Berg the Blood Donor - Saving Lives One Drop at a Time

Many of us have donated blood or know of someone who has. Blood donors are crucial to the survival and care of some of the most vulnerable individuals; without them, so many unwell people would die!

The role of the blood donor in veterinary care is similarly important – donated cat and dog blood is needed at times to help save animals’ lives. It is not uncommon for veterinary clinics to keep a list of blood donors on file, and this frequently includes staff members’ own personal pets.

One of these special blood donors is Berg, my 3-year-old male Staghound. He is a regular blood donor at the AdelaideVet Trinity Gardens practice, and so far, all of his blood has gone to help other patients!

Like all of our donors, Berg had to first meet the necessary criteria before he could donate. Blood donors generally have to be at least 25 - 30 kg, be 1 - 6 years of age, healthy, and fully up to date with their vaccinations and heartworm prevention. They must also not be on any medication, have ever received a blood transfusion themselves, or ever had puppies or been pregnant. Berg ticked all of these boxes, so he then moved on to the next screening stage. Each time Berg visits the hospital to donate, he gets a thorough physical exam and blood tests to ensure that his health status is optimal (he also gets a lot of love from all the hospital staff!).

Before we get started, we pop an IV catheter in Berg and commence him on IV fluids. After all, we are about to steal some of his blood volume, so it’s important that we don’t leave him high and dry with low blood pressure!

One of the things that makes Berg a good blood donor is his temperament. Having a calm and relaxed patient as a blood donor makes life the veterinary staff performing the blood collection so much easier. It’s also better for the patient because less intervention is needed. Berg is always pretty happy to come into work with me (he is extremely social), so he doesn’t get stressed when he visits for blood donation. He requires very little sedation (blood donors need to stay very still while we collect the blood, so we often use light sedation to assist with this) and lies calmly on the table while we clip and prep him for collection. The amount of blood we collect depends on the size of the patient, but as a general rule, we can take about 450 - 500 ml of blood from a 30 kg dog, and about 50 - 60 ml of blood from a 5 kg cat.

We use a special blood collection bag that contains an additive to prevent the blood from clotting, and this is attached to a large-bore needle by a long tube. During the collection process, this bag sits on a set of scales so that we know when to stop and withdraw the needle from the patient (we always weigh this bag first and then zero the scales so that our measurement is accurate). With Berg lying on the treatment table, his neck clipped and prepped ready for collection, we then gently insert the needle into his jugular vein. This blood vessel is perfect because of its large size and easy access, and due to Berg’s lean build, his jugular is always simple to find.

Throughout the collection process, while one person holds the needle in place until the required amount of blood is collected, the rest of us shower Berg with affection to keep him still and let him know how good he is being. I believe he thinks this is a pretty good deal because Berg thrives off social interaction and bottom scratches! And it doesn’t stop once the collection is all over either – after we’ve popped a little sterile dressing on his neck and bandaged it up temporarily, Berg is given the comfiest bed, the yummiest of treats (just like the little biscuit you get from the Red Cross yourself), and a whole lot of loving from all the staff (especially the nurses). Even better, he often ends up hanging out with us in the treatment room watching the day go by. For Berg, that social interaction makes it all worthwhile!

All donated blood that we collect, like Berg’s, is as precious as liquid gold. We carefully store the bag in the fridge and check it each day. We can keep whole blood stored for up to 35 days. After this, we have to throw it away. It isn’t uncommon though for us to need to use it, just like Berg’s blood thus far. This means that somewhere, there are some dogs running around thanks to my beautiful Berg, and that makes me a very proud vet nurse and pet owner!

If your furry friend meets all the requirements to be a blood donor and you wanted to help out you can find out more information about your pet becoming a blood donor here. Donating blood can save many pets lives and as a thank you, if your pet does become a donor we will provide complimentary six-monthly wellness examinations, Idexx blood tests, annual vaccinations and a Proheart injection after giving blood.

Written by Jessica Male, Senior Veterinary Nurse

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