MILWAUKEE -- The nation's in desperate need of blood donors -- even the furry, four-legged kind.
Advances in veterinary medicine and pet owners increasingly willing to spend large sums on the family dog or cat have caused a nationwide shortage of blood for critically ill animals.
The country's four national animal blood banks all have back orders, with a two-month waiting list for hard-to-come-by cat plasma and up to a six-week wait for dog plasma.
The blood banks ship blood and blood products to clinics around the country, often on a moment's notice, so doctors can perform emergency surgery when Spot's been hit by a car or Felix needs a kidney transplant.
"If you say you need the blood and I say I don't have it, chances are that dog's going to die," said Valerie Courtright, associate director of a Michigan clinic that held three dog blood drives last month to help boost supplies.
The Animal Blood Bank in Dixon, Calif., the country's largest animal blood supplier, ships between 1,600 and 2,000 units a month to 3,000 clinics throughout the United States and Canada.
"There's more dogs that need blood than there are dogs to give it," director Pat Kaufman said. "We just can't keep up."
Only about 5 percent of dogs meet donor criteria, Kaufman said, and animals must have vaccinations and be screened for diseases and blood disorders. Large dogs make the best donors. A German shepherd, for instance, can more easily part with a pint of blood than a poodle.
Demand for blood has skyrocketed in the last year as clinics perform more and more procedures.
"Now because a lot of people don't have kids when they're 18, they have a dog or a cat and that's their child," Courtright said. "They want to do whatever is best for their family member."
Loni Kuriga, a veterinary technician from Wisconsin, has spent thousands on procedures for her 15 animals, including a $1,200 treatment for her cat's asthma and dental work for her 40-year-old horse.
"My dogs and cats and chickens are part of my family," she said.
Doctors at the 24-hour Animal Emergency Center in Glendale, Wis., are pleading with pet owners to boost their animal "volunteer" roster, Dr. Marla Lichtenberger said.
Her clinic, like many others, calls on animal donors anytime there's an emergency need for blood -- they've even performed bird and ferret transfusions.
Juneau, a Siberian Husky, donates every two months at the Glendale clinic.
On Thursday, a technician shaved fur from a spot on his neck, then inserted a delicate needle and plastic tube in his jugular vein as he lay calmly on an examining table. It was all over in about 10 minutes. Juneau didn't bark once.
"It's neat to know that maybe out of that some dog will live," said owner Cheryl Felker of Milwaukee.
Besides the Animal Blood Bank in Dixon, Calif., the other three national animal blood banks are Midwest Animal Services, Stockbridge, Mich.; Hemopet, Irvine, Calif.; and Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank in Annapolis, Md.
Human blood donors also have been in short supply in recent months. In September, the American Red Cross issued a national appeal for donors -- the second such call in two months. It cited worse-than-usual blood shortages over the summer.
On the Net:
Animal Blood Bank: http://www.io.com/(tilde)tradew/abb
Animal Emergency Center: http://www.animalemergencycenter.com
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