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New Life-Saving Dog Blood-Donor Program Launched

February 26, 2008

Dogs and their owners can now give the gift of life to other dogs, thanks to a new community-based canine blood donor program that was launched today by the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Approximately 1,200 pet dogs and canine law-enforcement officers will be screened during the coming year to develop a group of 200 to 400 regular donors. Although dogs are capable of donating blood monthly, the regular donors will probably come in two to three times per year.

The donor program and its new UC Davis Animal Blood Bank are housed in the campus's William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. It is the largest such program west of the Mississippi.

"Each year, the teaching hospital provides 200 to 300 transfusions for dogs to treat conditions ranging from surgical complications to kidney failure," said Dr. Sean Owens, the blood bank's medical director and head of the veterinary hospital's Transfusion Medicine Section. "This new donor program will allow us to develop a large, reliable source of blood products for our patients, without maintaining a colony of donor dogs here at the hospital."

Dogs have 13 different blood types; the preferred donor type is dog erythrocyte antigen 1.1 negative.

Until today, the hospital has obtained blood for its canine patients from a group of about 30 blood-donor dogs that live for a few years at the hospital and then are adopted out. Now, as the blood-donor program develops, those dogs are being matched with good homes.

(Members of the public who might be interested in adopting a retired canine blood donor can obtain more information about the dogs by e-mailing caninebloodbank@gmail.com.)

Donor dogs for the new program must be 1 to 8 years old, weigh at least 55 pounds and have never been pregnant or had puppies. To make regular donation practical, the dogs and their owners must live within 100 miles of UC Davis.

The animal's first visit to the blood bank will last for about one hour. During that appointment, each dog will be given a health check and screened for infectious diseases, and a unit of blood (about one pint) will be collected. If any health problems are detected, the owner will be advised to follow up with the dog's regular veterinarian.

If cleared for further donation, the animal will return in two to three months for a half-hour donation visit. The initial health check, which includes veterinary services valued at $300, will be free, as will all subsequent donation visits.

Eventually, the program plans to establish a mobile blood bank that could be taken to dog shows and other canine events to make donating more convenient for dogs and their owners.

Dog owners interested in learning more about the blood donor program or scheduling a health-screening appointment for their dog should contact the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at (530) 752-1393.  (Press option "3" and then "1" on the automated message.)

In addition to providing blood products for dog transfusions, the teaching hospital annually carries out 400 to 500 transfusions for cats, pigs, horses, cows, sheep and goats.

The UC Davis veterinary hospital currently is limiting its community blood collection to dogs because the tests necessary for screening the health of cats are too expensive. The hospital will continue to keep its on-campus colony of blood donor cats.

The new animal blood bank will store regular blood products for all of these species. It also will store umbilical cord blood for future use and will process adult stem cells from horse patients, which can be used to treat ligament, tendon or joint injuries and promote healing of some fractures.

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