Veterinarians Urge Pet Owners to Support Animal Blood Donor Programs

Last week’s ABC news report* on terminally bleeding racing Greyhounds as a solution to the requirement of blood products provoked a strong response from the veterinary and pet owner community.

Every year, thousands of Greyhounds that don’t make it on the track are euthanised and many are drained of their blood to provide blood products for veterinary hospitals. Having access to blood products is vital for the survival of sick and injured animals that need a blood transfusion, but Greyhounds don’t have to bleed to death to increase blood stocks.

Veterinary hospitals can source blood products ethically and pet owners can help, says Dr Sarah Goldsmid, veterinary surgeon from Sydney’s Animal Referral Hospital, Australia’s leading 24-hour specialist and emergency veterinary hospital.

“At the ARH we do not use Greyhound blood; we source from a blood bank instead. It’s a choice and it costs us more (up to $500 for a bag of frozen plasma) but it’s a more ethical way to collect blood,” she says.

Dr Goldsmid highlights the importance of access to blood products in the veterinary industry. “Blood transfusions are often necessary in managing complex cases no differently than in human medicine. Without blood products, our beloved pets would often simply die,” she says.

When blood is collected, it can be given fresh or separated into red blood cells and plasma and stored. A pet injured in a car accident or with a bleeding cancer or anaemia often has rapid blood loss and can require several bags of fresh whole blood or packed red blood cells. A dog with the life threatening Gastric Dilation and Volvulus Syndrome (GDV) – sometimes referred to as bloat – may need plasma transfusions if part of the stomach needs removing and they develop clotting problems.

“Some dogs also develop low platelet counts and bleed easily. They need fresh whole blood to treat their disorder,” says Dr Goldsmid.

Blood donation program

In the event that the necessary blood product is not immediately available, at ARH and many other emergency hospitals in Australia, the staff or client animals are often able to donate blood.

Dogs and cats have blood types like people and ideally the donor animal is cross-matched to the recipient to reduce the chance of transfusion reaction, says Dr Goldsmid.

The ARH runs a blood donation program with currently about 50 staff and client animals ready to be called upon for fresh blood in an emergency.

Suzanne Clarke-Nash’s dogs have all been on the donor program register at the ARH over the past ten years. Two of her dogs – Chantie the Rottweiler and Nala the Belgian Shepherd – once needed emergency blood transfusions and survived (both have since passed away).

The Clarke-Nash family’s now 10-year-old Rottweiler, Ella, was the donor dog who saved Nala’s life. Ella has now become too old to donate blood but the family’s recently adopted rescue dog, Deeks, has taken her place on the register.

“Donating blood is important. I’ve seen it first-hand. It crystalises when you see your own dogs need life-saving surgery and you need to find a donor dog,” says Ms Clarke-Nash. “There are lots of people willing (for their pets) to donate if they know blood donation services are available.”

Pets donating blood is just like donating blood at the human blood bank, and donor animals are all right to leave not long after donating, says Dr Goldsmid.

“Donor pets receive free health screening checks to ensure they are suitable. If so, they can safely donate up to three or four times a year,” she said. “It is important that the donor pet is not too old or too small and they are free of any diseases.”

If you’re interested in your dog or cat becoming a blood donor, contact the ARH on 02 9199 8983 for an information package. “Your pet might be called up to help save another pet’s life,” says Dr Goldsmid.

*ABC News: Bled dry – the fate of greyhounds racing’s ‘wastage’ (7 November 2013)

For more information or media interviews:

Troy James, General Manager

Animal Referral Hospital

W 02 9199 8983/ M 0410 647 974


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