Dogs and cats donate blood

A Tampa animal hospital starts a blood bank as more pet owners opt for special treatments.

Published January 19, 2008

TAMPA - Wolfie the greyhound didn't flinch.

The needle pierced a shaved patch of skin on his neck, and soon a stream of blood flowed down a tube and into a plumping plastic bag.

As he lay there on his side, donating for the last time for the good of fellow canines, Wolfie's eyes wandered around the room at Florida Veterinary Specialists and Cancer Treatment Center in Tampa.

He licked his chops a few times. Never once did he bark. Not even a yelp.

At nearly 8 years old, the former long and lean racer is too old to donate his universal doggie blood anymore. This past Sunday was his last time to help out a few friends.

One of the first canine blood banks in the Tampa Bay area, and of only a handful in the state, the 24-hour Tampa animal hospital started its program in October. Wolfie is one of about 60 dogs and cats who donate.

As more people consider their pets as part of the family, and more procedures now exist to save their lives, animal clinics like Florida Veterinary Specialists find they need a growing supply of blood.

Blood bank coordinator and veterinary technician Brenda Fulcher talked about the need as she kept an eye on how much red liquid she drew from Wolfie. Dogs, like humans, give a pint - but from the jugular vein.

"In the past week, our hospital used three units of canine packed reds and three units of whole feline blood," Fulcher said. "I collected those the weekend before and they were gone by Tuesday.

"We have a huge need for donors, especially dogs."

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 49.7 percent of pet owners surveyed for a recent study said they considered their pets to be family, while 48.2 percent said they thought of their pets as companions.

The remaining 2.1 percent said they felt their animals were property.

The perception comes with an overall rise in the amount of money pet owning households spend on veterinary care. The association reported that dog-owning households that spent $1,000 or more a year jumped from 2.2 percent in 1996 to 8.4 percent in 2006.

"Veterinary medicine has advanced to where its comparable with human medical care," Fulcher said. "We do the same thing in our hospital that you'd find at Tampa General. And as people are becoming aware of what their options are, they're more willing to pay for these things for their animals that they would have never thought of before."

Around the corner from where Wolfie donated his blood, a huge radiation machine for pets with cancer occupied a room of its own. Animals can also come to Florida Veterinary Specialists for chemotherapy, hip replacement surgery, acupuncture and a variety of other specialized treatments.

It was a transfusion that recently saved the life of Chloe, one of Trish Dreby's dalmatians. The Plant City resident, who also works at the clinic, said her puppy suffers from pituitary dwarfism and a related kidney disease. The condition doesn't allow the year-old dog's body to produce blood cells as she should.

"When I brought her in, she couldn't walk," Dreby said. "She was anemic, and her red blood count was 14 and should have been 38. It was awful. She could have died."

Along with trauma from car accidents, most dogs need transfusions because of anemia caused by fleas and diseases. While humans can donate blood every eight weeks, animals can every 12.

Calm dogs like greyhounds are encouraged to donate. That's why Joan Ray, who is part of the Seffner-based Greyhound Gang of Florida, brings Wolfie and another greyhound, Buddy.

Most of this type of breed, along with mutts, have a universal blood type of the 13 known types in dogs.

"It's a really great way to help out other dogs," Ray said.

At Florida Veterinary Services, after blood is drawn its either put into a centrifuge to separate plasma and red blood cells or stored in a refrigerator whole.

Plasma can then be frozen for later use, while the red blood cells are mixed with a preservative and last for about 42 days. Whole blood can be used up to about 28 days.

Fulcher's goal with the blood bank is not only to expand to the point of where she can provide blood for the constant flow of animals who need treatment at the clinic, but eventually to go national and maybe even start up a program for exotic animals.

But even with their own program, Fulcher said the clinic sometimes runs out and orders blood from a national providers that can deliver blood overnight.

"We want people to know that we're here doing this," she said. "It's a good thing for these pets. And we're going to need a replacement for Wolfie."

When she had her pint from the greyhound, Fulcher removed the needle and wrapped purple gauze around his neck to stop the bleeding. Then she and Joan Ray helped him off the table.

"He'll get a can of meat when we get home," Ray said, giving him a kiss. "And later on tonight, we'll go to the park."

After taking a moment to shake himself off, Wolfie looked up at Ray and wagged his tail.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.

Requirements to be a pet blood donor

To qualify as a blood donor, pets must meet these requirements:

-Be between the ages of 1 and 8 years.

-Dogs must weigh at least 50 pounds, and cats must weigh at least 10 pounds.

-Be neutered or spayed, with no prior pregnancies.

-Should have had no prior transfusions.

-Be current on vaccinations and heartworm preventative.

-Cats must live indoors only.

-It is preferable that dogs are well-behaved so sedation is not required.

For information about the Florida Veterinary Specialists Blood Donor Program, contact coordinator Brenda Fulcher at (813) 933-8944, or go to www.fvs.com.

The Animal and Bird Hospital, with locations throughout Hillsborough County, also recently started a canine blood bank donor program. For information, call (813) 885-4477.