The importance of blood in my everyday life cannot be understated. Beyond my own biological need for the red juice that provides my every vital cell with oxygen, it’s a substance we vets deal with daily for a variety of reasons. Its messiness is similarly inestimable (as those of you who shunned vet work for that very reason well know).

Bloody messes are impressive, no doubt. Blood has a way of splashing walls with an ominous spray and  paw-painting tables and floors indiscriminately. The worst, however, is the understandable horror it provokes when our own pets end up coated with the wet, messy stuff. It’s a pretty good indication for driving top-speed through city streets to get your beloved to the vet ASAP. 

Inevitably, however, blood has a way of looking more sinister than it truly is. There’s a long human history of fascination with our liquid life-force, represented biblically in oenological terms, by bloody sacrifices in far-flung parts of the world and in the ubiquitous, cross-cultural vampire stories we’re so fond of. Maybe that’s why we often freak way out of proportion to the [usually insignificant] quantities spilled.

Yesterday was a perfect example. One of our clients called, frantic, claiming that one of his “bitches” had bitten through another’s jugular. Sounds like a riff from a rap song but it was much worse than that: this client was a Presa Canario breeder. And he was already on his way with the gigantic, bloody beast of a dog.

On hearing of the impending arrival, I called the specialty hospital across the street and begged a few liters of blood off their stash.

Just then, the client crashes through the hospital door with not one but two Presas. Both humongous beasts (not to mention the owner) were soaked in blood. Neither was in need of any extra: both panting tongues were nice and pink like a full-blooded Presa’s should be. And they were both merrily lumbering along as if they had no idea they’d recently served as one another’s dental pincushions. Apparently, the only one not having a good time was the still-shaken owner.

True, there was an astounding amount of blood, largely attributable to one of the girls’ ear lacerations (a notoriously generous source). But that was the worst of it. No severed jugular. (Cancel the blood order!) I assured the owner that he’s have been swimming in dog blood if such had been the case and that neither dog’s life was in jeopardy.

Such reactions are common. One owner went so far as to bring my vet boyfriend a picture of the battle scene between his Jack Russell and his cat. (His cat was covered with blood and in shock.) The scene of the crime was a large walk-in closet. Everything visible was coated with blood darn-nigh waist-level. It turned out that all the blood had come from the dog’s nose when the defender neatly sliced through the philtrum between the Jack’s nostrils with a well-aimed claw. The cat was essentially unharmed and recovered well.

But don’t assume vets are immune to the impressive display of blood. There’s a sudden intake of breath that accompanies an unexpected slice through a sizable vessel. It’s not just the cerebral acknowledgement of the potential danger of blood loss that gives us pause; it’s the visually stunning act of copious bleeding that also works on all of us at a very raw, emotional level.

Why else would clients pass out during a blood draw, panic when they inadvertently trim their pets’ toenails too short and scream when they arrive home to a nosebleed disaster?

The dramatic surge of blood in an open cavity, the surprisingly powerful spray from a small cat’s severed artery; they fill us with a primal sort of wonder. I, for one, have always marveled at the aesthetic splendor of blood; from the beautiful bright arterial reds down to the pinks and blues in a stained smear under a microscope.

Is that weird?

I once heard a vet surgeon say, “Bleeding is only significant when you can hear it.” Part of that statement comes from a surgeon’s blustery pride in his willingness to unearth an audibly pumping monster. The other part is a respectful recognition that blood and blood’s ways are truly amazing.

For my part, however, I hope I never have to hear a patient bleed. I’m happy just to watch as I do my best to stop it.