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Those who know me can well attest to the fact that I can be a bit obsessive when it comes to my rescue dog, Toody. I would do anything for him, regardless of what it takes or how much it costs. So when I saw that an expert from an animal blood bank and rescue program was profiled on ProfNet Connect, I knew I had to make her an Interesting Expert of the Week.
Jean Dodds, DVM, is an internationally recognized authority on blood diseases in animals. In 1986, she founded Hemopet, the first nonprofit blood bank for animals. Since then, the company has grown to encompass three divisions: the licensed blood bank; Pet Life-Line, the greyhound rescue/adoption arm; and Hemolife, the diagnostic laboratory.
Dodds, a grantee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is also the author of more than 150 research publications and seven books of animal welfare, genes and blood disorders.
She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us on her fascinating work:
What kinds of blood disease are most common in animals?
Anemia, low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), lymphoma/leukemia, excessive bleeding (e.g., from hemophilia, von Willebrand disease, rodenticide poisoning, liver disease), excessive clotting (thrombosis).
What are the main differences between human blood and animal blood?
Not very much, although the red blood cells of different species can be of different sizes to those of humans and other animal species. The number of blood platelets can also differ between species, and certain clotting factors present in all mammals are absent in birds and marine mammals.
How did you recognize the need for a blood bank for animals?
As someone who had spent close to 30 years studying the hematology systems of animals as models for the parallel human system, I realized in the early 1980s that we need the equivalent of the American Red Cross for animals.
So, the specialty of animal transfusion medicine (animal blood banking) was born.
How does the blood bank find donors?
There are four ways:
- Closed colonies of donor animals that are periodically bled to obtain blood products for transfusions of animal patients. This system is the only one permitted by law for commercial blood banking in California.
- Volunteer animal blood donations, where people bring their private pets into a facility to donate blood periodically. This is not permitted for commercial sale of blood products in California.
- Having blood drives with a mobile blood collecting vehicle that visits group dog activities (e.g., hunting dog packs; other organized dog training facilities).
- Local private veterinary clinics and area veterinary emergency clinics, larger private veterinary institutions, or university veterinary teaching hospitals that maintain a few dogs and cats (occasionally horses) for use as blood donors for their own patients.
What should pet owners know about blood banks for animals?
A correctly run animal blood bank operates just as a human blood bank would, with the blood type of donor animals prescreened to be universally compatible to transfuse all patients (i.e., for dogs, blood type DEA 4 is the true “universal” blood donor dog; whereas for cats, there really isn’t an equivalent universal blood type, so all cats needing transfusions must be blood-typed and/or cross-matched before being transfused to avoid potentially fatal adverse reactions).
Additionally, all blood donor animals must be pre-screened to be free of infectious diseases transmitted by blood, just as human blood donors are screened.
What's the best way to find a local blood bank?
There are only a handful of commercial animal blood banks in North America, so unless the pet owner lives near one of them, the best way is to contact their local animal emergency clinics, or ask their personal veterinarian about available donors and blood products for the area.