Don Juan, Napoleon, Gucci, Azur, and Marissa are very friendly and will rush to welcome anyone who enters their room, and that’s what makes them good blood donors. “I chose them for their hematological characteristics, but also for their good disposition. We didn’t want cats that would be stressed when handled or that needed excessive sedation,” said Dr. Marie-Claude Blais, Professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Where they are housed, the five cats (four males and one female) can climb to the top of their trapeze and out into the yard through a cat flap. They can lounge on a hammock all day long or play cat and mouse. What is more, the door to their room is never locked, so they can get their daily dose of hugs, a benefit not necessarily stipulated in their contract. “Our cats are chosen by interview. In the last selection process, out of the 12 cats we evaluated, we only ended up keeping one,” Blais said.
An ethics committee oversees the various aspects of this unique blood bank, which also includes canine “volunteers.” Unlike their feline counterparts, Bacho, Dali, Gaspard, Bowie, and Dexter do not live at the CHUV University Veterinary Hospital, but with their families. They come to the hospital at the request of veterinarians and give blood once every six weeks at most. “It’s true that the idea of animals donating blood is strange,” Blais said, “but the dogs seem to adapt well. Anyway, they don’t seem to mind coming to the hospital.”
Which animals need blood transfusions? Mainly those on the operating table, but also bleeding accident victims or anemic animals with cancer or immune dysfunctions, for example.
The blood bank already existed before Dr. Blais arrived in 2008, but she has given it a new dimension. “Let’s say I optimized the service — everything had to be rethought, from changing the blood collection bags to redefining protocol.” Maintenance and turnover of blood products requires proven expertise. Storage life is limited and the quantities needed for transfusions fluctuate constantly. “Sometimes we have immediate needs we can’t meet, sometimes we have to throw out expired units. It breaks our heart,” Blais said.
Clinician and researcher
Dr. Blais’ research activities focus on internal medicine and veterinary hematology. “A lot of knowledge has developed in my field of internal medicine, but there is much to discover in some areas,” she said. On top of her research, she is giving courses in Gastro-intestinal Diseases, Emergency Medicine, and Nutrition, running two wetlabs and supervising graduate seminars. She also devotes herself to a clinic for small animals every two weeks, which requires about 45 hours of work.
Blais came to the University of Montreal after conducting a postdoctoral fellowship in Transfusion Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 2006. She documented a new blood type in dogs: DAL for “Dalmatian.” “I remember dancing in
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