saves lives in emergency situations,” says Laurie Verrier, whose dog Booker is a regular donor at Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals in Milwaukee. That’s the most rewarding aspect of enrolling your pet in a blood donation program, she says — the knowledge of providing a valuable service to your veterinary community by helping to save lives and by contributing to veterinary research and progress. (Editor’s note: Laurie Verrier is an account executive with Wisconsin Gazette.)

As the field of veterinary medicine continues to grow and specialty services become more common, the need for blood donor programs will continue to grow stronger, Stefaniak says. And she predicts pet owners will rise to the need.

“More and more pets are seen as family members and people are more personally and emotionally invested in their care,” she explains. “Pets offer so much to enrich our lives — companionship, affection, loyalty and daily laughs. In return, we are fortunate to possess the medical advancements to make their lives as happy and as comfortable as possible.”

You can learn about the blood donation programs in your area by asking your veterinarian, who will be glad to help connect you with the closest facility. Before you know it you and your furry companion could be saving the lives of other pets in your community.

What’s your pet’s type?

Just like humans, dogs and cats have blood types. It’s helpful to know your pet’s blood type in case of an emergency.


Feline blood types fall into three groups: A, B and AB. Since about 90 percent of domestic cats have type A blood, cats are relatively easy to match. Type B is usually found in more exotic purebreds. Just as with humans, AB is the rarest type.

Cats don’t have one blood type that can be used as a universal donor.


Canine blood types are more complicated that a feline’s. There are more than 13 canine blood types, but the vast majority fall into eight categories that are coded according to “DEA,” an acronym for Dog Erythrocyte Antigen.

Those types are:
DEA 1.1
DEA 1.2

DEA 4 and DEA 6 appear on the blood cells of 98 percent of dogs, making canines of this blood type the primary donors. Dogs that are DEA 1.1 positive are universal recipients and DEA 1.1 negative pooches (a category that includes 60 percent of greyhounds) are universal donors. But that universality comes with a caution: Blood from DEA 1.1 positive dogs should never be transfused into DEA 1.1 negative dogs.

Source: Compiled from Internet sources.

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