Ask the Vet
Pet Blood Banks
Question: I read in the media recently that leading vets were calling for a national blood bank. Although as a dog owner I should like to know if this might happen yet from an ethical point of view can spending such large sums on medical care for pets which is denied to people in the developing world ever be justified?
Answer: A large-scale national blood service for pets could save the lives of hundreds, or thousands, of ill and injured animals each year. Limited availability of blood for transfusions means many animals are unable to undergo emergency treatment that could save their lives after being injured in road accidents and fights or suffering from serious illnesses. Dan Brockman, a heart surgeon at the Royal Veterinary College hospital in London, says, "It's not possible to have a well functioning trauma centre without having blood product support as in human trauma medicine." Over the years many vets have, like our own practice, set up a system whereby willing owners or members of staff bring their pets in to donate fresh blood when it is needed. Although this has been of great help it is readily apparent that this can take a few hours to facilitate thereby delaying the onset of a potentially life-saving transfusion. Two years ago the government lifted restrictions that barred veterinary clinics from storing animal blood products and progress has already been made. In March Britain's first animal blood bank was established as the charity Pet Blood Bank. Based in Loughborough, the bank's vets collect blood from dogs brought to clinics within a two hour drive of the facility. The organisation sells blood products to veterinary surgeries around the country for over £100 a unit and directs profits into educational programmes. It hopes to launch a service for cats next year. Royal Veterinary College experts called for a larger national blood bank for cats and dogs. Mr Dan Brockman, of the RVC, who specialises in open heart surgery on animals and performs around five blood transfusions a week, usually on dogs, said broader availability of blood would have a dramatic impact on animal welfare. "If there's one thing that could have a huge impact on saving pets' lives, then this is it," he said. Our own main clinic in Littlehampton keeps whole blood from the Pet Blood Bank in stock but shelf like is short and the concomitant high cost shows just how worthwhile pet insurance can be.
Open-heart surgery, chemotherapy for cancer, hip replacements and cataract surgery are being carried out at costs of up to £10,000 to improve the lives of animals that would once have been put to sleep. Members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and associated academic institutions defend the use of hi-tech medicine on animals and say that they are responding to public demand. Jerry Davies, Council Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and founder of the largest specialist veterinary referral practice in Europe: "When people see what can be done to themselves they want it done to their animals. Costs are rising at twice the rate of inflation because what can be done is getting more and more advanced. Insurance premiums are also rising." The question as to whether spending large sums on medical care for pets which is denied to people in the developing world can be justified is a profound one, but the experts say the public has a right to spend their money as they choose. Professor David Argyle, of the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, says: "You could criticise people for buying new cars or new kitchens. It is not relevant. This is people's disposable income, it is not funded from the state. If we stopped giving these treatments to animals it would not change anything in the developing world." Dr Jerry Davies of the RCVS makes an additional very important point when he says that pets are worth more than their commercial value. "Animals do have a huge benefit to the human population so we should be striving to help the animal for the animal's sake and also for the welfare of the human attached to them.”