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Dogs and cats at K-State donate blood, find good homes

By Jessica Clark

 

If Spot gets struck by a car, a blood transfusion may be needed to save his life. But it isn't as easy to obtain donated blood for animals as it is for humans.

According to abcnews.com, the country's four animal blood banks all have back orders, and getting the blood your pet needs may take weeks or even months.

A donor program at Kansas State University is providing a unique way for dogs and cats to receive life-saving blood. The program consists of six greyhound dogs that donate blood about once a month and four cats that donate blood once every couple of months.

Dr. Chad Johannes, assistant professor at K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, directs the program. He says it provides a ready supply of blood and allows veterinarians at K-State to treat critically ill animals.

"Nationwide, animal blood banks are expensive and backed up, but this program is able to provide quality services for our patients and save many pets' lives," Johannes said. "The amount of blood products used varies depending on cases that arrive at the hospital. Two units of canine plasma and one to two units of red cells are needed as often as once a week. Cat transfusions usually occur one to two times per month."

Photo of greyhoundGreyhounds in the program are usually from Kansas and are typically dogs that cannot race any longer or are no longer candidates for breeding. Cats in the program have participated in previous research projects in other departments at the College of Veterinary Medicine. All animals range in age from approximately two years to four years, Johannes said.

"In one case, a greyhound was sent to us because he didn't make a very good racetrack dog," said Karyl Brandon, animal science technician I. "He would take off and run great for half of the track and then just turn around and come back. So they sent him to us."

"Sometimes, for these greyhounds, the only other option besides our program is euthanasia," Johannes said. "So it's nice to know these dogs will be given a chance to live a full life and help other pets in need of blood through our program."

Animals in the program are tested for universal blood types and screened for any infectious diseases such as ehrlichiosis and Lyme disease.

"In dogs, there are seven different antigens, so testing is highly important. In cats, there are two main types, A and B," Johannes said.

For blood to be drawn, the animals are lightly sedated for five to 10 minutes. They are then re-hydrated after the process is complete, Johannes said.

"The primary reason animals are sedated is for their comfort during the blood collection process," he said.

After a temperament test, several of the animals in the program also become pet partners -- animals taken for visitations to retirement homes or other places within the community. They are also socialized during the year at K-State and are able to transition to becoming a pet when adopted out into the community.

"Animals remain in the program for about a year and are then adopted out to veterinary staff, students or someone who is recommended that would make a suitable owner," Johannes said.

Veterinary students take care of the dogs and cats in the program, and each has its own living quarters. In thephoto of cat cat's quarters, students have built structures using cardboard boxes for the cats to scratch and climb on. They also have provided toys for each dog and are responsible for taking them outdoors to exercise and play several times each day, Johannes said.

"They spoil the animals and often fall in love with them. Some students even adopt them when they are ready to leave the program," he said.

While in the program, animals are given quality health care.

"All of the animals receive preventative and routine care and quality dental care," Johannes said. "Their teeth are brushed every day and one of the dogs even has had a root canal. When the animals are adopted out, owners know they have been well cared for.

"Not only are these dogs and cats doing a great service to this program and to critically ill animals, they are eventually placed into loving homes where they still have many years to provide companionship," Johannes said.

Spring 2003