Cats,  Vet 101

Vet 101: Feline Blood Types

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Our vet Dr. Rich Goldstein felt this week’s Vet 101 Q & A reader question warranted a thorough response. If you have a question for him, send it to [email protected] with Vet 101 in the subject line.

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Question: I donate blood once a year but wondered what would happen if one of my cat needed a transfusion. Do cats have different blood groups and where can I find out about donating feline blood and what’s involved.

Answer: Congratulations on donating what is a true gift of life! And thank you for asking such an important question on behalf of our feline friends. In short, yes, it IS possible for our cats to give and receive blood!
I have written about my cat, Weezle, before. She was a stray, found on the streets of Manhattan by a good Samaritan 12 years ago. She had sustained a tremendous amount of trauma and blood loss. A client sitting in the waiting room, saw Weezle being rushed in, and offered to have her kitty donate blood. She saved Weezle’s life.
Coursing through our bodies at warp speed, “blood” is made up of red cells (that carry oxygen), white cells (that maintain immune defenses), platelets (that plug up the leaks), and plasma (countless proteins and nutrients), that are all essential to maintaining a healthy body. When we lose blood, the fastest way to replenish it is through a transfusion: that literal gift of life provided by another person (or, in this case, cat).
The most common reasons that a cat may need a blood transfusion are: anemia (loss of red blood cells, from bleeding, trauma or disease), clotting disorders (causing bleeding), or deficiencies of some components in the plasma.
There are blood banks located throughout the country that can supply feline blood or blood components. In addition, some veterinary referral centers maintain a small supply of feline blood. But feline blood only has a shelf life of about 21 days, and it can be expensive to stock. As a result, most veterinary hospitals do not keep a supply of feline blood on hand. In a true emergency, however, the best source of feline blood is fresh from a local donor. That’s where you and your kitty come in!
The ideal kitty blood donor possesses the following qualities:

  • Clinically healthy, fully vaccinated, indoor kitty, weighing at least 10 lbs, tested negative for Feline Leukemia (Felv), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and Mycoplasma hemofelis (a blood parasite that can cause anemia)
  • Red blood cell volume in top half of the “normal” range (>35%)
  • Known blood type
  • Good temperament, and able to be given a sedative for blood donation
  • Available on short notice for an emergency donation

Cat blood donor steps.

  • Once all of the pre-screening requirements are met, the donor kitty is given a little sedation.
  • Most donors will give a minimum of 50cc of blood (about 3 tablespoons). The blood must be allowed to flow slowly into the collection syringe from the jugular vein, and that can take a little time.
  • If the donor is awake and becomes restless, then the blood sample will become agitated and the red blood cells can become damaged. An undisturbed sample is essential. A little sedation allows the donor cat to relax throughout the procedure without becoming anxious, and it allows the recipient the best chance of receiving the purrfect sample.
  • Donor cats are also usually given intravenous fluids to replace the blood volume that is donated.
  • Once they wake up, donors are treated like royalty for the gift they have given! Donors can safely donate blood every 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Some veterinary hospitals will even offer incentives to owners willing to have their cat be on a “donor list” for kitties in need of a transfusion.

For cats that require a blood transfusion, the most important step is blood typing. Cats have 3 major blood types: A, B, and AB.
Your cat’s blood type can be easily determined by your veterinarian, either with a special “quick test” kit, or by sending a sample to the lab. The reason blood typing is ESSENTIAL before a recipient can receive a transfusion, is that cats of one blood type contain natural antibodies to the red blood cells of cats with the other type. (Dogs, on the other hand, do not possess large amounts of natural antibodies to other blood types, and can therefore often have a “first transfusion” in an emergency without severe consequences).

Cats with Type B blood possess large numbers of natural antibodies to Type A blood, which usually results in a rapid and fatal transfusion reaction if a Type B cat receives Type A blood. Type A cats that receive Type B blood will likely also have a reaction, but it is often not as severe or fatal, and can usually be successfully treated. Type AB cats are very rare, and are considered “universal recipients”, but should receive Type A blood if possible.
Although nothing replaces the actual test for your cat’s blood type, here is a general breakdown of feline blood type distributions in the United States:
Domestic shorthair and domestic longhair: >95% are TYPE A. Purebred Siamese, Burmese, Tonkinese, Russian Blue, American Shorthair, Oriental Shorthair: 100% are TYPE A. Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest: up to 10% are TYPE B. Abyssinian, Birman, Persian, Somali, Sphinx, Scottish Fold: up to 20% are TYPE B. British shorthair, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, exotic cats: up to 45% are TYPE B. Type AB has been observed in some domestic shorthairs and breeds with Type B

The successful use of blood transfusions in cats has increased dramatically in recent years. It can literally save your cat’s life. And your cat can literally save a life by donating. I would strongly encourage you to speak with your vet about having your kitty join their Donor List. I know Weezle would agree!

Do you know your cat’s blood type?

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  • Oui Oui

    Thanks for this great information. We’ll check into it with our vet and see if there is a program near us. We never realized cats could get transfusions until we were trying to help Squashies last summer.

  • Skeeter and Izzy

    This information is furtastic! This is just one more link in the chain of kitty health! Thank you so very much Dr G For the info and thank you so much Layla for the wonderful platform that you provide for sharing it! Luvs and purrs of gratitude to all those that donate Skeeter and Izzy >^..^<

  • EH Benoit

    Wow! I had never given this topic much thought until I read the reader’s question. Then, a million things flashed through my mind. I feel much better prepared to handle a situation requiring a blood transfusion with my feline friends after reading this post. Thanks for posting such valuable information.

  • Bernadette

    This is fascinating. I donate as well, as often as I possibly can, about three times per year. I’ve been considering this for the Fantastic Four (Mimi is only 7 pounds), but while they are negative for the bad ones and received their first vaccinations and receive rabies yearly, I don’t repeat other vaccinations but am looking to perform titers. All four are of a wonderful temperament to donate and if I can find a veterinary hospital or one of the colleges here, they’ll be donating.

  • Katie Isabella

    What a great blog and topic. I didn’t know most of these things. I knew about donation of course for kitties but little if any of the process to collect the blood and all of the facts surrounding the types and why it should be determined what type of blood the cat has. Thank you!!

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