NSW Police Dogs are "perfect blood donors," says Justin Wimpole, a senior registrar at the Small Animal Specialist Hospital in Ryde (SASH). "They're fit, well looked after and more than 25 kilos. Their vaccines are up to-date and they're in the right age bracket [two to eight]. They're also very well trained."
As a 24-hour emergency service and referral centre for seriously ill animals, SASH sees more dogs needing blood than most veterinary practices. "Where a local practice might do a blood transfusion every few months, we would do them several times a week," Dr Wimpole said.
Dogs may need blood because they've been in an accident, bitten by a snake or poisoned. Big surgical procedures, haemophilia and autoimmune diseases can also require transfusions.
SASH sources most of its canine blood products from the University of Melbourne's Canine Blood Bank - Australia's first such registered service - but just as the Red Cross struggles to keep up with demand, so too does the Canine Blood Bank.
SASH wants to reduce its dependence on the Victorian service by collecting and storing its own supplies.
"[The blood bank] is awesome. But a lot of our emergencies happen out of hours. We are a big clinic, we see a lot of animals, they're often very sick and we would just like to be able to shore up our [blood] supply, to ensure our patients can get what they need when they need it."
SASH accepts donations from suitable, privately owned dogs and has established an continuing relationship with NSW Police Dogs. Up to once a week, different police dogs - such as Aster, pictured - drop in to the clinic to donate. About 450 millilitres is drawn direct from the jugular in a low key 15-minute procedure, usually without sedation. Afterwards, the dogs "get a little bandage, something to eat, and the nurses make a big fuss of them," Wimpole said.
Sometimes, police dogs are the patients in need. Wimpole recently treated a young police labrador, Gilby, who had developed a serious blood disorder." He was essentially bleeding to death and needed multiple blood transfusions to keep him alive," Wimpole says. The transfusions and treatment were successful and Gilby, is now fit to return to work.
Wimpole's own dog, Milo, was also a regular blood donor.
He's now 11 and "retired" but he "gave blood that saved well over a dozen animals and he seemed to tolerate it very well," Wimpole says.
While sick and injured cats can also require blood transfusions, collecting blood from a feline is more involved because it usually requires anaesthetic.
Cat blood supplies are generally acquired on an "as needed" basis rather than stored, Wimpole says.
Dogs, like humans, have different blood types but in a one-off emergency they can usually tolerate any type. Dog blood types are not breed related. A great dane, for example, can donate blood to a chihuahua.