Transfusions can be used to treat many different conditions in dogs, cats, ferrets and pocket pets. They have many beneficial properties including, increasing blood pressure, adding to the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, and replacing clotting factors and other beneficial proteins. Common reasons for a transfusion are blood loss from trauma, surgery of highly vascular organs, immune destruction of red blood cells, and destruction of red blood cells by blood borne parasites.
Dogs with serious illness other than blood loss such as pancreatitis can benefit from blood or plasma transfusions. Blood transfusions in dogs and cats are administered via tubing with a filter which removes clots and debris1. The transfusion will be administered slowly and corticosteroids will usually be given, both of which decrease the chances of a reaction or complications.
Dogs are the species we most commonly transfuse in our practice. Dogs have identified blood types, but we don’t routinely blood type patients as is done in human medicine. Patients do however need to be cross matched with the blood donor before a transfusion. Cross matching is done to identify whether the patient will have a reaction to the donor blood. All blood donor dogs should be negative for two blood types, DEA-1 and DEA-7. If negative for these two blood types there is a much less of a chance that there will be a transfusion reaction. I emphasize however, that even if the blood donor is negative for these two blood types your veterinarian will still need to cross match1.
Cats have two major blood types, A and B. Most cats have type A blood so if you play the odds no blood typing or cross match is needed. The problem is that if you transfuse cats with different types you will get a life threatening reaction so the safest course of action is to blood type cats before a transfusion is given1.
Ferrets can also be transfused for the same reasons as dogs and cats. No blood types have as yet been identified in ferrets so cross matching usually isn’t done1.
Small mammals such as Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas, etc. can also receive transfusions. Donor blood is drawn from a donor of the same species. Because of the low blood volume blood filters aren’t used but this does however increases the chance of a clot being administered and transfusions reactions are possible1.
If you feel your pet may benefit from a transfusion please discuss it with your veterinarian. He or she will discuss the benefits versus risks in relation to your pet’s specific situation.
1. Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice