Canines can donate to doggie blood banks
Greyhounds rescued from racing are often used as donors.
By OLIVER MOORE
TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL
OAKVILLE, Ontario -- The blood-pressure band around the donor's ankle registered a soaring heart rate after the thick needle slid home.
One of the people hovering nearby held the needle steady in the jugular. Four other hands touched the muzzle, chest, belly and hind leg, soothing the donor and keeping the dog as still as possible.
The pulse rate gradually subsided from above 200 beats a minute to around 150, a sign the patient was settling into the routine. One of the regular canine blood donors at the Mississauga-Oakville Veterinary Emergency Hospital, Shikasta had done this many times before.
The 4-year-old greyhound's blood was being tapped on this occasion by its owner, veterinarian Elizabeth O'Toole, a specialist at the hospital and an expert in the growing field of animal transfusion.
The owner of the dog who would ultimately receive Shikasta's blood would have to be willing to pay a hefty price -- the typical fee is 450 for a half-liter sample, roughly in line with the cost of human blood.
The increasing requirements for blood from dogs and other animals reflect the great strides in animal medicine over the past few decades, O'Toole said. The veterinary hospital where she works now takes blood from a small group of dogs, for its own use only.
A change in attitude
Although it wasn't long ago that sick animals were routinely euthanized, many owners' attitudes toward their pets are different now. And in an era of canine massage, yoga, therapy and obesity medication, surgery and transfusions for dogs seem entirely defensible.
The need to treat hemophiliac dogs helped prompt the creation of canine blood banks in recent decades, vets said.
Blood donor dogs have traditionally been greyhounds rescued from the racing track. "They're good donors because they're all big, they're used to being handled and they have excellent veins," said O'Toole.
Donated blood is normally split into red cells and plasma. The latter, which looks a lot like suet and can be frozen for several years, is the more desirable. The red cells are less useful and can be stored for only about a month.