The story is that a New Brunswick domestic cat saved the life of a sick, young bobcat by donating their blood. It throws up some interesting thoughts about blood transfusions to cats and animal rights which I touch upon. It is also a very positive story.
Blood transfusions between cats is carried out from time to time. Cats have blood types like humans but it’s slightly different. Importantly, it seems that blood banks for cat blood are either unviable because the red blood cells can’t be stored or they are unviable for commercial reasons. I am not completely sure but this does impact cat blood transfusions.
Animal rights – a tricky and polarising subject
And as occurred in this story, it seems that it is not uncommon for a donor cat to be selected to give blood specifically for the single purpose of donating it to an unwell cat. Of course, the donor cat does not consent to this. That may seem laughable to some people but it’s an important point worth making and very pertinent to blood donations. It’s a point about animal rights which is a very big discussion. And it’s about people representing animals under these circumstances. Animal rights leads to human representation.
I have argued that, one day, animals will be recognised as non-human persons with rights enshrined in law. It will happen in developed countries. It will be a long time before it does happen however. But there is a shift in attitude albeit very gradual.
Smuckers saves a wild cat’s life
In this story we have a young bobcat that was brought to the Douglas Animal Hospital late in the evening of December 27 last year. She had been found in a barn in a bad way. She was clearly unwell according to Dr. Nicole Jewett, a vet at the hospital.
This hospital works with the Atlantic Wildlife Institute. The bobcat was weak and dehydrated. Their temperature was so low that they could not read it on the thermometer. They didn’t know why she was in this state.
She was anaemic and had kidney problems. They decided to give her a blood transfusion. I guess that was to deal with the anaemia.
The called the Local SPCA at Fredericton (where the story takes place), to find a cat who could donate blood.
The first issue here is that a domestic cat can give their blood to a wild cat. That makes sense because they are both cats. They are different species of cat but at a basic anatomical level they are the same and compatible.
They selected a cat called Smuckers. He is a four-year-old white-and-orange bicolour tabby who’d just arrived at the shelter as his owner had passed away. The picture shows blood being taken from him. I find the picture disturbing but I guess I should not. It seems like an awful lot of blood to be taken from a cat. How much blood do cats have in their blood system?
The Animal Blood Resources International website tells me that cats have 250 mL of blood in their body. Generally, you can only take about 45-50 mL from a donor cat to give to another cat. The picture, to me, shows quite a lot more than 50 mL. I don’t think I am wrong. Anyway, this donor cat is okay after the donation.
Three cats were provided to donate their blood but Smuckers became the hero. He’s a really sweet and cuddly cat according to Annette James, the director of operations for the Fredericton SPCA.
Annette James said that it is not uncommon for veterinarians to come to the SPCA asking for cats to donate blood. This goes to the problem of being unable to store blood in the classic human blood bank procedure that we know so well.
Annette James because it a win-win situation. She said:
“I call it a collaboration of community. If we all pitch in, we all do a little bit, it makes a big difference-not only for domesticated animals, but for wildlife as well.”
Both the bobcat and Smuckers have type A blood. The transfusion was successful. The bobcat is doing “really well,” said Jewett. She is hissing and growling which is exactly how they want wanted her to behave. It told them that she was back to her normal self.
And, as mentioned, Smuckers is doing fine too. He has a new owner who adores him. His high-profile, lifesaving contribution probably helps the relationship.
Some notes about cat blood donors
Blood donors can save the lives of anaemic cats. Clearly, the owner of the cat to be the donor needs to give consent. There must be a potential risk for the donating cat. Therefore, the donor cat’s owner needs to assess this risk carefully.
One risk is that the cat needs to be sedated when giving blood. This is a risk to their health. The drug which sedates the cat often lowers blood pressure. And donating blood also lowers blood pressure. This, then, is a potential, substantial health hazard. If a cat has an underlying disease that the owner and veterinarian are unaware of it can be very hazardous.
Therefore, the donating cat has to be checked carefully to ensure that he or she is suitable. These checks include their weight which should ideally be more than 4 kg but not overweight, their age which should be between 1-8. And they should be of a calm temperament. The vet will do a full clinical examination of the cat.
Their blood pressure will be measured and ideally a heart ultrasound will be taken. The blood will be checked for the type and quantity of red blood cells in their blood. Blood tests will be taken to check the kidney and liver function and to rule out certain infectious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukaemia virus and hemoplasma infections.
You can see that the blood is taken from the jugular vein in the neck of the cat. It is collected slowly over about 30 minutes. The cat should be put on an intravenous fluid drip for up to several hours to help to replace the fluid that has been lost and to maintain blood volume and blood pressure. The cat should be kept warm and monitored closely during the blood donation.
Cat blood banks
I’m told that cat blood banks may become more widely available in the future but they are currently rare. It is said that a cat’s red blood cells can only be stored for a very limited time. I’m not told why that is the case. Clearly the lack of blood banks makes blood transfusions to injured and sick cats much more problematic. It also means that the injured cat will not receive a blood donation sometimes because a donating cat might not be available.
Cats have three major blood groups: A, B and AB. Group A is the most common while group B is common in some pedigree cats. Group AB is apparently rare in cats. There is, apparently, another blood group system. Cats can be Mik positive or negative.
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