Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Cats may need blood transfusions for a variety of reasons, such as trauma, surgery, cancer or infectious diseases. There are currently several animal blood banks in the United States, but due to the unique nature of cats, feline blood products are much harder to come by than their canine counterparts.
In order to be a blood donor, a cat needs to meet several criteria: they must be indoor only, between 1 and 8 years of age, weigh at least 10 pounds, not be on any medication and pass a number of different blood tests, including FeLV/FIV and a complete blood count and chemistry. Unlike dogs, cats must receive type-specific blood, so they must be blood typed. If a cat receives the wrong blood type, it can be life-threatening.
While many dogs can donate blood without being sedated, cats require sedation or anesthesia to donate blood, which makes most cat guardians reluctant to offer their cats up as volunteer donor cats. Some veterinary hospitals will have a donor cat on the premises to provide blood when needed.
Nine Lives Blood Services, the first feline-only veterinary blood bank in the United States, located in Michigan, found an innovative solution for this dilemma. They use screened donor cats from local shelters. The cats are cared for by Nine Lives Blood Services until they find a permanent home. As a result, this service is not just saving the lives of the cats who will receive these life saving blood products, but also the lives of shelter cats.
Alice Parr, LVT, one of the technicians at Nine Lives Feline Blood Bank, shared one of their success stories with me. Maggie, a nine-year-old Persian, had a life threatening anemia, most likely due to an autoimmune problem. The emergency clinic in Maryland, where she was being treated, could not locate any type B blood, which is what Maggie needed. Maggie’s guardians went online and found Nine Lives Feline Blood Services.
They called the blood bank about 7am. Nine Lives Blood Services had the correct blood, obtained from one of their donor cats, on a plane to Washington, DC, by 11am. Maggie’s guardians had to battle D.C. rush hour traffic to pick the blood up at the airport, but it got to Maggie in time. Maggie is now on steroids to suppress her overactive immune system, and she is doing well.
Thanks to two dedicated cat guardians, the lifesaving services of Nine Live Feline Blood Services and their donor cats, and a skilled veterinary team in the Maryland clinic where Maggie was being treated, Maggie only used up one of her nine lives.
Visit the Nine Lives Blood Services website for more information.
Has your cat received a transfusion? Would you consider a transfusion if your cat needed one?
Photos of donor cats by Nine Lives Blood Services, used with permission.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.