Vets use donors, blood banks for pet transfusions

05/08/2014 2:19 PM

05/08/2014 3:55 PM

Two weeks ago, Brandi Perkins rushed her 11-year-old pit bull Roxie to an emergency room, not sure if her dog would survive the night.

After being examined at the Animal Emergency Hospital of North Texas, she learned that Roxie’s platelet level was dangerously low and that she needed a blood transfusion to survive.

“I had no idea that my dog could have a blood transfusion; I never heard of that before,” Perkins said.

After a pair of transfusions Roxie was fine and is now back home.

Bruce Nixon, chief of staff at the Grapevine hospital, said his staff has administered 10 transfusions during the last two weeks, a number he described as “routine.”

It’s a medical treatment that has become a topic of local and national interest after Fort Worth veterinarian Lou Tierce was recently arrested on animal cruelty charges. Tierce’s clinic had been raided on April 29 after a woman filed a complaint with the state, saying a dog she took in to be euthanized was being kept alive and used for blood transfusions.

Tierce, owner of the Camp Bowie Animal Clinic in west Fort Worth, called the allegations “a bunch of hooey.”

Tierce’s license was temporarily suspended and a hearing before the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is scheduled for Friday in Austin on whether it should be reinstated.

While more complaints have since been filed against Tierce, others have lined up in support of the 71-year-old veterinarian, even going as far to create a Facebook page. Many plan to caravan to Austin for the hearing.

‘It’s completely transparent’

Nixon declined to comment about the allegations against Tierce, but he said there are certainly plenty of options available on how and where veterinarians can obtain blood and “components” such as plasma.

He said his clinic gets blood and other components from animal blood banks or from “donor dogs” that either belong to the doctors or to clients who volunteer them.

Nixon said his facility orders blood products such as plasma and packed red blood cells from licensed, regulated blood banks, such as the Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank in Virginia.

If whole blood is needed, staff members volunteer their pets as blood donors, he said.

“We only use our own personal pets. It’s completely transparent. If someone comes in needing a whole blood transfusion, we tell them where it’s coming from; we don’t have any animals living here,” Nixon said.

In Roxie’s case, her owner said that one of the employees from the clinic volunteered her dog as a donor.

“Roxie wouldn’t have made it had they not gotten a donor; she had no platelets,” Perkins said.

Nixon said the 24-hour hospital always has “blood products” on hand and can provide them to other veterinarians in the area, if needed.

“Most daytime practices are not going to use blood that often, maybe two times a month,” he said.

Billy Davis, who owns the Arlington Heights Animal Clinic, said he does not perform many transfusions because they are expensive for his clients, costing over $200.

But when transfusions are necessary, Davis said he can contact an animal blood bank that can ship refrigerated whole blood overnight.

He said some of his clients also volunteer their pets as donors and he volunteers his own dog, Tex.

“Our blood donors are volunteers in that several gracious owners who have pets at home have requested that we contact them if or when we need blood to save an animal’s life,” Davis said. “We consider them to be our blood heroes and appreciate the owners who have allowed their pets to help save a life.”

‘Nice to have a good source’

Scott Johnson, a veterinarian who practices at the Emergency Animal Hospital in northwest Austin, said it is important for pet owners to know the blood type for their animals in case of an emergency, or if surgery is needed.

“I think it’s important for people to know what options are available knowing that their animals can get blood transfusions for certain conditions,” he said.

He said veterinary blood banks are critical in the treatment of animals.

“When you need it, you need it,” Johnson said. “It’s always nice to have a good source.”

At the Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank, in Purcelville, Va., Jocelyn Pratt, who manages the facility, said the organization has approximately 500 clients who volunteer their dogs as blood donors. The dogs are not sedated, and they get plenty of treats and playtime for donating, she said.

Pratt said the Blue Ridge blood bank is the largest bank for shipping blood products across the country.

Before blood banks were established, veterinarians had to keep dogs that could be used as donors, she said.

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