Bloody hell! Transfusion medicine and the veterinary critical care crisis

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: October 12, 2010
Published: April 15, 2008
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There’s yet another crisis in the veterinary marketplace and it has nothing to do with the pet food safety issue or the veterinary service shortage I blogged on last month. This one’s more immediate and palpable, impacting perhaps thousands of pets every day in the US.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what would happen should your Fluffy get hit by a car and require a transfusion? No, me neither. It’s not my favorite kind of daydream. But it’s an issue you can bet your vet thinks about when it comes to his or her patients.

Now that pet-oriented blood banks find they’re hard-pressed to maintain their stores of blood products, your vet might well be thinking a little harder on this issue.

Increased demand is reportedly fueling this crisis. With owners increasingly willing to shell out the bucks for high tech care, it should come as no shock that blood transfusions are among the necessary—and dwindling—items. After all, feline and canine blood donations haven’t kept pace with demand.

It’s true, not every hospital is equipped with the life-saving blood products we take for granted in human medicine. The ones who typically do are the critical care centers we general practitioners send our most severely ill and wounded.

Sure, chronic and sub-acute blood loss is something we GPs can and do handle. A flea anemia case, for example, where we have the time to crossmatch blood samples, sedate our donor kitty, collect a unit of blood and transfuse the patient slowly.

But when bleeding is fast and furious, GPs stock Oxyglobin (an artificial blood product) to push quickly IV (along with buckets of fluids) until the pet can be “shipped” to the closest critical care facility. Sourcing donors on a dime is just not doable under most critical conditions.

When owners can’t afford the big-buck transfer to a critical care facility, we do the best we can. But we don’t tend to keep much blood on hand, if any (it’s soooo pricey)—and almost never do we stock cat blood (this stuff’s back-ordered through April in many areas).

Wow! I hadn’t realized how much there is to report on this worthy topic. I’ll have more for you on pet blood’s back-story and the ethical conundrums vets face in a post I’ll write up for tomorrow.