I know what you’ll say when you see the header: your host is having cognitive dissonance!
Indeed, I was going to start this post by saying that this report from the New York Daily News made me reassess my low opinion of d-gs, but then I realized that the dog didn’t donate blood voluntarily. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing example of an interspecific blood transfusion that actually worked. Thanks to reader Ronaldo for calling it to my attention.
I’m sure these transfusions have been tried before, but dogs and cats are separated by 55 million years of evolution: nearly ten times the temporal separation between humans and chimps. That’s a big difference between the blood proteins of dogs and the cat’s antibodies that could react negatively to them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What happened is this:
Rory, a ginger feline from New Zealand, was in dire need of a blood transfusion after he ate rat poison. However, it was late on a Friday evening and there wasn’t time for the laboratory to receive and match the right type of cat blood.
Tauranga vet Kate Heller told Stuff.co.nz that an ounce of the wrong type of blood would kill Rory, but there was a chance he could survive if given dog blood.
“There are some significant risks of doing what we did,” she said. “He could have died because of it. He would have died without it.”
Rory’s owner, Kim Edwards, enlisted the help of a friend who had a Labrador. Michelle Whitemore’s 18-month-old pup Macy was rushed to the vet so she could donate the necessary blood.
It did the trick, and Macy the dog saved Rory the cat’s life.
Now I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “D-g blood? Why couldn’t they get blood from another cat?” In fact, I asked myself that. But the answer apparently involves blood types, which cats seem to have in a similar way from humans (in the Landsteiner group, for example, I am type O, so I can donate blood to anyone who is O, A, B, or AB, but I am also Rh+, so I can donate only to other Rh+ people. This has to do with the antigens (proteins) on the surface of the blood cell.
I guess cats have a similar antigen-antibody system, so it might be risky to to take blood from a cat when it hasn’t been typed. So why dogs? New Zealand 3 News (where there’s a video) has the answer: cats don’t have pre-existing antibodies for dog blood, though they’d develop them after a single transfusion:
“He was dying. We didn’t have time for the cat blood to arrive or be matched,” says Rory’s owner, Kim Edwards.
It was Friday night and no labs were open to check his blood type, let alone get supplies. So vet Kate Heller sought advice and was told to try dog blood.
“I hadn’t heard about it or read about it. It’s not in any textbook,” says Ms Heller.
Rory needed a donor fast. So Ms Edwards thought fast and phoned a friend in her book club.
“[I had] never heard of anything like that before. I thought she was joking,” says Macy’s owner, Michelle Whitemore.
But Rory desperately needed the 18-month-old Labrador. Macy was rushed to the vet where she donated 120ml of blood, and within an hour Rory the cat was saved.
“It was one of those situations that it was a do-or-die. So, he would have died if we did nothing,” says Ms Heller.
It may sound wacky, but it’s science. Cats don’t have antibodies that reject dogs’ blood, so a transfusion may buy enough time for the cat to regenerate its own red blood cells. But only one transfusion can be done because a second dose of dog blood will be the death of the cat.
“He is not out fetching the newspaper or peeing on power poles or barking yet! He is just the normal cat that we have – playful, friendly,” says Ms Edwards.
But I’m not so mean-spirited that I can’t at least give a tip of the hat to Macy the d-g.
If you know of other interspecific blood transfusions that worked, do weigh in below.