Caring for animals, people, & the environment
A Special Kind of Donation: Giving the Gift of Life
by Elizabeth Janecka
Blood shortages are common in human hospitals around the
country, and it is imperative that blood is readily available for
those who are injured or undergo surgery. What many people don't
realize is that these same shortages also impact animal hospitals.
The Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is more than aware of this need. In fact,
a blood bank like the ones in human hospitals can be found in the
Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH). The technicians that
oversee the operations of the blood bank realize the critical need
for donor pets to help keep a steady supply of blood and blood
components on hand for emergencies. For this reason, they maintain
an on-call list of available blood donors for "fresh draw"
components such as platelets and they also purchase and maintain a
stock of other frozen/refrigerated components.
Paula Plummer with Maddie.
The feature in this edition of CVM Today focuses on what happens
when disaster strikes, and highlights the college's Veterinary
Emergency Team. However, when emergencies happen and disasters
occur, not all clinicians are deployed to the disaster zone. Many
remain at the VMTH to care for pets arriving from hard hit
areas-the ones that may need an emergency blood donation. Not all
emergencies arise from disaster, and not all patients needing blood
arrive from a disaster zone. In fact, most are pets that have
become critically ill. The blood bank is there to provide a needed
resource that gives these pets a second shot at life.
"It's important to have a supply of different blood components
available at all times because we are both a primary emergency
facility and a large referral facility," explains Mary Radcliffe,
blood bank coordinator of the VMTH's Small Animal Hospital ICU. "We
see high risk, critical cases which often require immediate
treatment. These types of patients may not even survive a 24-48
hour delay in receiving a particular component."
Radcliffe explains that there is a greater need for animal blood
banks in today's veterinary ICUs than there was about 10 to 15
years ago. In the past, most animals would only have about one
surgery in their lifetime. Today, animals will average about two to
three major surgeries or medical issues in their lifetime due to
the increased owner care and the stronger social role that pets
play in society.
Volunteer blood donors are crucial to the supply the clinic has
on hand. Privately owned dogs and cats serve as blood donors, and a
friendly personality is a must.
"I have been in veterinary medicine for 10 years and I have
always allowed my dogs to be blood donors," said Paula Plummer,
veterinary technician at CVM. "People do not realize that blood
banks are just as important in veterinary medicine as they are in
human medicine. I allow my dog to be involved because it truly is
an amazing feeling to know that she helped save another dog's
Both dogs and cats must be between one and six years of age,
spayed or neutered, and in good health. Cats must weigh at least 12
lbs. and dogs must weigh at least 55 lbs.
Many blood banks have several Greyhounds and Pit Bulls in their
donor programs due to the relatively higher incidence of the
universal blood type in these breeds, as well as their easygoing
nature, which works best during the donation.
There are multiple blood types in dogs, but there are universal
donors who can generally donate to any dog in need. The technicians
at the VMTH make sure to routinely perform a crossmatch on canine
patients to rule out any incompatibility as a result of a previous
Universal donors do not exist in cats as they have three
different blood types: A, B, and AB. The most common blood type is
A. The feline patients must be typed and transfused with their
identical blood types as the need arises. Most type A cats are
domestic short hair mixed breeds, while there is a higher incidence
of the rarer type B and AB in some of the purebred cats.
D'Lisa Ryland collects blood while Paula Plummer holds
"Before accepting a dog or cat into the program they are blood
typed and then if they are suitable, they come in to the clinic for
a complete physical examination and blood draw to rule out any
medical problems," states Radcliffe. "They remain in the program
for approximately two years and may donate once every three
Right now there are 12 dogs and one cat that participate in the
program. All typing, testing, annual physical exams, and
vaccinations for the donors are done at no charge to the owner.
Radcliffe notes that if necessary they can purchase blood from a
commercial blood bank for exotic animals.
"Between the commercial blood bank supplies, which we purchase,
and our volunteer donors, we generally manage to cover our blood
needs. Holidays and times of natural disasters are always a
particular concern. This is due to the increased case load, as so
many other facilities are closed," remarks Radcliffe.
While the majority of the blood bank program's needs are
currently being met, many of the donors' owners are students who
graduate and move away with their pets. Also, as pets get older,
they may have to "retire" from the program based on age, or they
may develop medical problems unrelated to being a donor that may
force them into "early retirement."
"I am always accepting new applications for the program," states
Radcliffe. "Interested people in the Bryan/College Station area can
contact me by email at email@example.com."
"Our cases range widely considering the injury," said Radcliffe.
"We provide a service that can help save lives for animals every
day. Whether we help to save their lives long term, or just extend
them so their owners can have a time to say goodbye and get
closure, we realize that this is a necessary service in veterinary
medicine and we are grateful for the opportunity to provide
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