Meet the doggy blood donors of Berlin

One lunchtime, Fabi suddenly began to shake and then collapsed. Her owners, Thomas Kurz and Dirk Bukow, took her in their arms and rushed her straight to the vet. The next few hours passed by in a haze: examinations, blood tests, scans.

It wasn’t long before they had a diagnosis: Fabi had a tumour on her spleen, and it had burst. She had lost a lot of blood and had to be operated on immediately, receiving a life-saving blood donation — from another dog.

Just seven days later, Fabi was almost back to normal. For a long time, she still had to take a cocktail of medicines with her meals — but she was alive.

The tumour was benign and had not spread. Today, her blood levels are normal again. For Bukow and Kurz, it was a small miracle. They are endlessly grateful for the blood transfusion, which saved Fabi’s life.

Vets in Germany largely depend on volunteers for blood donations — that is, dog owners who are willing to come in with their pets to make a donation. One of them is Guinness, a Labrador mix who regularly comes to veterinary clinic at the Free University of Berlin with his owner.

After 250 millilitres of blood have been drawn, the needle is removed from the vein of Guinness, a Labrador mix. Photo: dpa

Guinness has been donating blood for years: The process begins with a little blood drawn from the leg, a cold stethoscope on the chest, a look into the mouth and a rectal temperature measurement. Then, Guinness and his owner take a seat in the waiting room.

If there are no problems with the blood tests, the procedure can go ahead. A little fur is shaved from the dog’s neck, he is laid down in a stable position, and the needle is quickly inserted into a vein.

Ten minutes later, it’s all over and Guinness has donated 250 millilitres of blood. He enthusiastically gobbles a treat from the hand of Barbara Kohn — a reward for his hard work.

Kohn set up a blood bank at the Free University in Berlin so that dogs like Fabi can quickly receive life-saving help, inspired by similar schemes in the US. The bags of blood are kept in a fridge.

The idea is simple: Any dog that weighs at least 20 kilogrammes, is up to 10 years old and has never been to a foreign country can become a donor. As a thank you, the veterinary clinic offers discounts on vaccinations, as well as a full blood analysis. Plus the dog gets a free bag of food.

“We have to make sure the donors are healthy,” says Kohn. That means a lot of potential donors are turned away, but it’s an essential process. Testing for diseases that dogs might pick up in foreign countries would be too costly, she says. Donors must simply be wormed, vaccinated and have never travelled abroad.

Dogs can donate every three months, and the blood lasts for 30 days. It’s more complicated for cats. “With them, 98 per cent will not tolerate the procedure,” Kohn says. That means cat owners are far less likely to donate.

Cats can’t donate without being given a sedative. Plus, only house cats weighing over 4 kilogrammes are eligible — indoor cats have a lower risk of diseases. Cats can only donate once every six months, and the blood can be stored for 20 days.

Overall, the demand for donated blood is much higher than the supply. That’s partly because most pet owners don’t even know about blood donation services. But the number of conditions requiring blood transfusions is high: accidents, poisonings, immune diseases, blood disorders. – dpa

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