Donated animal blood saves sick cats and dogs and remains in short supply.
Angus, a 2-year-old pit bull rescue, sits calmly on a table at Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists, an animal hospital on West Silver Spring Drive in Glendale. His tail’s wagging as he’s fed a fine selection of treats, but he’s not just here for those. He’s a blood donor. The last time Angus donated his DEA 1.1 negative blood, a universal donor type for dogs, it was used within hours in surgery to sustain a fellow canine with severe bite wounds.
As veterinary medicine has allowed more pets to survive trauma and disease, donated animal blood has become a much sought-after commodity. “You never really know when the demand for blood will increase,” says Dr. Carrie Stefaniak, medical director at Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists. If a clinic runs out, it can take as long as two weeks to secure additional supplies from an off-site blood bank, delaying emergency surgeries. Because of this, desperate pet owners will sometimes volunteer a second dog or cat to provide a quick transfusion – blood not screened for type or disease – as a last resort.
The Lakeshore hospital, one of only a handful of animal blood centers in the Milwaukee area, administered more than 130 blood transfusions in 2014 using blood from a donor roster of 34 dogs and eight cats, among other sources. Clinics in dire need of blood often pool resources, according to Stefaniak, who says Lakeshore receives as many as five requests a month from other blood centers that have run low. Its own patients arrive at a steady rate, some 10 or more a month with traumas, tumors, diseases and poisonings that require transfusions.
The process for collecting animal donations is similar to that for humans. Cats and dogs partake in a series of tests, and after receiving a clean bill of health, they can donate three or four times per year. One pint of blood taken from a dog can save up to four lives, Stefaniak says, either at Lakeshore or elsewhere. “It can be difficult to say [to another clinic], ‘Yes, I will give you my last unit of blood,’” she says, “when I have none left in my hospital. But what stays in the back of my mind is there is a pet out there in need. And that trumps everything.”