College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

5 July 2020

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Life-saving pets

Every year blood donors save the lives of those who require surgery, emergency medical care or are living with illnesses that require blood transfusions. What you might not know is that our pets can also be life-savers.

Just like humans, there are also dogs and cats that require blood transfusions, and there are canines and felines who donate blood to save their brethren.

One place that does this is JCU Vet, and clinical coordinator Liz Bertram says when it comes to giving blood, the donors’ well-being comes first.

“The donor dogs and cats that we get in, they go through a big screening process beforehand and we assess their personality at that time,” she says.

“We make sure they’re nice, calm, happy, confident dogs.

“When we come to actually doing the donations we put numbing cream where needles go, so they don’t actually feel the injections when we take blood from them or assess them prior to donation.

“We place an IV catheter as well, then we numb the actual site where we do the venepuncture from.”

The dogs and cats also receive five-star service after their heroic deed, to make sure they’re happy and have plenty of nutrition to replenish their red blood cells, says Liz.

“We’ll just give them a bit of a dog treat then they go into their cage, get some fluids and a meal afterwards,” she says.

“It’s kind of like our version of getting a biscuit and a glass of orange juice.”

“If their owners don’t pick them up until after work they’re walked, fed, watered and we’ll take them outside and they have a bit of a play.”

Machine collecting blood during a donation
Dog undergoing a blood transfusion

Always room for more

Townsville’s furry family members perform a massive service, helping save people’s four-legged companions, whether they be cats or dogs.

JCU Vet needs to keep on top of their blood supply, as they put the life-saving liquid to regular use.

“We do go through a fair bit. Ideally we like to try and keep 20 to 25 dogs on our donor list, and we also then try to keep between 5 and 10 cats,” Liz says.

“Cats we really struggle with. The criteria for cats is relatively strict, and Townsville is a very dog-populated town.

“There are cats around, but if you ask the average Townsville person they usually have a dog compared to a cat.

“Cats tend to find the process a little bit more stressful as well, so we really need to find quite big, bold, confident cats.

“We like them to be over five kilos, and that’s lean body mass, that’s not your cat that gets fed a little bit too much at home.”

If your cat is aged between one and seven years old, weighs over five kilograms and is lean, as well as being de-sexed, fully vaccinated, flea and tick treated, and doesn’t eat raw meat, he or she could save the life of a fellow cat.

JCU Vet also needs as many dog blood donors as they can get, and Liz says there are benefits for the owners (and their pets) in giving blood.

“We do screen the dogs beforehand, so they get a full blood profile done,” she says.

“We check that they’re ok in themselves, they get the health checks every time they come in, and the screening program we do PCI testing, which tests them for a range of tick-borne diseases so we know they’re nice and clear before they donate.

“That’s at no cost to the owners. We usually try and send them something out at Christmas as well, they get a little bandana and a name tag that says ‘I’m a blood donor hero’”.

JCU Vet would also like to give a special mention to their current donors and their owners.

“Thank you to our current donors too, we’d be lost without them, we really appreciate it,” she says.

JCU Veterinary and Animal Science

Pursue your passion for the natural world and develop an expertise on all things scaly, hooved, furry and feathered