Taking blood from one human and putting it into another is old news, but feline blood transfusion is still relatively uncharted territory for cat blood donation. Our purry pals can benefit from a feline blood transfusion under pretty much the same conditions that lead people to need them, following a traumatic injury or surgery that has resulted in considerable blood loss. It might not be quite such a routinely practiced treatment for veterinary clinicians, but as a lifesaving treatment it’s a worthy area to expand upon and cat blood donations are becoming increasingly common.
GUIDELINES for feline blood transfusion
Given the idiom “like herding cats” is one used to portray chaos, you can appreciate that getting a cat to sit down peacefully while you drain some of its life juice isn't quite as simple as what goes down in human blood banks (did you know some people are super donors?). As such, the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) has published guidelines in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS) to clarify what needs to be taken into account before approving feline blood transfusion. The guidelines hope to ensure the best practice is employed when selecting donors and recipients, to prevent this precious commodity from going to waste, while the process of matching animals to blood works out some of the finer details.
The guidelines were put together by an international panel of veterinary experts whose specialties span infectious disease, anesthesia, critical care and medicine. It’s built upon the principle that during the donation the veterinary clinician takes equal responsibility for both the recipient and donor cats.
blood groups and cat blood donation
The same complications that exist in human blood donation exist in cat blood donation, but whether an animal is A, B or AB blood group is more heavily influenced by geography by comparison. Type A is the most common, and some breeds including Siamese cats are thought to sit exclusively within this group. Type B and AB are much less common, meaning it may be harder to source blood for cats with this requirement.
Markers present on the surface of cat blood cells also make matching blood much more complex in comparison to canine blood transfusions. If poorly matched, these markers can trigger fatal reactions. As such, the ISFM recommends cross-matching blood for observation before it is given to the recipient, as the likelihood of catastrophic coagulation can be ascertained outside of the (likely already weak) cat’s body.
disease can spread via feline blood products
Infectious disease screening is also of importance when selecting a match for cat blood donation as, like in humans, certain pathogens can spread via feline blood transfusions. Feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus are both known to spread in this way, and even pathogens like coronavirus and the more common cat illness Toxoplasmosis could pose a threat.
potential complications for donor cats
Even the process of giving blood can be potentially dangerous for the donor cat, who will probably be sedated and receive a small cut to their arm as well as losing the necessary amount of blood. The ISFM expresses that the best practices can mitigate the risks, but it's difficult to guarantee that the donor won't come to any harm. A statement regarding the guidelines noted that in an accompanying appendix the IFSM recognizes the ethical issues surrounding the topic, as the word “donor” implies consent on the part of the animal giving blood.
You can review the feline blood transfusion guidelines here, and pet owners considering their cat for donation can get a better idea of what to expect in this resource published by International Cat Care, the parent charity of ISFM.