A blood donation—whether for people or pets—is truly the gift of life.
Dogs and cats require transfusions for the same reasons we do: they're sick, injured or require major surgery for some reason. As veterinary medicine has become more sophisticated, the need for blood products has greatly increased.
"The more we realize that some of the problems we thought were not treatable in the past can be treated with a transfusion, the more that owners want to go ahead and pursue it," said Dr. Beth Davidow, medical director at ACCES, the largest animal hospital in the Seattle area.
In order to perform these sophisticated procedures, blood needs to be readily available—and that requires a blood bank. With the help of volunteer dog and cat owners, ACCES now supplies blood products—plasma and red blood cells—to 47 other veterinary hospitals in Washington state.
"Our donor families are amazing. They're willing to take time out of their busy lives to come into our hospital and allow their pet to do something that will save the life of another pet," Davidow said.
Bailey Crawford is alive today thanks to surgery that required blood products. Bailey, a 4-year-old Shiba Inu, was hit by a car in January. Her injuries were so serious that the vet recommended she be euthanized. But the doctors at ACCES were able to repair her perforated bowel and treat her infection. Bailey received multiple transfusions, before, during and after surgery.
"She was on her deathbed and without the blood bank they couldn't have saved her," said Patrick Crawford, Bailey's owner. "All the money in the world wouldn't have mattered if they didn't have the blood she needed."
Some of that blood was donated by Detta Bauer, an 8-year-old Doberman Pinscher, who's been a regular blood donor for about two years now.
"It's wonderful to know that her blood saved another dog," said Gretchen Bauer, Detta's owner. "It's very exciting and I feel lucky to have been able to help out."
Bauer's previous Doberman had a blood disorder and needed transfusions. So, when she got Detta, Gretchen wanted to give back.
"When we pull up to the blood bank, Detta knows exactly where she is and gets very excited," Bauer told me. "They take her weight and she runs right to the exam room. She gets treats the whole time and they fuss over her. And at the end, she gets a toy. So for her, it's great."
Supply cannot keep up with demand
Pet blood is often in short supply, even though there are several national blood banks that ship blood across the country.
"Most people just don't know about this," said Rebecca Nusbaum, operations director at HemoSolutions, one of the country's largest pet blood banks located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "We always need more donors and that's the case for every pet blood bank in the U.S."
HemoSolutions has about 300 dog and 100 cat donors. Pet owners must commit to six donations a year.
The process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. During that time, the dogs get "lots of belly rubs and baby talk," Nusbaum said. The dogs are not sedated. Cats, for obvious reasons, must be anesthetized.
After six donations, HemoSolutions sends money to the donor family's veterinarian—anywhere from $75 to $150 depending on the blood type—to pay for some of the animal's routine medical care.