Browsing tag: bleeding

Don’t Panic! – What to do in a Vet Emergency

Don’t Panic!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS

Thankfully, medical emergencies don’t happen very often with our pets, however, when they do occur they can be very frightening and it is easy to panic when a beloved animal is seriously ill. This article will hopefully help you by explaining some common emergency situations and what to do.

Firstly, all vets have to provide an emergency service out-of-hours, so you will always be able to contact a vet if you need one. Some practices run their out-of-hours and others will use a separate, dedicated emergency clinic. It is useful to know your vet’s arrangements before you need them but usually a quick call to the surgery will give an answer-phone message with the instructions you need (so remember to have a pen close to hand if you call!) The best place for a sick pet to be seen is the surgery and although sometimes your vet may be able to visit, it is likely you will need to take them in, so make sure you have some arrangements in place, especially if you have a large dog who you might not be able to carry if they collapsed.

Cuts and bleeding wounds are a common problem, particularly in dogs who don’t aways look before they leap! Firstly, identify where the wound is, and if it is bleeding, stem the flow with constant, even pressure using a clean towel. If the blood is oozing from the wound it is unlikely in the short term there will be significant blood loss but if it is dripping quickly or pumping out, then pressure application is vital, even if your pet resents it. Resist the temptation to check if the bleeding has stopped, just keep the pressure on and pick up the phone! If the wound isn’t bleeding badly your vet may advise you to wait until normal opening hours but to keep it covered so your pet can’t lick it and don’t apply any wound powders or gels as these can make stitching the skin more difficult.

Dogs having epileptic fits are a frequent reason for calls to the out-of-hours services (they can occur in cats but are very rare). When they happen they are usually unexpected and very frightening to watch. However, they normally only last a minute or so and usually by the time you get in touch with a vet, your pet is already coming round. During a classic fit, the dog will fall on their side, shake violently and sometimes lose control of their bowels or bladder. The best thing you can do is turn off the lights, TV or radio, stay calm and move anything your pet could hurt themselves on. You can hold them gently but be aware some dogs are very disorientated when they come out of the fit and may snap at you. Continue to keep the environment dark and quiet and then call for more advice.

Road traffic accidents are extremely scary and often cause very painful injuries. If you see it happen, make sure your pet is under control (when they are frightened and hurt, animals have a tendancy to run away if they can), keep them warm with a coat or blanket and get them to the vet as soon as possible. If you have to lift or move them do so as gently as possible, keeping the body level and avoiding any obviously damaged areas. It is a very good idea to tie something dogs noses, like a scarf, or cover cat’s heads before moving them as pets who are in pain have a tendency to lash out, even towards people they know.

A very common opener to a call to the emergency vet is ‘I’ve just realised my pet has eaten………’, and again it is usually dogs! Unfortunately there are many things around our houses and gardens which are toxic to our pets. If an animal has eaten something they shouldn’t, even if you are not sure it is poisonous, the best approach is to call the vet straight away and make sure you keep all the packaging so you can tell them exactly what it is and it’s active ingredients.

Upset tummies are a regular occurrence at any time but many pets wait until the middle of the night before vomiting or having diarrhoea all over the carpets! In many cases they can be safely left until morning but if they are passing blood (from either end), are vomiting continually, or you know they have swallowed something solid (such as a toy, stone or bones), you should call the vets immediately for advice.

Other problems which should definitely trigger a call to your vets regardless of the time of day include any animal which is collapsed, has very pale gums, a rapidly expanding stomach, especially in large breed dogs, being unable to stand on a leg and any bitch giving birth who appears to be struggling.

Hopefully an animal emergency will never happen to you but if it does remember, keep calm, take steps to ensure both your pet and yourself are as safe as possible, stem any bleeding with pressure, keep them comfortable and ring your vet as soon as possible. Even if it isn’t an obvious emergency, it is never the wrong decision to call for some advice, you won’t be charged and while you may just need your mind putting at ease, you might just be saving your pet’s life!

If you are unsure if you are dealing with a genuine emergency you can use this free interactive pet symptom checker written by UK vets.

The Kinder Cut – Castration of horses

This is the time of year when people start to look at their cute little foals, and suddenly realise they’re starting to grow up fast… As a result, it’s also when we start to get phone calls from people to talk about gelding them.

If you are considering getting a colt gelded (“cut”), my advice would be to contact your vet, who will be able to advise you on the best approach in your particlar circumstances. However, I’m going to try and go through some of the commoner questions below, so you’ve got some basic information on the decisions to be made, the procedure, and what you’ll need to consider.

The first question, of course, is whether or not to get him cut. It’s an important decision, so these are my thoughts…
The majority of male horses are castrated, and for very good reason – very few people have the facilities, the time, or the inclination to manage an entire stallion. The old adage had it absolutely right – “You can tell a gelding, you can ask a mare, but you discuss the matter with a stallion”. Although there are some superbly well mannered stallions out there, it takes years of expert training – and in my experience they’re almost always more “bolshie” than a gelding, and much less forgiving of any mistakes. They are also much more easily distracted (e.g. by a passing mare), and prone to fighting.
Does this mean you can’t train them well and keep them happily and healthily? No, of course not – but it’s a lot harder. The majority of stallions can’t be kept in groups because of the husbandry regimes on most yards, so have to live on their own. That’s not good for their mental health, or their owners and riders! If someone has the knowledge and facilities to bring up a stallion, I don’t have a problem with that, and I wish them luck, but I’ve seen too many bored, frustrated and borderline dangerous stallions who haven’t been brought up correctly, and remain a liability.
Geldings, however, can be kept in groups, can mix with other horses, and are less likely to lose the plot or throw a temper tantrum. They also don’t present you with unexpected foals in your competing mares…
If you decide not to have him done, you need to be sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. The majority of horses are not necessarily good breeding material – you need to take an objective look at him and decide if breeding from him is actually going to benefit the breed. If you’re avoiding doing it just because you don’t like the thought of the procedure, you’ll need to think long and hard about whether thats in his best interest – or yours.

If you are getting your colt cut, the next decision is when to do it. There are two major concerns – the time of year, and the maturity of the colt. In terms of time of year, it’s best to do it when the weather is cold enough to prevent flies from infecting surgical wounds. Ideally, then, this would be in late autumn or early spring, but gelding him in winter is perfectly acceptable if the facilities are suitable. Regarding the colt’s maturity, there is an upper and a lower limit.
The lower limit is the most rigid – except in an emergency (e.g. a strangulating hernia), I would never geld a colt until both testes had descended into the scrotum – because it’s really important to make sure you’ve got both! This usually happens between 6 and 12 months old, but it is a bit variable. In addition, the colt has to be strong and mature enough to survive the surgery, although with modern anaesthetics this isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be. The upper limit is much more flexible. Stallions into their twenties are castrated fairly commonly, but once they’ve passed through puberty, a lot of the stallionish behaviour is learnt, and won’t be reversed by castration, including some forms of aggression, and mounting behaviour. Sometimes, people like to wait until a colt is 3 or 4 years old before gelding, but I think that often even that is too late – although it does allow the colt to develop more muscle, he’ll also be developing stallion traits. In addition, the younger the colt, the smaller the testicles, and the smaller the testicles, the lower the risk of bleeding during the op. During puberty, the testicles increase dramatically in size, and as a result, their blood supply increases accordingly; the bigger spermatic artery in a post-pubescent colt is much harder to control bleeding from.
As a general rule (and it’s a VERY rough rule of thumb!) I’d normally look to geld between a year and eighteen months old. That said, there are a lot of exceptions – I once had to sort out the castration of a four month old colt because he’d started mounting his mother… There are also a number of opinions about weaning – before, after or at the same time? In this case, I think it depends entirely on the colt in question, and it’s an area (one of many) where I’ll usually defer to the owner’s judgement.

Before you go any further, its a good idea to get the colt thoroughly checked out – both testicles need to be present and easily palpable; if one is “shy” and difficult to find, I usually recommend checking again in a month or so. If it’s still inaccessible, the colt may be a cryptorchid (i.e. a rig, with one undescended testis). These colts should ALWAYS be castrated, and have to be done under general anaesthetic, if possible in a clinic. This is because the retained testicle, being kept at an abnormally high temperature inside the body, is more likely to become cancerous. Also, the defect may be genetic – and if so, he’ll risk passing it on to his offspring.

Once you’ve decided when, there’s another important decision you and your vet will have to make, and that’s the details of the procedure. Basically, there are two factors to decide – firstly, do you want him done “at home or away”? Secondly (a related point), do you do him under standing sedation or down under a general anaesthetic?
Regarding the location, it depends on your practice’s policy and facilities. Many practices now offer castration at the clinic, but the majority of people still choose to have the op done at home. The advantage of having it done at a clinic is that the procedure can be cleaner, and all the equipment and apparatus is there; in addition, many practices charge a callout fee for coming to the yard. However, that’s offset by the fact that you’ll have to transport the colt to the clinic; in addition, I think it’s usually less stressful for the procedure to be done at home, assuming the appropriate facilities are available. Exactly what facilities you need depend on the technique that’s going to be used.

There’s a lot of debate as to this decision, and some frankly ridiculous comments from some badly-informed people out there. I’m going to talk through the options and the pros and cons.
The two main options that you’ll need to think about for the procedure itself are whether to have the op done under standing sedation or general anaesthetic. In some cases, the decision is easy – miniature horses and small shetlands should almost never be done standing, because they’re too small for the surgeon to get good access and control the site, for example. Draft breeds are at a higher risk of eventration (see below, when abdominal contents escape through the castration wound), and so need a different surgical technique, which may be easier under a general; and fully adult stallions bleed more so may need better surgical access – again, a general anaesthetic makes this easier. However, most colts can be done either way, so you and the vet need to decide which you prefer.

Under standing sedation, the colt is given intravenous sedatives (see my blog on sedatives) so he becomes very dopey. He will continue standing up, but his head will drop, and he is likely to adopt a wide-based stance (which makes surgical access easier!). However, its important to remember that he is still to some extent aware of what’s going on, so local anaesthetic is injected into the testicles (perhaps 20ml into each one, plus some under the skin of the scrotum) or into the spermatic cord (although I find that that’s easier said than done, with most colts pulling the testicles up tight to the body wall so the cord is difficult to access from outside) to numb the area. The castration is then performed with the vet working from standing beside the horse. This approach avoids the risk of a general anaesthetic, and means the horse will recover from the sedative faster. However, the degree of sedation achieved is variable, and some colts appear to be more aware of the procedure than one would like, no matter how much sedative you pour into them. There’s also a MUCH higher risk of the vet or their assistants being injured – unsurprisingly, some colts object violently if they realise what you’re doing…
In addition, the surgical access is poorer (the vet is having to work upside down, and largely by feel) so if there is a complication, it is harder to control it.

Under a general anaesthetic approach, the colt is sedated and then given an injection of a general anaesthetic. He’ll become very sleepy, and then lie down. Once he’s out, an assistant lifts up the top leg, giving the surgeon access. The disadvantage is that most vets will only do a GA on a horse if there’s another vet along to monitor the anaesthetic, which may affect the cost. In addition, a GA is a risk in its own right – one study suggested that the average mortality rate from GA in a horse is 1% (although this includes colics and emergency operations – the risk for a young, healthy colt is much lower). On the other hand, the risk of injury to the vet or assistants is much lower, and the risk of surgical complications is also much reduced, as the surgeon can see exactly what they’re doing.

Is either one definitively better than the other? No. However, it is a decision to take WITH your vet, as they may have a preference that will affect their efficiency. For what its worth, I’ve done geldings both ways, and personally I prefer to do them under general, because its safer for me and everyone else around – and if there was to be a complication, I’ve got a better chance of finding and fixing it at the time.

The procedure itself is pretty much the same whichever way up the horse is. Along with sedation, I give an injection of an anti-inflammatory and painkiller, and antibiotic cover (no procedure done on a yard or in a field can ever be truly sterile, so I’d prefer to make sure there are antibiotics on board when we start). In the past, vets didn’t routinely give painkillers as well as the sedation (which contains a painkilling component), but personally I don’t think its fair not to.

There has historically been quite a mystique about the procedure itself – probably because people are a bit shy to discuss it. As a result, there is sometimes serious confusion – remember, gelding is NOT the same as a vasectomy, and it can’t be reversed… Not even (as apparently happened to a colleague of mine) if the client stops you as you’re about to drive off and, holding up a neatly severed pair of testicles, asks the vet to reattach them because she’s changed her mind…

So, here’s a quick run through the procedure:
The area of the groin is scrubbed with a skin disinfectant, and a final check is made that both testes are accessible. Whichever one is held closer to the body is the one I’ll start with, just in case it is retracted later. I’ll then scrub up so my hands are sterile. Some vets wear gloves, others don’t – I don’t think it really matters as long as they’ve scrubbed thoroughly. Gloves add an additional sterile barrier; but on the other hand they can reduce your feel and grip, so it depends on what the vet is happiest with.
Once the scrotal area is scrubbed, the vet will use a scalpel blade to cut through the skin of the scrotum. There are a couple of different options from here on, but the principle is the same; to cut down through the tissue to the vaginal tunic (the membranes that surround the testis itself) and then gently pull the testicle down and out. In an “open” castration, the tunic will be opened, in a “closed” technique, it gets left intact and the testicle pulled down still inside. Once there’s enough slack in the spermatic cord (containing the blood vessels, nerves etc that supply the testicle), the emasculators are applied across the cord, with or without the tunic, depending on the technique. These are a clever bit of kit that crush the cord, preventing it from bleeding, while at the same time cutting off the testicle itself.
(Quick aside here – I was doing a gelding once and, as is customary, I showed the removed testicle to the owner to show it had been done; he was a teenage lad and he fainted dead away. Interesting ethical problem there – do I try and help the unconscious boy, or do I just keep working on the anaesthatised horse who’ll soon wake up? Fortunately, he recovered on his own before I had to scrub out, but he was pretty green around the gills for the rest of the morning…)
In an older stallion, most vets will put a suture through the cord to ligate the artery, but this increases the risk of infection, so we don’t always put one in if doing an Open procedure. After removing the emasculators, the vet will check closely for bleeding from the stump. If there isn’t any, they’ll repeat the procedure on the other side. If the surgery is taking place in the field, the vet will usually leave the incision open for drainage; closing it seriously increases the risk of post op swelling and infection.

As a note, there is always a bit of bleeding after the operation. The rule of thumb is, if you can count the drops, its fine! There’s also invariably some swelling of the sheath, but again, it isn’t usually anything to worry about. If in any doubt though, you should contact your vet. Your vet will give you instructions for post op care, but the most important thing is to keep the new gelding moving, to reduce the swelling and encourage drainage.

The complications to be aware of are bleeding, eventration, and infection.
bleeding is pretty obvious – some oozing from around the incision is normal, but there shouldn’t be any significant haemorrhage from the stump of the spermatic cord. If there is, or if there’s a lot of blood – call your vet! Uncontrolled bleeding is an emergency that may require a repeat surgery to control it.
eventration, is when abdominal contents prolapse through the inguinal canal, and it’s more common in draft breeds. This is the main reason we’d do a Closed castration, as it ties off the tunic; but it does increase the risk of infection. Eventration usually involves some fatty tissue (the omentum) and although it needs urgent surgical repair, it isn’t usually life threatening. Very occasionally, however, it progresses to evisceration, where loops of intestine come through. This is very serious, but (touch wood) it’s also very rare.
infection is uncommon, and usually responds to antibiotics. In a few unlucky cases, though, a schirrous cord forms, where abscesses form in the canal. These take months of management, and in the end, treatment is usually surgical removal of the infected tissue.

These complications are very rare, and even if they occur, they’re usually fixable, so don’t get scared of the possibility! I only mention them so you’ve got an idea of what to look out for.

The last thing to bear in mind is that the gelding may still show sexual interest for some weeks after castration (at least, if he was before), and may even be fertile for a time: although he can’t make more sperm without testicular tissue, there will still be some “in storage” in the spermatic ducts. I always advise that a newly gelded colt or stallion should be isolated from mares for at least 6 weeks, after which any remaining sperm will have died or been flushed out, and his testosterone levels will have declined to the point where he won’t have any hormonal urges.

The bottom line is this: although it doesn’t seem a nice thing to do, for most colts in most situations, gelding leaves them happier and more content than they would otherwise be as entire stallions.

Equine ER – Dealing with traumatic injuries

I recently had to stop on the side of the road to help out a family whose trailer had rolled over, trapping their horse inside. By the time I’d got past the queue of stationary holiday traffic, they’d already done the first aid basics, and it was great to see how well they’d coped. However, it made me think about what owners can do in emergency situations for shock, trauma and blood loss in horses.

Not an emergency! I like to use ketchup and a good natured pony for Pony Club First Aid Training. If you want to know more, contact your vet - many practices run great first aid training courses for clients.

Not an emergency! I like to use ketchup and a good natured pony for Pony Club First Aid Training. If you want to know more, contact your vet - many practices run great first aid training courses for clients

In serious accidents, the most common injuries are probably bruises and lacerations – jagged cuts, caused by broken metal and debris cutting through the skin. However, puncture wounds and broken bones are also not uncommon, and it can be really difficult to determine what’s a mild graze, and what’s a deep, dangerous puncture wound in the field, let alone by the side of a busy road! If you’re faced with a real emergency like this, remember three things – first, make sure you and anyone else around are not at risk. Second, get someone to call a vet and any other emergency services (e.g. the police to close the road, the fire brigade to cut horses and people out of the wreckage, and of course ambulances for any human casualties). Finally, assess the horse(s) and do what first aid you can at the scene.

When assessing the injured horse, I find it really useful to look at it in two stages – the Primary and Secondary surveys. The Primary Survey is designed to find injuries that are immediately life-threatening, and need addressing NOW.
This would include serious fractures, significant bleeding, breathing difficulties and any neurological disorders (half a tonne of fitting horse is a danger to itself and everything within ten to twenty feet).

I like to start at the nose and work rapidly to the tail, running my hands over the horse, looking for wounds or areas that don’t feel right, and assessing how the horse responds. If you find a wound that’s gushing blood, it needs to be stopped; a “grating” feeling under your hands when you feel along a canon bone often indicates a fracture, which must be stabilised.

In an emergency situation, the key is to stabilise the horse until it can be moved to a safer location for further workup, and it is vital to be quick, but also smart. Don’t get so bogged down with relatively minor injuries that you miss somethng life-threatening! A wound that that oozes can be left until you’ve finished the primary survey; one that’s running with dark blood needs seeing to, one that’s spurting may kill the horse before you’ve finished unless you address it immediately.

To stop bleeding, apply pressure – even a major arterial bleed can be slowed, if not stopped, by a padded up numnah pushed into the wound by one or two people (ideally two, so you can swap over when you start to get tired). One of my horses was staked on a hack many years ago, when a piece of wood flicked up into his groin and tore the femoral artery. His life was saved by two of the people out riding with him, who pulled off their jackets and forced it into the wound, slowing the bleeding until a vet could arrive to pack it closed. The major risk areas for bleeding are the groin and neck, where major blood vessels run close to the surface and can easily be damaged.

It is really important when doing a primary survey to check for signs of shock – horses are incredibly tough, but they can still suffer internal bleeding and blood loss, even if nothing’s obvious, so roll up the horse’s lip and check the colour of his gums. Then press on them so they go white, and time how long it takes for the colour to return. A normal, healthy horse will have nice, pink gums and a capilliary refill time of less than 2 seconds. White or very pale gums indicate shock, probably from blood loss, as can a prolonged refill time, while blue gums may indicate heart problems.

A horse that is behaving abnormally need to be treated with extreme caution – concussion is uncommon, but it does happen, and is often more dangerous to the people around than it is to the horse! There’s nothing you as an owner can do about it, so make sure you’re ready to jump clear if needed.

A suspected fracture is a nightmare for any horse owner; however, it’s worth remembering that some fractures in some horses can be repaired surgically. The most effective form of first aid is to immobilise the limb with a thick bandage and/or splints – however, unless you know exactly what to do, don’t try to apply splints without a vet’s instructions. Some fractures, sadly, are irreparable – I once got called to a horse that had fallen over trotting across its field, the person who called said it had a “small cut”. When I arrived, his hock was pointing the wrong way round, and sadly I had to tell the owner that there was nothing that I could do, except put him down to remove the suffering.

Once the primary survey is completed, and everything addressed as best you can, you need to consider moving the horse to safety. If possible, wait for the vet to arrive first, but this may not be possible if you are in an unsafe or inaccessible location. Remember, a horse with anything significant on the Primary Survey isn’t fit to be moved anywhere until it has received veterinary treatment! In the case of my roadside horse, we were able to borrow a box to move him off the road to a nearby restaurant car park (I know, not perfect, but we had to improvise at the time!).

As soon as you’ve got him to a safe place, it’s time to carry out a Secondary Survey. When they arrive, the vet will probably repeat what you’re doing – but if you’ve already carried out a survey, you can bring anything important to their attention, speeding up treatment.

The Secondary Survey is a full examination of the horse, checking every lump or bump, scrape or cut for further significance. If a vet is doing it, we’ll often clean up wounds and probe them for depth as we go along; however, please don’t do this yourself! We need to see everything as far as possible as it is if we’re to properly assess it. We’ll always be grateful, though, if you can tell us what there is and where – e.g. “three grazes and a cut on the left flank, swelling over the right eye and a deeper wound on the right hock” allows us to prioritise the swollen eye and the deep wound, before we check over the grazes.
Now is the time to apply pressure to any oozing or dribbling wounds, to check the feet (I’ve seen otherwise apparently normal horses prove to have deep cuts in their soles from climbing over broken metal to escape – and immediately after the incident, appear completely sound under the influence of adrenaline). Periodically, recheck the gums to make sure that the horse isn’t becoming “shocky”.

Remember, horses are almost unbelievably tough – it is amazing what they can survive. My horse who got staked lost about half his total blood volume, but he made a complete recovery and lived for another ten years in excellent health; and the horse in the road accident, despite being thrown across the road, appears to have got away with cuts and bruises.

So, even if it looks a disaster, it’s always worth trying first aid until a vet tells you otherwise, because it really can save a horse’s life.

Check with your vet to find out if they run first aid courses so you can be prepared.

Fluffy Can Give Blood Too! Blood Transfusions in Cats

DaisyFor the past month our local radio station has been bombarding us with adverts asking us to give blood due to increased need over the holidays. My husband and I ignored them at first but then eventually gave in. On the way home after giving blood, we started talking about cats donating blood and I realised it had been ages since I’d seen a feline transfusion. They are relatively uncommon, especially in general practice, but it’s an interesting subject so I thought I might look into it a bit further. Hopefully your cat will never need one, but if they do (or if you’re just curious about the whole process!), here’s a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes.

Why would a cat need a blood transfusion?

The main reason why cats get blood transfusions is because they are severely anaemic, which means they don’t have enough red blood cells in their blood. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying the body’s oxygen, so not having enough of them leads to serious problems. Anaemia can occur for three main reasons – not enough red blood cells are produced (problems with the bone marrow or chronic diseases such as cancer), too many are lost (major bleeding after an injury or surgery), or too many are destroyed (autoimmune disease or poisoning). Mild anaemia is not a problem and the cat’s body will usually recover on its own, but severe red blood cell loss either needs to be treated or else it can end in euthanasia. Sometimes medication is enough to fix the anaemia, but occasionally the lost blood cells need to be replaced. The way we measure red blood cells is called PCV (packed cell volume), also sometimes referred to as HCT (haematocrit), and transfusions are only really indicated when that number gets below 12-14% along with clinical signs. If a cat has a disease that can be treated such as infection, autoimmune disease or severe bleeding, then a transfusion may be performed but if their condition cannot be fixed, such as most cancers or end-stage chronic kidney disease, then it probably won’t.

Do cats have different blood types?

Alice and MavisYes. Just like people, cats have different blood types and giving the wrong one can have disastrous consequences. Feline blood types are called A, B, or AB, similarly named to those in people but entirely different chemically, and the difference between them is the type of chemical called an antigen that the cells have on their surfaces. The cat’s body knows to leave cells with its own antigens alone but to kill off cells that have the other type of antigen, so giving the wrong type of blood will not only result in severe inflammatory disease in the cat but also the immediate destruction of the new cells that have just been given. Therefore, it is essential that all cats be blood typed prior to donating or receiving blood (unlike dogs, who are not as picky for their first transfusion). Most cats worldwide are type A, fewer are type B, and very few are type AB. Interestingly, certain breeds are more likely to have certain blood types, with most Siamese having type A and most Devon Rex having type B. Most standard domestic shorthair cats are type A. There are other variations in feline blood, such as Mik positive or negative, which can cause reactions but these are less well studied and it is not yet possible to test for them. If any sort of mismatch is suspected, then a drop of the donor’s blood is mixed with a drop of the recipient’s blood on a card and the cells are monitored for a reaction.

Where does the blood for transfusions come from?

Although there are some feline blood banks in the US, most feline blood transfusions in the UK come directly from donor cats at the time it is needed. Donor cats, who are often staff pets but if your cat is big and healthy there’s no reason why they couldn’t donate, should be at least 4 kg but preferably over 5 kg in weight and must not have donated blood in the past 2 months. They should also be fully vaccinated, screened for infectious diseases and not on any medications. Potential donors are given a full physical exam and blood test to ensure they are healthy enough to give blood, and a blood type is done. Once they have passed all of these tests, they are usually sedated and approximately 50-60 ml of blood is collected from the jugular vein in the neck over about 10-15 minutes, followed by the administration of IV fluids to help replace some of the lost blood volume. The blood can then be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours because it is mixed with an anti-coagulant to keep it from clotting.

How is a blood transfusion given?

The blood from the donor cat is then attached to an IV fluid line and filter and given very slowly into the patient’s vein. The recipient cat needs to be watched very carefully for any sign of reaction such as fever, changes in heart rate or changes in blood pressure. The whole process usually takes several hours and the cat is checked regularly throughout. The prognosis for any cat given a blood transfusion depends much more on the underlying condition than the transfusion itself, but it can significantly improve survival for cats with certain kinds of conditions.
Feline blood transfusions are most commonly done in large referral centres, but as there is no special equipment needed they can be done in general practice as well. Because of the time and cost associated with screening both donor and recipient cats, as well as the collection and transfusion process itself, blood transfusions are very expensive and therefore not often chosen by the owner even if they are on offer. But as veterinary medicine progresses and we become more comfortable with the process, it will hopefully become a more practical option in the future.

If you are worried about any problems with your cat, speak to your vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

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