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Have You Ever Had Your Cat Donate Blood?

January is National Blood Donor Month; who says it can't apply to cats? We demystify the process.

Lisa Richman  |  Jan 21st 2015


My cat and I have Type A blood. Seriously. That doesn’t mean I’m listed as next of kin on his blood donor card (if cats even carried such a thing), but it’s kind of cool in a weird sort of way.

I was reminded of this when I saw that January is National Blood Donor Month. I’m sure the people who create such commemorative days weren’t thinking about cats when they inaugurated it.

(Oh, and for the record, no, Hallmark does not make these days up. I know. I work at Hallmark. But I digress.)

Cat blood types became a thing for me a few years ago when an acquaintance of mine found out her cat needed a blood transfusion. She had heard that her cat shared the same blood type as Siamese cats. The same blood type as mine, actually: Type A. So I told her I’d look into how Maxwell, my bluepoint Siamese, could become a donor.

This was the first I’d ever heard of a pet donating blood. Turns out that most veterinary colleges have a blood donor program, and several of them have resident donors. Many of these colleges are looking for companion animals (and their humans) willing to participate in a donor program, as well.

In the end, Maxwell wasn’t able to play the hero for my friend’s cat after all. Squashies’ human had it backward: Her cat was Type B, whereas Siamese are always Type A.

I learned quite a bit as a result of this experience. Did you know that cats only have three blood types, whereas dogs have up to 14 and counting? Yes, there is speculation that there may actually be more.

Cats are type A, B, or AB. And if your cat ever needs an infusion, any responsible vet is going to be extremely careful to “type” her blood before giving her any. Because a wrong guess could kill.

Here’s how it works:

Type AB cats are the rarest and, just like in humans, they’re the Universal Recipient. They can take A, B, or AB. But the other two don’t get off so easily.

Type A and Type B cats can’t swap blood. Ever. Their individual blood types are so reactive to the presence of foreign blood that an immediate defensive reaction happens: The cat’s system attacks the fresh blood infusion and kills it. And if your cat is Type B, the reaction is more intense and can be fatal within a matter of hours.

It became apparent to me that knowing my cat’s blood type was pretty important. And if I could volunteer one of my feline family members as a donor, well, why not? It could very well save a life.

Can my cat be a blood donor?

Most companion animal blood banks have similar requirements, but check with your local teaching hospital to see what theirs might be.

First, and most important: Your cat must be comfortable around other people.

If your vet has red-flagged your cat’s account and they pull out the heavy-duty gloves (you know, the ones that go up to your armpits) when they see you coming, then you probably don’t have a good feline blood donor on your hands.

Your cat needs to be current on all vaccines and not taking any medication other than flea, tick, and heartworm preventives. Indoor-only cats, please. And if you foster cats for your shelter, you’re out of the running, as well due to potential exposure to disease.

I found these other requirements fascinating:

Your cats need to weigh 10 pounds or more, but can’t be overweight. Most programs limit donors to young adult years, somewhere in the two to six year range. And some refuse your cat if she’s ever been pregnant. (Other facilities will allow previously pregnant cats provided blood cross-matching is done first.)

How much blood do the vets take?

Much less than if you were human. Wait, before you accuse me of channeling Captain Obvious, what I’m talking about is proportion.

Humans donate about 10 percent of their body’s blood volume. We give up about one pint from the 1.2-1.3 gallons in our bodies.

Cats, on the other hand, usually donate only two ounces at a time. For the average 10-pound cat, that’s a little over one percent of her body weight.

Some people may not be comfortable with the thought that a cat needs to be anesthetized when giving blood. That’s understandable, as there are always risks when anesthesia is involved.

Not only is your cat providing life-saving blood to someone else’s beloved feline, she also gets a complete wellness exam, including a complete blood panel (and, of course, blood typing) when she donates.

Many blood banks also provide incentives such as food, treats, toys, and even heartworm medication.

Is it worth considering your pet as a blood donor? Ask your veterinarian what she thinks, based on her knowledge of your cat’s health.< If you decide to try it, you’ll have the heartfelt thanks of emergency veterinarians and needy pet owners in your area.

Read more about blood work and cats:

About Lisa Richman: Writer, director, pilot, foodie, cat person. When she’s not on set, this director of film and video can usually be found taking photos of cats (and food) with her trusty Nikon, or cruising aloft at 3,000 feet. She’s cat mom to an opinionated Tonkinese, a hearing-impaired Siamese, and a feline fashionista. She’s also the owner of a recently launched food blog, and the Cat Writer’s 2014 Entertainment Blog, A Tonk’s Tail.