“Blood is a very special juice” from Goethe’s Faust [1808]

Blood. It is the magical, life-giving liquid that makes up 8% of a dog’s body. And nothing that has ever been created by man, in the whole sphere of human civilisation, has even come remotely close to its beautiful complexity. Blood has a number of astounding characteristics, each of which is remarkable on its own, but in combination are quite literally life-changing.

Blood is a logistics company – it’s the FedEx, Toll, or Australia Post of the body. One of its primary roles is to move stuff from place to place. Blood collects oxygen from the lungs, and delivers it to everywhere it is needed. Which, incidentally, is every cell of the body. And not just oxygen, but other important stuff like glucose (sugar) gets carted around by blood’s amazing door-to-door delivery service.

Blood is the garbagemen. Every day is curbside bin day, and blood goes to every address collecting the rubbish, recycling and green-waste. And amazingly, it sorts it too; carbon dioxide to the lungs to be breathed out, urea to the kidneys before it’s onward journey to the toilet…

Blood is a radio news bulletin. It’s one of the ways that some parts of the body tell other parts of the body what’s going on or how to behave. Hormones are the chemical messages in the blood which tell your body to be ready to run or fight, grow or change.

Blood is ducted-heating. Blood runs through almost every part of the body. It’s diverted to the skin when you need to cool down, and diverted to your core when you need to stay warm.

Blood is a run-flat tyre. If a blood vessel is damaged, the blood that leaks through the puncture solidifies. This forms a seal which prevents any more blood being lost. Amazing! Unfortunately, if there is too much damage, the self-sealing mechanism can be overwhelmed, and you continue to bleed.

When you bleed too much, you can become anaemic. The word anaemia (an-aemia)comes from the greek words meaning “without blood”. Although there are lots of ways to become anaemic, they all fall into one of three groups; because the body is losing blood (bleeding) or because the blood cells are being damaged in some way, or because the body isn’t producing enough blood cells in the first place. Unfortunately, anaemia can be life-threatening no matter which group the cause falls into.

There are two important jobs when we treat a dog with anaemia. The first job is to stop the anaemia getting worse. That might mean we have to find and stop the bleeding, or find out how and why the blood-cells were being damaged and then stop that process.

The second job (although sometimes it happens at the same time) is to prevent the anaemia doing any damage to vital organs like the heart and brain. The body will usually try and do this itself, by increasing the production of blood cells, and gradually restocking it’s reserves over time. But when the blood-loss is too severe, we need to help speed up this process.

A transfusion is the fastest way to replace lost blood. Just like in people, this means that one dog has to donate some blood, which the patient then receives. With only one veterinary blood-bank in Victoria, we usually have to find a donor fast – and, understandably, we have to be sure that the donor is the right age (not too old, but not too young), vaccinated, fit, healthy and large enough to have some to spare.

We were very fortunate recently when the team from Dogs For Kids, allowed the wonderful Kipper (assistance dog in training) to donate blood, and so help save a life. They really are the most amazing dogs – making lives better, even before they finish their training!

Dr. Will Gartrell BVSc – Frankston Heights Veterinary Centre

Author Kim Michod

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