Getting dogs to give blood takes more than cookies

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Most dogs probably don’t like going to the doctor any more than most people do.

But Louie Clark, a 6-year-old mixed breed, was lapping it up recently at the University of Florida’s small animal hospital. He got belly rubs, treats and playtime like he was at the dog park instead of the hospital.

In exchange, all Louie had to do was sit patiently for about five minutes while technician Kim Koelbel drew blood from the jugular vein in his neck, gathering nearly a pint of blood — which is what a person typically donates.

Louie’s donation could be used in a transfusion — say for a dog hit by a car — or one who had undergone surgery or developed a condition leading to anemia, explained Dr. Kirsten Cooke, a clinical assistant professor of small animal medicine at UF and director of the school’s blood bank. The program also includes an in-house cat blood donation program that has 10 cats, although cat blood is less in demand than dogs’, Cooke said.

Currently, 58 dogs donate to the blood bank six times a year — most of them the dogs of faculty, staff and students. A few dogs, such as Louie, come from other owners.

After the blood is drawn, it’s separated into packed red blood cells and plasma, which is frozen. The shelf-life of the red blood cells is two months and about one year for the plasma, Cooke said.

The hospital performs about 15 transfusions per month, and it rarely runs out of blood, she added.

When Louie stuck his paw out to Koelbel — like he was going to shake her hand — she pricked his paw to take his PCV, or packed cell volume, to make sure his red blood cell count was adequate to donate.

Louie didn’t fidget then, nor did he fidget when she laid him on his side, shaved and cleaned his neck and stuck the needle in to extract his blood. Louie has been donating for four years, so he’s used to the routine.

Not all dogs are fit to donate blood, and they must undergo a rigorous screening process to determine whether they are. The first criterion is temperament.

“Ninety-five percent are just like this,” Koelbel said, looking at Louie, delighting in the can of wet dog food he devoured after donating.

“Everything is supposed to make him super excited to be here,” Cooke added.

Since the hospital won’t sedate the dogs, the dogs have to come in relatively relaxed, so plenty of dogs have come in who didn’t pass the test, Cooke said.

Dogs have to be at least a year old, and they can’t donate past age 8 or 9. They also have to weigh at least 50 pounds, she added. Before the blood bank existed, UF adopted greyhounds from the racetrack and kept them as in-house donors for a few years before adopting them out again.

Greyhounds have the Type A-negative blood type, which is the universal blood type all dogs can receive, Cooke explained.

However, “If we know that a dog is A-positive, then we try to give them that,” Cooke said, adding that about 50 percent of mixed breeds are also A-negative.

In exchange for their donation, the dogs receive a year’s supply of heartworm and flea prevention and food tailored to their needs.

For Ruby, a 4-year-old chocolate lab who has been donating for three years, that means joint management dog food.

Ruby started donating after her trainer recommended her because of her good personality, explained Ruby’s owner, Cheryl Niedermaier, of Melrose.

“She absolutely loves it. I would never think that a dog would be so happy to get poked, prodded and stabbed with a needle,” Niedermaier said.

“When she sees Kim come out of those double doors, she is the happiest dog on earth.

“I think Ruby sees it as a job, and she enjoys her job.”

Niedermaier added that she likes knowing Ruby is helping other animals. Niedermaier has two other dogs — an Italian greyhound named Polo and a Rhodesian ridgeback mix named Ginger.

Polo is too skinny to donate, and Ginger is brand new to the household, so neither can donate their blood.

“Ruby is the only dog in our house that pulls her own weight,” Niedermaier said.

Cooke and her team advise that dogs not do any strenuous activity for 24-48 hours after donating. Only on rare occasion has a dog needed fluids after donating.

“We usually relax for the rest of the day,” Niedermaier said.

“We stop for a burger on the way home. Her preference is Five Guys or Steak ‘n Shake. It’s a fun day for her all the way around.”

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Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com

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