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Call for pet bloodbank

DOG owners are being encouraged to donate their pets’ blood in an attempt to save thousands of animals by establishing a canine and feline blood bank.

A number of veterinary surgeons are calling for the introduction of mobile pet blood donor vans, similar to those used in the US, and a national pet blood bank.

At present there are insufficient pet blood supplies for transfusions in surgery. Among the procedures that are limited as a result are open-heart surgery, operations on pets that have been run over and those to stop sudden bleeding from conditions such as haemophilia. Dogs that have been involved in fights often require jaw surgery, which is also limited by the availability of blood.

Breeds that are sometimes prone to heart disease and likely to benefit from a national bloodbank. However, the difference in breed types makes no difference when it comes to transfusions: A Poodle can give blood to a Rottweiler - strict blood-typing is essential only if the animal has more than one transfusion. Cats, however, require a, exact blood match, just like humans.

The aim is to establish ‘not-for-profit’ centres around the country for the collection, storage and distribution of pet blood. Funding is also required for a network of mobile laboratories. One van is likely to cost about £100,000. One scheme, Pet Blood Bank UK, is already in operation, but is restricted to the area surrounding Loughborough, Leicestershire. The scheme has 250 dog donors. However, 6.8 million are kept as pets throughout the country.

Advocates of the scheme claim that it is possible that a national blood bank for pets could be established and also deploy vans into the suburbs. In the US these vans offer pets a comfortable experience. The animals are soothed by music and dimmed lighting for about 10 to 15 minutes, when a needle drains blood from the jugular vein. However, the key difference between the US and UK schemes are that the US is wholly privately funded, whereas the proposed UK scheme would almost be like a ‘Pet NHS’. It is most likely that the only way to establish such a national pet bloodbank and fleet of blood donor vehicles would be by good old-fashioned capitalism.

However, the Loughborough service is voluntary and operates from selected veterinary practices, which entice owners with the customary cup of tea and biscuit, while the dogs are fussed over and are even rewarded with a red bandana with a ‘life saviour’ slogan. It is exploring a blood bank for cats but will require further licensing from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

A separate internet matching service has been created. However, Dan Brockman, Professor of Surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, believes this approach is too piecemeal. He said: ‘It is not possible to have trauma centres without blood product support. I hope a national blood bank will be set up.’

There are some ethical concerns. Mark Johnston, of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, said: ‘There is no benefit to the donor dog and some people are therefore opposed. The dogs cannot volunteer – only the owners.’