COVID-19 has upended countless aspects of life. That is also true for our floofy family members, because pet blood donations have dipped since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We've seen about a 40% drop in blood donations. We have several of our hospitals around the country that actually have an active blood banking system,” Dr. James Barr told Inside Edition Digital. “So where they actually have these scheduled drop-offs, where the pets would come in, they would donate blood and we would separate it, in very much the same way it happens in a human blood bank.”
Blue Pearl is a network of 11 specialty and emergency pet hospitals across America. Barr is the chief medical officer, located in Tampa, Florida. He said people are reluctant to make non-essential trips outside, which could account for the drop in donations.
“We have a protocol set up in our hospitals now, where we allow the curbside drop-off. Where people don't have to come inside, where we can maintain social distancing. So it's safe for the pet, but also safe for their owners as well,” Barr said.
Pets have the same needs people do when it comes to critical illnesses, and, like their humans, may sometimes also need blood transfusions.
“It's a really common thing for us to deliver transfusions, for either anemic patients, or patients that will need proteins in their blood or something like that,” Barr said. “So for the same reasons that people would get transfusions, dogs would get transfusions as well. It might be interesting to share too, dogs and cats and horses and cows, they all have blood types just like people do. And so we have to test for those and administer those appropriately.”
Barr said it's easier to draw blood from some pets versus others.
“Cats don't want to sit still quite as well as dogs do. Dogs, often times, are pretty well behaved. We don't have to sedate them very often. I mean, occasionally, but not very often,” he said. “Whereas cats, it's really uncommon not to have to do that for cat blood donations. Obviously, it's a time period that they have to sit still, it usually takes just a couple of minutes to be able to do, less than five minutes or so,”
Blue Pearl has enough blood in their banks to get them through emergencies, but they still not at a level they’re comfortable with.
“We've managed to arrange our resources such that, when pets really need it, that we can allocate that to the pets that need it. But our reserve is just not where we want it to be and we're working to beef up our donation programs and talk through that nationwide,” he said. “But there are commercial blood banks in which we can purchase blood from, which we do. But, we want to provide care for all the pets that happen. So we want to be able to have as good of a blood supply as we can, so that we'd be able to do that.”
Every now and then, vets will run into something other than a cat or dog.
“So cats and dogs are what we see 95%. But we have exotic specialists that see pretty much anything you can imagine from, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, to reptiles, snakes, birds,” he said. “And some of the exotics folks will also work with zoos as well and see things like kangaroos or different things like that. So, pretty much anything that you can imagine, has been in our hospitals.”
Barr is located not too far away from Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, also located in Tampa, Florida. Baskin became a household name in early 2020, when the majority of Americans were forced inside and began binging Netflix's "Tiger King" during the earlier days of the pandemic.
“It is occasional that we would see a big cat from a zoo typically, but they come to us sedated, right? So you don't do anything with those pets unless they're really sedated. So what they do typically is, they'll sedate them and then bring them in and then we'll do a procedure, like an MRI or CAT scan or something like that. We do that, not frequently, but it does happen,” Barr laughed.
Throughout the pandemic people have reportedly been scooping up animals from shelters, reportedly sending adoptions soaring. With so much information about how to handle pets when they’re sick, Barr suggested getting your information from a verifiable, reliable source.
“The biggest advice that I could give someone, is to create a relationship with a veterinarian that you trust and go to them with all of your questions about how to raise your pet and have them be part of your house. Veterinarians are perfectly positioned to be able to give the advice that's necessary. There's lots of advice on the internet, there's lots of advice in your neighborhood, but your veterinarian probably has the best advice,” he said.