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Facing shortages, animal blood banks work to keep pets healthy

animal blood bank
Posted at 4:39 PM, Feb 03, 2020

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — It should come as no surprise that our four-legged friends need medical care, just like we do, but many people are surprised to learn animal blood banks exist to provide blood transfusions.

Right now, there are shortages of blood at animal blood banks across the country, and the work they do to help animals is important.

There is a national veterinary blood bank, but at VCA Great Lakes, a veterinary center in Warrensville Heights, there’s an in-house blood donor program that provides fresh, whole blood for Dr. Katie Frantz and her colleagues to treat patients.

“Blood collection and donation is lifesaving,” Frantz said. “I’ve had a number of patients that have come in literally bleeding to death.”

She said at VCA, most of the blood transfusions are used “in patients that come in after some type of trauma. They’ve been hit by a car, they’re bleeding into their chest or abdomen.”

animal blood bank
PHOTO: VCA Great Lakes in Warrensville Heights collects blood from about nine donors, all pets of employees.

The donor dogs

Right now, pets of VCA employees are the only ones eligible to donate at the center. Pets have to be screened before they can donate, just like humans who donate blood must be.

Dogs must weigh about 55 pounds or more and go through a physical exam and a screening for infectious diseases, all to make sure they’re healthy enough to donate. Dogs can give blood once every four to six weeks.

“Once they wake up, they get a snack, just like in people,” Frantz said. “So we’ll make sure that we give them a treat and a small amount of food, water and then they go on their way.”

The blood can be given to other patients right away or stored in a refrigerator for up to 27 days. Right now, since only VCA employees’ pets are eligible, the program has about nine donors, but Frantz said they are considering expanding in the future.

“Greyhounds are actually like the ideal blood donor dog,” Frantz said. “And it just has to do with their size, their percentage of red blood cells in their blood.”

Blood bank at The Ohio State University

Greyhounds being great donors comes as little surprise to the folks at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s blood bank. The blood bank, which accepts all animals who pass the screening process, has been around for more than 20 years, and many of its donors are former racing dogs who had career-ending injuries.

Hannah Kaplan, a third-year veterinary student, said she has had her dog Gritty since the fall of 2016. She works at the blood bank and is president of Buckeyes 4 Greyhounds. Gritty gives blood once every three months.

animal blood bank
PHOTO: Gritty, a retired racing greyhound, donates blood about every three months.

“I think it’s something really special,” Kaplan said. “I think it’s incredible to know that he is helping to save other animals lives, and the fact that he’s able to do that, coming off the track as a retired racer.”

Dr. Maria Cristina Iazbik said the blood bank ships as far as Florida, New York and many other states.

“The demand is bigger and bigger, so we try to do as best as we can, after our population here in our patients in our center are met,” Iazbik said.

Spreading the word

Iazbik, who runs the blood bank, said the bank mostly operates on word-of-mouth.

“Most of the people that become blood donors are either blood donors themselves, or they have experience of having their dog in need of blood,” Iazbik said. “And now they are the ones that talk about this to the neighbor, to their friends, to the school.”

Back at the VCA, Frantz said many people are surprised to learn about the existence of animal blood banks.

“They’re like, ‘Huh, I never thought about that. Where do you get the blood from?’” she said. “Well, of course, just like the Red Cross has their blood donor program, we do the same.”

Blood banks are one way veterinarians help make sure our best friends get the care they need to live healthy, happy lives.