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Four-legged blood donors saving lives

Dr. Jennifer MacKay’s golden retrievers Levis, left, and Olivia, have been donated blood to other dogs. Lynn Curwin/Truro Daily News
Dr. Jennifer MacKay’s golden retrievers Levis, left, and Olivia, have been donated blood to other dogs. Lynn Curwin/Truro Daily News

BIBLE HILL, N.S. – Dr. Jennifer MacKay isn’t the only one in her family who has saved pets’ lives; her dogs have done so too. Her golden retrievers have both donated blood to other dogs.

“Between the two of them they’ve donated five times, and they’ve saved lives,” said the veterinarian, who works at Central Nova Animal Hospital. “We usually don’t have to go further than staff when blood is needed, but we do have some clients who volunteer their dogs.”

To be a donor a dog must be a healthy young adult, weigh at least 50 pounds, be up to date on vaccines and heartworm prevention, and be of good temperament. Dogs are usually sedated and blood is extracted through a needle in the jugular.

Local animal hospitals don’t have the facilities needed to store blood so donors are brought in as needed.

“The last transfusion we did was for a dog that had a splenectomy,” said MacKay. “Sometimes they’re needed when there’s an immune problem, cancer, or when a dog’s been hit by a car. We do two or three per vet in a year. It’s not something we do a lot but when we do the donors are vital.”

She said that a one-time non-matching transfusion can be done, but it’s ideal to match blood whenever possible. This is done by checking the reaction a small sample of blood has to antibodies.

The most recent blood donor at Truro Veterinary Hospital was Brenley, a five-year-old Bullmastiff.

“Brenley has currently only been called to donate twice, but it is a major help in an emergency situation,” said Charity Allen, a registered veterinary technician. “We currently have five donors on our list that we may call on an emergency, as-needed basis.

“There is no better feeling than seeing that first tail wag when your patient is feeling better and watching them walk out the door with their families after receiving a donation. The heart grows fonder every treatment to know that I’ve helped strengthen the human-animal bond.”

Blood transfusion are also done on cats, although less often. At Fundy Veterinarians previous clinic cats, Tigger and Xylo, donated blood. The hospital hasn’t needed a feline donor since the arrival of their newest clinic cat, Dex.

Blood types

Dogs have many blood groups but some are Dog Erythrocyte Antigen (DEA) 1.1 positive and some are negative.

If a dog is DEA 1.1-negative and is given DEA 1.1-positive blood, it could develop antibodies that will destroy red blood cells if a second transfusion of DEA 1.1-positive blood is given. A DEA 1.1-positive dog can be given either positive or negative blood.

Cats are blood type A, B or AB. Type A blood, which is most common, and type AB, can cause a fatal reaction in cats with type B blood, which is common in some breeds. Cats with AB blood are rare and can usually receive any type of blood.

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