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The lifesaving world of animal blood banking


Veterinary technicians discuss the importance and impact of donated blood in veterinary medicine.

Veterinary blood banking

Photo: antoine-photographe/Adobe Stock

Imagine a world where every sick or injured pet has access to the life-saving gift of blood, just like humans do. That's the promising reality we're steering towards with the advancement of animal blood banking in veterinary medicine. A fusion of compassion and advanced science, animal blood banking is becoming a game-changer in how we care for our furry companions.

In recent years, especially post-pandemic, our bond with pets has deepened, elevating them to family member status. This shift has spiked the demand for advanced veterinary care, including the need for blood transfusions. If a pet needs a life-saving transfusion but a hospital is unable to acquire the necessary blood products, the pet is not able to receive the vital treatment that they need, which often leads to the loss of life.

Veterinary medicine is evolving, and a key player in this transformation is component therapy. Think of it as life-saving alchemy–spinning donated whole blood to separate it into red blood cell and plasma component products. Although plasma can be stored longer, the real challenge lies in maintaining a constant stock of red blood cells—the elixir for pets in critical conditions. These products expire almost every month, so keeping red blood cells available is a relentless stress for veterinary teams.

There is currently nothing available to replace these resuscitative products, which means veterinary treatment solutions are limited without a constant, steady supply. Veterinary hospitals across the globe are racing against time, often grappling with a critical shortage leading to competing with one another for these regenerative blood products. The scarcity is further aggravated by the limited shelf life, making every drop a precious commodity.

The startling truth is many pet owners are oblivious to the concept of animal blood banking until their pet is the one in dire need. This gap in awareness underscores an urgent call to action to educate pet lovers about the transformative impact of animal blood donations and how they can help. Allowing their pet to be a blood donor hero saves multiple pets with each donation and expands treatment solutions for the veterinary community. It's a simple yet profound way for pet owners to contribute to a community that thrives on kindness and shared responsibility.

The process of blood donation for pets is enveloped in care and safety. Ideal candidates are healthy dogs weighing over 55 pounds, aged between 1 and 8 years, up to date on vaccines and on heartworm prevention as well as flea and tick prevention. Before donating blood, these furry heroes undergo rigorous health screenings, ensuring that the act of giving life does not compromise their own.

A blood donation day for a pet is a blend of warmth, treats, gentle care and expressions of gratitude. Veterinary hospitals have crafted this experience to be as stress-free as possible, transforming donors into heroes with every donation. From the moment they step into the donation room, to the treats they receive afterwards, every aspect is designed to make them feel comfortable, advocated for, and cherished. If a hero ever experiences any discomfort or inability to tolerate the donation, the process is stopped immediately ensuring that their health and safety remain forefront throughout the process.

By maintaining a steady supply of blood, veterinary blood banks empower animal care teams to make decisions based on what’s best for the patient, not what’s left on the shelf. This proactive approach is particularly crucial in emergency medicine, where time and resources are often scarce which can greatly affect the outcome of patient care.As we delve deeper into the intricacies of animal blood banking, the call for community involvement becomes clear. It's about harnessing the collective power of pet owners, veterinarians, and animal lovers to ensure that these life-saving resources are always available. By spreading the word, volunteering our pets for donation, and supporting local blood banks, we can make a monumental difference in the lives of countless animals as well the veterinary community.

The integration of blood banking into veterinary care is not just a medical advancement but a reflection of our evolving relationship with pets as well as the desire that veterinary professionals provide the best treatment available to their patients. It's about recognizing our pets not just as companions, but as beings deserving of the highest level of care. In this journey of saving lives, each of us has a role to play. By educating ourselves and participating in animal blood donation, we're not just giving blood–we're giving life.

Based in Manassas, Virginia, Jessie Brown, BS, LVT, is the blood bank director for the nationwide Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG). Kenchiro Yagi, BS, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM), is a chief veterinary nursing officer for VEG, and based in White Plains, New York.

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