Cat owners called on for UK’s first feline blood bank

feline blood bank
Maggie Davies

Portuguese organisation hopes to set up resource for veterinary practices around Britain.

Pingo does not look like a conventional superhero. There is no spandex costume, a dearth of magical powers and – as far as is known – no secret identity. Yet the black and white cat is part of a bold endeavour to save lives: the first feline blood bank in the UK.

Human blood banks have existed in the UK since 1937, while dogs have been taking part in canine blood donation drives for years. However, a mix of regulations and logistics means the situation has been more complex for cats.

“Currently, vets in practice cannot easily source feline blood products to use on very sick cats,” said Samantha Taylor, a specialist in feline medicine.

The upshot is that when a cat needs a blood transfusion, vets must typically find a donor cat there and then.

That, said Taylor, can mean delays, unsuitable donors or the transmission of infectious diseases. In addition, cats have blood groups – although these are different from those in humans – and
even a teaspoon’s worth of the wrong feline blood group can be fatal.

“The current situation has been very problematic as far as cats dying because there’s not appropriate blood available,” said Taylor.

While the Royal Veterinary College stores feline blood, this is only for animals being treated or referred to the college as it is a transfusion service rather than a blood bank.

However, a Portuguese organisation called Banco de Sangue Animal (BSA) is hoping to set up the UK’s first feline blood bank to provide a resource for veterinary practices around the country – and it wants cat owners to sign up their furry companions.

“We’ve run a couple of sessions just to see how it goes. And that’s been going well, but we need more owners and more cats,” said Taylor, who is working with BSA on the endeavour.

According to new criteria for feline blood banking set out in updated guidance by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) last year, among other requirements, cats donating to a blood bank must be at least 5kg in weight, undergo a cardiac assessment before donation and have their blood pressure checked. Only 10% of the cat’s total blood volume can be taken – a more conservative volume than in general practice.

It is not permitted for animals to be sedated when donating blood for storage in the UK. While dogs can be trained to give blood while awake with relative ease, cats can be harder to handle.

“You may find it harder to find suitable (feline) donors than you would with dogs. But that’s just the nature of cats and we should respect that,” said Charlotte Russo, head of transfusion medicine
nurse at the RVC, adding the requirement means it is crucial to find cats with the right temperament for being a blood donor.

The BSA has animal blood banks in Portugal, Spain and Belgium, and has learned how to collect donations safely and efficiently with minimal stress to donor cats, so Taylor said the organisation was a natural choice for UK vets to partner with to set up a UK-wide feline blood bank.

“The BSA has undergone a very strict and long process of approval,” she said.

The organisation was recently granted non-food animal blood bank authorisation (NFABBA) by the VMD, and the team is working to build up a network of cats who, like Pingo, can donate blood.

Dr Jenny Helm, a trustee of the charity Pet Blood Bank UK, which mainly provides canine blood to veterinary practices, said there was a significant need for a feline blood bank in the UK, particularly as other products that previously bridged the gap – such as a haemoglobin-based blood substitute – were no longer available. Russo added the new blood bank is welcome.

“(The BSA bank) will benefit so many cats across the country that will be able to access blood products at any time of day just like dogs can, just like people can,” she said.

(Story source: The Guardian)

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