Dog and cat owners are being urged to contact their veterinary surgeries to register their pets as blood donors.
As in human beings, blood transfusions are of vital importance for the survival of sick or critically injured dogs and cats, yet due to a continual need for a list of registered donor dogs, many clinics still rely on the vet tracking down on-the-spot volunteer donors.
“We are always in need of healthy dog and cat blood donors,” said Dr Katrin Jahn, general manager and head veterinarian at German Veterinary Clinic in Khalifa City A. “As certain infections such as blood parasites, which can require a patient to need a blood transfusion, become more frequent and widespread in the UAE, so the need for donors rises too.”
Many pets also need blood transfusions during emergency surgery, after they have been injured in road-traffic accidents, or if an animal is suffering with a condition such as sepsis – a bacterial infection of the blood.
Dr Jahn set up the now-defunct Abu Dhabi Animal Blood Bank several years ago so that vets had a readily available blood stock at short notice in emergencies.
“Unfortunately, due to the limited need for whole blood, we were having to discard too much blood, which of course was a terrible waste,” she said. “Whole blood has a maximum shelf life of six months and if the blood is not needed in this time, it has to be discarded.”
Vets prefer to get blood for each individual case and store only some stock on site. But often donor dogs and cats are in short supply and vets rely on the kindness of their pet-owning staff and customers, who they ask to bring in their pets at short notice to donate blood.
“We usually have a list of donors on hand and we rotate through the donors so that each animal does not have to donate blood too often,” said Dr Jahn. “We are always looking for new donors to join our list.”
Dr Chenjerai Sigauke, of the Ras Al Khaimah Animal Welfare Centre, said it operated in a similar way but, again, they needed more donors.
“What is needed at the moment is for people who have dogs that are eligible to donate blood to register for blood donation programmes with their nearest vets, so that if there is a need for blood, they can be called in a timely fashion.”
Dr Sara Elliott, director of veterinary services at Dubai’s British Veterinary Hospital, said the clinic could need to deal with as many as three cases a month where pets required a blood transfusion.
“Most requirements are without notice, emergency cases, which only adds to the difficulty in having donors readily available,” she said. “Blood products will last a maximum of one month after harvest. This makes it important to have a register of blood donors.”
Dr Elliott said that in such emergencies they identify the blood type of the patient, then call in a donor from their list and cross-match the two to ensure they are compatible.
“We recently performed a blood transfusion from my own dog to save a young puppy called Knut, with anaemia caused by a tick bite,” she said. “British Veterinary Hospital is always on the lookout for heroes to help expand our donor list and would love to meet and screen suitable candidates.
“All suitable candidates will receive a free health screen and blood-typing.”
Dr Martin Wyness, of Abu Dhabi’s British Veterinary Centre, said that one blood transfusion from a dog could save the lives of up to three animals.