Veterinary blood bank seeks dog, cat donors

Woman draws blood sample from German Shepherd while second woman

Blood donor program coordinator Amy Hodnefield (left) and co-director Dana LeVine work together to draw a blood sample from Athena, a donor German shepherd in the program. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The campus blood donation program is looking for a few good donors . . . dogs and cats, that is. The College of Veterinary Medicine's 18-year-old animal blood bank relies on donations from local pets -- and those frequently are dogs and cats owned by students in the college. They're generous with their animals, but they also graduate and move on after a few years.

"We're hoping to find longer-term donor animals among faculty and staff and the Ames community," said assistant professor in veterinary internal medicine Dana LeVine, who also co-directs the blood donor program. While the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center absorbs the cost of lab tests to screen potential blood donor animals, LeVine said a larger and more stable number of donor animals also eases staff members' work and ensures the hospital has enough blood for its patients who need transfusions. The program asks for a minimum two-year commitment from pet owners.


For more information, contact donor program coordinator Amy Hodnefield.

Most donated blood is centrifuged to produce blood products, such as plasma or red blood cells, which are refrigerated or frozen for use within the medical center with trauma, surgical and anemic patients, and with dogs who've ingested rodenticides.

As do human blood donors, these animals help save lives, LeVine said. 

A few perks

For animals selected for the program, blood donations are scheduled regularly -- about once a month for dogs and every two months for cats. The medical center provides preventative care services (at no cost) for its blood donor animals that include annual vaccinations, heartworm test and flea/tick prevention; routine health exams and food.

LeVine said this is a benefit to both the pet owner and the animal blood bank because it keeps supplies in the bank free of infectious diseases.

Self selection

So what kind of dogs and cats make good blood donors?

LeVine said healthy animals between the ages of 1 and 6 years, preferably neutered, with current vaccinations and no history of disease, are great candidates. Dogs should weigh 50 pounds or more; cats should weigh at least 10 pounds. Some medications, including steroids, antibiotics and antihistamines, remove animals from consideration. In addition, a blood donor animal should have an unafraid, social temperament.

Clinic screening

The screening process at the medical center checks for infectious diseases and types an animal's blood. Among a handful of canine blood types, blood donor dogs should have the "universal donor" blood type, DEA 1.1 negative. Between 40 and 45 percent of dogs meet this requirement, LeVine said; one of the factors that reduces the program's selection rate to about 50 percent of dogs screened.

It's an easier row for cats, where there essentially are two blood types: A and B. Ninety-five percent of cats in this country have type A blood, LeVine said. Type B blood is common in some exotic breeds such as British shorthair, exotic shorthair, Devon rex, Cornish rex or Scottish fold. All the same, "we'd be jumping up and down if we could find a B donor to have for an on-call basis," said Amy Hodnefield, a veterinary technician who coordinates the blood donor program. She said a cat's temperament tends to be the more significant screening factor.

Donating blood

Hodnefield said the actual blood donation takes less than 10 minutes, after which donor animals receive replenishing fluids, also intravenously. Cats are sedated with a short-acting drug during the procedure, dogs are lightly sedated if needed, but awake. The procedure is not painful to the animals and causes no harm to them, she said.

The volume of a dog's blood donation is 450 milliliters (about two cups); a cat's is 60 ml (about one-quarter cup). Hodnefield said pet owners usually drop off their animals for a few hours or for the day, whichever is convenient for them. The complimentary veterinary services for donor animals typically are provided during these visits.

LeVine noted that in most cases the medical center could purchase the blood products it needs from commercial blood banks, though some patients require freshly collected blood products. In addition to serving clients better, she said the blood donor program is an important piece of the teaching hospital's role in educating veterinarians.