Life Science ‘We’re always looking for new donors’: At the animal blood bank your pet could save lives
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‘We’re always looking for new donors’: At the animal blood bank your pet could save lives

Veterinary nurse Kerry Bozicevic with blood-donor dogs Jasper and Quentin. Photo: Jane McNaughton
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Blood donation is critical in saving lives, whether it comes to trauma, cancer, blood disease or surgery, but did you know that your pet could also help save lives?

Both dogs and cats are able to give blood, as long as they meet the physical and ethical requirements.

Werribee U-Vet, run by the University of Melbourne, is Victoria’s only animal blood bank, and its donors have been vital for saving many pets’ lives.

Blood donor program co-ordinator and nurse at the animal hospital, Kerry Bozicevic, said pets need blood available for medical procedures just as humans do.

Trauma cases, such as physical injury and ingesting toxic substances, have been common reasons that dogs needed blood at the hospital.

“We see a lot of Ratsak toxicities here, which actually stop the blood from clotting, so they need blood to replace that,” Ms Bozicevic said.

“In some medical cases diseases will actually [destroy the animal’s] own red blood cells, so we need to replace them, as well as potential blood loss in surgery.”

Importance of a blood bank

Geelong pet owner Kylie McKenna’s dog was a recipient of blood in a life-saving operation.

In early 2019, her six-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback, Nelson, became ill and the family travelled to the clinic for emergency treatment.

“He was diagnosed with tumours on the spleen,” Ms McKenna said.

“His spleen was removed, he was tested and given the all clear, which is great.

Without a blood bank, donor animals need to be called into the clinic in an emergency and give samples onsite.

Blood can be kept onsite in the fridge for up to 35 days and frozen for five years.

Ms Bozicevic said having the blood stored in the clinic saved lives.

“Blood onsite, or readily available, makes a huge difference to the outcome of a patient,” she said.

“If you have a trauma case that’s come in and it needs blood now, we have it available.

“It can reduce the time of surgery by hours, and increase the survival rate.”

Dogs have 15 recognised blood types, while cats have three.

Cats require transfusions that match their blood type, however a dog’s first blood transfer can be different if a match was not available.

Which pets can donate?

For pets to become blood donors, they need to be aged between one and five years, healthy, vaccinated, and have a calm temperament.

Dogs are required to be over 25 kilograms and give 450 millilitres of blood a visit, which is almost the same as the standard human donation of 470l.

Cats need to weigh more than four kilograms and 20 per cent of the feline’s blood is taken in a donation, which is capped at 50ml.

Both animals need to be local to Victoria to minimise the risk of contamination by interstate disease, and not have required a transfusion in the past.

Ms Bozicevic said not all dogs’ personalities suited becoming a blood donor, as dogs remained awake during the procedure.

“Extremely energetic dogs are sometimes difficult to calm.”

Cats are more likely to be stressed in the environment and, although they are anaesthetised, also need be calm.

Ms Bozicevic said the mental health of the animals was paramount, and the clinic played music as blood is taken to relax the animals.

As donors are only able to give blood under strict conditions, and within a certain age range, there has been a constantly changing list of contributors.

“Donors retire for different reasons,” Ms Bozicevic said.

Ms McKenna also encouraged pet owners to consider their animal’s potential to give blood.

“If your pet can, do it, because it can save so many lives,” she said.

-ABC

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