Nfld. & Labrador

Who has four legs and fur, and donates blood? Heroic dogs and cats, that's who

The Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to recruit more cats and dogs to give the gift of life.

The Veterinary Specialty Centre of N.L. is looking for more recruits for donation program

Mercury is a five-year-old pitbull who has donated blood a whopping 14 times at the Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador (and enjoyed a treat afterwards). (VSCNL/Facebook)

Giving the gift of life has gone to the dogs — literally. 

The Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador's pet blood donor program began in 2015, when the clinic opened its doors in Mount Pearl, and it's looking to recruit more dogs and cats to take part.

Dr. Trina Bailey, a veterinary surgeon and an owner of the VSCNL, said it's a life-saving program.

"I have had patients in surgery that have been bleeding … and without having blood in the building that we could just go get, they would not have gone home with their owners," she said.

There are other conditions where a dog or cat might need a transfusion, like after trauma suffered from a car accident, a life-threatening infection, or hemolytic anemia. 

"[That's] where the body starts destroying a dog's red blood cells or a cat's red blood cells," said Bailey. 

"And by the time they get in, they're at a life-threatening level, and they need blood now." 

Dr. Trina Bailey, left, says time is of the essence when dealing with a pet in surgery that needs blood. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

While the centre has a donor list in place — and Bailey said she is grateful to their current supporters — they're hoping for even more pets to take part so they have a larger list to draw from on short notice.

"For example, sometimes we need fresh blood that has platelets. So we need it collected within eight hours of giving it," said Bailey. "And we also need different blood types."

Donor requirements

To take part in the VSCNL's blood donor program, dogs have to have a healthy weight of at least 50 pounds, and cats must weigh 10 pounds or more.

The pet has to be between the ages of one to eight — and they must have the right temperament.

"We try our best not to sedate dogs for blood donation, just because we don't want them to have to recover from that if they don't have to," said Bailey. 

Bailey is a veterinary surgeon and an owner of the Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

She said people would be surprised just how many dogs will do the procedure willingly.

"My golden retriever, she's passed away now, but she was a blood donor for eight years. And she would come in and jump up on the table, lay on her side, give her blood, and get a cookie, and walk out the door wagging her tail," Bailey said. "And there's a lot of dogs out there like that."

Bailey said the risks for dogs to donate blood are very low.

"If we have to sedate, there's the small risk that we could have issues with sedation," she said.

"The risks are slightly higher for cats, because cats do require sedation to donate blood."

Getting on the list

Brittany Quilty, a medical laboratory technologist at the centre who runs the pet blood donor program, reviews all the online applications before pets are added to the donor list.

Then there's an initial interview, where they check the pet's blood work.

Brittany Quilty, a medical laboratory technician, runs the pet blood donor clinic at the VSCNL. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

If those tests come back normal, and the pet passes a "clipper test" — to make sure the animal is comfortable with its neck being shaved for the donation — it's then placed on the blood donor list.

The VSCNL will collect about 450 millilitres of blood from dogs, and 53 millilitres from cats during each donation.

"It's usually a pretty quick process. It happens within 10, 15 minutes," Quilty said.

"Then, once the [sedated] animals wake up … they have some treats, they get some loves and pets and snuggles with us for a little bit, before their owners come back and pick them up."

The VSCNL, located in Mount Pearl, is the only vet hospital in the province that offers 24-7 emergency care, and services like diagnostic imaging and specialty surgeries. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

During the course of a month, the centre will collect about three to four pet blood donations — though that demand could go up, depending on emergencies.

"[Recently] we had to get three donors in here, because a [Newfoundland dog] needed blood, and those are very big dogs," Quilty said, noting that one bag of blood was not going to cut it.

While the VSCNL does use its staff animals for donations in case of an emergency, Quilty said they're not always available.

"You don't know when [an] emergency is going to happen. It could be 3 a.m. It could be 1 p.m.… So we definitely will call anybody at any time," she said.

"I could go down through my list and need someone right away. So the first person that answers, I'll call in."

Program perks

In addition to helping save a pet's life, Quilty said there are other perks to being in the program.

"We do a full blood work panel once a year.… And every time they come to donate, we do [more blood work] — that's just to check to make sure that all of their blood counts are fine," she said.

Stryder, a VSCNL Hero Dog, poses with his owner after donating blood in August. (VSCNL/Facebook)

"They get a physical exam. And if your pet ever needs a transfusion, and they've given us blood in the past, they will get a free transfusion from us."

Bailey said if someone has a puppy that's going to grow into a dog weighing more than 50 pounds, now is the time to get them on the donor list, to get them accustomed to the process.

"Bring them into the clinic, let us bring them in, give them some treats. Let them realize that it's not a bad thing. Put them up on the table so they're not scared," she said. 

"Get them ready now, so that they can be like my dog Calypso was, just jumping up on the table and happy and ready to go."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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