Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 16, 1998

Canine blood donors give gift of life

Delilah, a three-year-old German shepherd mix, bounds into a room at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College Teaching Hospital. She sniffs around, licks a few hands in greeting and rolls on the floor. But once she is hoisted onto an examination table, her demeanour changes. She lies perfectly still, even her brown eyes are unmoving. It is as if Delilah knows she is helping save lives.

Delilah is a participant in the OVC's Canine Blood Donor Program, the only one of its kind in Ontario. About every other month she donates blood used to help dogs brought to the Small Animal Clinic for care. Delilah does not flinch when a small needle is inserted into her neck, and blood begins to flow through a tube into a collection bag. Technician Vicki Heinbecker rubs Delilah's head and murmurs praise. In a couple of minutes, the bag is full. Soon, Delilah is back on all fours, wiggling around. She seems proud of herself, and ready for a belated breakfast.

The 450 mls of blood Delilah donated will be turned into two products: plasma and red cells. The red cells may be stored for 40 days in a refrigerator and the plasma can stay frozen for one year. But blood is in such short supply, Delilah's donation will most likely last only a few days. "We use it as quick as we make it, which leaves us vulnerable," said Janet Ogilvie, nursing manager for the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. When blood supplies are low, it is not unusual to collect blood while the recipient waits.

Canines need donated blood for the same reasons as humans. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 7,000 dogs annually, uses it during emergencies, surgeries, for blood transfusions and to aid anemic animals. In the hospital's Small Animal Intensive Care Unit cards taped to the animals' cages indicate when they received blood, and which animal donated it. A list on one dog's kennel revealed seven blood transfusions that week.

OVC started the canine blood bank in 1974 using in-house donors, and began accepting external donors five years ago. More than 250 collections are made annually, and turned into 500 blood products for hospital use. Many donors are owned by people whose animals have received care at the hospital, and new participants are always in demand, Ogilvie said. Donors must be between the ages of one and seven, weigh at least 70 pounds and have the universal blood donor type A negative. Popular breeds include German shepherds, greyhounds and mixed breeds. The dogs undergo a medical exam and participate about six times a year for two years.

Canine blood donors are lifesavers, and in appreciation, they receive a number of benefits, including leaving the hospital with a "doggy bag" of food and treats.
"I think the program is wonderful, it helps them and it helps me," said Roberta Porter, whose dog, Mieka, has been a canine blood donor for almost two years. Porter learned of the program through her late husband, David, who worked at the hospital, and her son, Carl, who was an intern. She also owned other dogs that received treatment at OVC. "I know it is a good hospital that trains students and provides great animal care." Besides, Mieka, a German shepherd/border collie cross, is a willing participant, Porter said. "She likes the treats."

Sources: Janet Ogilvie, Nursing Manager, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 4816; Roberta Porter, (519) 763-5828.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338.

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