Sarah Bahr – The Indianapolis Star

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When a dog is hit by a car, contracts fleas or gets into rat bait, it needs blood just like a human. Unfortunately, there’s a national shortage.

“Every day we receive calls from hospitals all over the country in need of blood products, but we have no blood to spare,” Dr. Kelly Robertson, department head of the IndyVet Blood Donation Center, said. “Hospitals are waiting four to six weeks before we can send them any blood.”

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about how your dog, cat or horse can donate blood — and potentially save up to four lives with a single donation.

Can my dog donate blood?

Requirements vary by donation center, but the Blood Donation Center at IndyVet, an emergency and specialty veterinary hospital, requires dogs to be between 1 and 8 years old, weigh at least 35 pounds and be disease-free.

Dogs must also have never received a blood transfusion, be current on all vaccinations, be taking heartworm, flea and tick preventatives, and pass blood, blood-typing and infectious disease screenings.

Can my cat donate blood?

Yes. Just as in dogs, feline donors must be between 1 and 8 years old, weigh at least 9 pounds, never have received a blood transfusion, be current on all vaccinations, be taking heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives, and pass blood, blood typing and infectious disease screenings.

Can any other pets donate blood besides dogs and cats?

Horses, sheep and goats can all donate. Horses can donate up to 1.8 gallons per donation, the equivalent of approximately 3 1/2 two-liter bottles of soda.

Do dogs and cats have blood types like humans?

Yes. Dogs have up to 11 blood types, according to IndyVet, including a universal donor type, DEA 4, which is the equivalent of the human “O negative.” Robertson said there are 3 main types of canine blood: DEA 1 positive, DEA 1 negative, and DEA 4 positive.

Cats have three blood types; A, B and AB. There is no universal donor type, but according to Robertson, 90 percent of cats in the United States are type A. If a cat has type AB blood, it cannot donate, but can receive type AB or A blood.

As in humans, if an animal receives a transfusion of an incompatible blood type, the consequences can be fatal, Robertson said.

How often can dogs and cats donate blood?

IndyVet allows dogs to donate once per month, and cats once every six to eight weeks, Robertson said.

What happens during the donation process?

When dogs and cats arrive at the clinic, Robertson said their owners first fill out a health history survey. The animal is then weighed and examined by a technician to make sure it has no underlying diseases or conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms that could disqualify it from donating. Vaccinations, blood type and red blood cell percentages are also checked.

Then the dog or cat lies down on its side on the examination table. A short-acting, intravenous tranquilizer may be administered, if needed, to help relax the animal (Robertson said most dog donors require no sedation, but all cat donations are performed under light sedation).

Then the dog or cat’s blood is collected by threading a needle into a vein and allowing blood to flow into a donation bag.

According to IndyVet, the process is quick and painless (and donors get a “Vet Hero” bandanna when they’re finished).

How much blood is collected?

That depends on the size of the cat or dog. The typical amount for canine donors under 50 pounds is about 8 ounces, while dogs over 50 pounds donate about 16 ounces, according to IndyVet.

One unit of blood (about 18 ounces) can save the lives of up to four dogs. Since dogs can donate once per month, a large dog could save up to 48 lives per year.

Cats contribute about 4 tablespoons of blood every eight weeks.

How long does donating blood take?

The blood draw takes about five minutes, but IndyVet recommends allowing 45 minutes to allow for the pre-donation paperwork, exam and vaccination check.

How can I sign my dog or cat up to be a donor?

Owners can call the IndyVet Blood Donation Center at (317)-782-4484 to set up a donor evaluation appointment for their cat or dog, which includes a physical exam, behavioral analysis and blood-sample draw to check blood type. Alternatively, they can click here to fill out a pet blood donor registration form on the IndyVet website.

IndyVet provides each donor a yearly stipend to help pay for the vaccinations, annual physical exam and preventatives required to remain eligible to donate blood. After six donations, donors also receive a reward card that can be used at IndyVet for any service.

IndyVet currently has 110 dog donors and 43 cat donors, but would like to have twice that number, Robertson said.

Learn more about the IndyVet Blood Donation Center