Animal blood donors saving lives of other pets

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - It's a scary thought, but sometimes our pets have to go under the knife. Like humans, animals need blood in cases of emergency surgery.

But where do animal blood supplies come from?

Emergency veterinarian Robert Forbes works at Fox Valley Animal Referral Center in Appleton.

"I was one of those classic, you know, middle school kids who wanted to be a veterinarian and then never grew out of it."

Thirteen years later he is saving animal lives. He's put his five-year-old rescue Great Dane Fiona into a blood donor program.

Fiona can be called at any moment to donate blood for an animal in need. Other employees at the Fox Valley Animal Referral Center have also enrolled their pets in the program.

"The last time she donated, it was a real small patient she needed to give to so we only took about 50 mm, or just a few ounces of blood," Forbes says. "Otherwise, she can donate much more than that. She can donate up to probably a couple hundred mils pretty easily, because she's 100 pounds."

Critical care specialist and medical director Lisa Peters says they always have blood products in house.

"There are regional blood banks across the nation," Peters says."And so there are a couple that we get our blood from. And we always have a supply on hand."

The blood needs to be kept at a cool temperature. The red blood cells are kept in a refrigerator in the lab and the plasma is kept in the freezer.

"Red blood cells usually only last about 30 days," Peters says. "If we're looking at plasma that can be frozen, and that can last a lot longer."

During summer months, pet trauma cases are high.

"We see a lot of dog fights, dog bites and we see a lot of vehicle accidents," Peters says.

That puts the center at risk of running low on supply--or running out.

"We give transfusions here every week," Peters says.

That's when they rely on donors like Fiona. However, she can only donate every few months.

"We're actually thinking about starting a donor program, and probably going to the community and looking at using dogs and cats in the community and starting our own donor program someday," Peters says.

They're still working out the details, including donor compensation and requirements.

Dogs and cats would have to be 2-8 years old to be donors.

Cats have to be more than five pounds. Dogs have to be 40-50 pounds.

Peters says cats have three different blood types. Dogs have 13 blood types.

Animals must be healthy to donate. Healthy pets can be called at a moment's notice to save a life.

"I mean, it's critical. Sometimes you know, we need to start that process as soon as the patient gets here," Forbes says. "And so to have that readily available, or to be able to call somebody in and know that they're going to be here in 15 minutes or so, it can be really important. And it has saved animal lives in this building every year."