My cat, Tara, is a blood donor. Yeah, that’s a thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of feline blood donors before. It may not have even crossed your mind that a cat would need a blood transfusion in the first place.
After I heard of canine blood donors, I decided to see if feline blood donors were needed, too. That’s how I discovered the ACCES Blood Bank, located at the BluePearl Veterinary Partners emergency and specialty clinic in Seattle.
In order to be a blood donor, a cat needs to be under 6 years of age, over 10 pounds and indoor only. All cats in the household have to be indoor-only as well because the blood bank doesn’t have the resources to run complete disease screenings on every donation.
ACCES Blood Bank director Michelle Mensing says there are several reasons why a cat might need a blood transfusion. A cat hit by a car or attacked by a dog could lose a lot of blood, for example. In addition to trauma, conditions such as rat-bait poisoning, flea anemia, gastrointestinal ulcers and immune modulated hemolytic anemia are the most common reasons cats need blood transfusions.
Before every donation, a veterinarian examines the cat and gets a set of vital signs. Once she’s cleared by the vet, the cat is given a sedative and put in a cat restraint bag. When the cat is fully sedated, she’s removed from the bag and given a mixture of oxygen and gas anesthesia to keep her asleep for the duration of the donation.
The donation itself only takes about 10 minutes. A staff member places an IV catheter in one of the cat’s neck veins and uses a syringe to draw out 2 ounces (53 ml) of blood. This is about 10 percent of a cat’s total blood volume.
As the cat recovers from the anesthesia and sedation, she’s given subcutaneous fluids to make up for the blood that was taken. She also gets lots of cuddles as she wakes up. The blood is centrifuged to separate the plasma and packed blood cells, so each donation saves two lives.
Cats have three blood types: A, B and AB. A is by far the most common, and 63 of the ACCES Blood Bank’s 72 feline donors are type A. The other nine are type B. Type AB is far rarer, and only about 0.5 percent of cats in the world are AB. There is no “universal donor” blood type in cats, so it’s crucial to know a cat’s blood type before giving a transfusion.
Community blood banks are rare in the U.S. Most hospitals that need feline blood either buy it from large commercial blood banks or use staff cats when needed for an emergency.
The need for feline blood is high, though. “There’s a nationwide shortage of feline blood, and many commercial blood banks are telling people it’s a two- to three-week wait to get product,” Michelle says. “We really do appreciate all our donors. What we do here is so immensely important and would not be possible without all the support from our awesome community.”
Would you like to see if your cat could be a superhero like my Tara? Check with your local emergency and specialty clinics to see if there’s a blood bank in your area. If there isn’t one, maybe you can help to get one started!
Thumbnail: Photography Courtesy JaneA Kelley.
JaneA Kelley is the author of the award-winning cat advice blog Paws and Effect, and a contributing writer at Catster.com. She is a volunteer with Diabetic Cats in Need, a nonprofit that helped save her diabetic cat’s life.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.