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Your pet can give blood in France, even if you cannot

Animals, like humans, can give and receive blood - but there is no nationwide organised system in place

When most people think about blood donation and transfusion, not many consider animals - but in the case of an accident, or even serious illness, pets can need blood transfusions.

The problem is that, in France - unlike the UK or USA - there is no organised blood bank system, and some vets do not offer the treatment at all.

Instead, animal blood for transfusions is organised on an ad hoc basis across the country. Vet Isabelle Goy-Thollot, head of the SIAMU Vet School in Lyon said: "Around half a dozen large animal clinics have their own blood banks and regularly appeal for donations, other vets have lists of animals who can donate if the need arises, but many simply use large dogs and cats of their own."

Dr Goy-Thollot said that the school she heads up has its own well-stocked and functioning blood bank but that it is only for internal use. "We don't sell blood for use outside the school."

The school in Lyon tried set up a blood bank selling whole blood and blood products across France about 20 years ago, but found the organisation impossible. "The system in the UK is far more advanced," she said. "They have a blood donation system modelled on the human one."

Animal blood banks are available across America, while Switzerland and Holland have organised animal blood-donating systems in place.

One of the main problems for vets is that blood cannot be donated from one species to another.

Dogs have a variety of blood groups, but in an emergency could initially receive blood from an animal with another blood group. "It's not good practice, but in an emergency, if a dog has never received a transfusion before, you can give them any group of dog blood from any other (healthy) dog," Dr Goy-Thollot said. Subsequent transfusions must come from matched blood, she added.

"Dog transfusions are more easier than cats," she said. "Because dogs have bigger veins, and will often cooperate without sedation. But cats have much smaller veins and usually resist the procedure!"

Cat blood is commonly group A or B and they always have to receive the matching group. A tiny percentage of cats have type-AB blood and can receive blood from any other group. Cat blood can only be stored for a maximum of 30 days.

For horses, the situation is even more complicated, and blood groups have to be carefully monitored.  

A blood test to determine an animal's blood group costs around €20, and would make emergency donation possible. "In responsible animal-breeding circles, people are very well informed about animal blood transfusions, but not all vets in France are up to date," said Dr Goy-Thollot.

The best advice is to talk to your vet about it, bearing in mind that knowledge might vary from vet to vet. To be a donor, an animal must be adult, heavy, healthy  and up-to-date with all vaccinations. A calm temperament is also an advantage.

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