It seems that blood drives are going on everywhere all the time. As a society we are aware that blood shortages are common at hospitals around the country and that it is imperative that blood is available for those who are injured or have to undergo surgery. What we may not think of is that blood is also critical when treating our family pets.
Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences is more than aware of this need. In fact, they have a blood bank that maintains an on-call list of available animal blood donors for “fresh draw” components such as platelets and also purchases and maintains a stock of other frozen/refrigerated components.
“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 at Texas A&M’s Small Animal Clinic 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.”
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.
“My dogs do search and rescue operations and are also blood donors. It does require a time commitment because you have to bring them in to the clinic if you are available when there is a need for your dog’s donation, but it is definitely worth it,” notes Jaime Greenway, a veterinary technician at Texas A&M University Small Animal Clinic. “It makes me feel good that my dogs are not only helping to find people, but are also helping other people’s pets as well.” 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.
“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 months.”
Right now there are 12 dogs and one cat that participate in the program. All typing, testing and annual physical exams and vaccinations for the donors are done at no charge to the owner.
“Between the commercial blood bank supplies which we purchase and our volunteer donors we generally mange to cover our blood needs, but holidays are always a particular concern. This is due to the increased caseload as so many other facilities are closed,” remarks Radcliffe.
While the majority of the animal blood bank program’s needs are currently being met, many of the donor’s 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.”
There are a variety of veterinary blood bank programs around the country from universities to private clinics and commercial businesses. If you are interested in volunteering your pet for one of these programs, contact your veterinarian for more information about what is available in your area.
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