When Kenzie the 6-year-old greyhound is done with her procedure at the University of Florida’s Small Animal Hospital (SAH), she gets a can of food, a toy, some treats and doctors orders to take it easy for the rest of the day.
Kenzie is a regular at the SAH. She drops by every two months to help other dogs in need by donating blood to the Emergency and Critical Care Department and blood bank program.
According to manager Camille Kelly, Kenzie and other canines like her are heroes.
Just like human blood banks, the canine program uses blood products in surgical procedures and also for treating different diseases that can result in anemia.
“At this moment we have a good level of stock,” Kelly said. “It’s volatile though since products are used on an emergency basis. We are always in need for more donors as we expand the canine donor pool.”
Kenzie is a special donor because greyhounds have a higher red blood cell count than other breeds. Much like a number of canine donors, Kenzie belongs to a UF faculty member. According to Kelly, the program does an outreach campaign twice a year to UF students, staff and faculty who are interested in enrolling their dogs in the donor program.
The benefit for the dogs and their families is that the required two-year commitment brings a long list of perks.
“We offer free annual examinations and bloodwork, free vaccines each time the dog donates, every two months they get a 50-pound bag of dog food, and [we] provide heartworm and flea prevention free of charge,” Kelly said.
Plus, if donors ever needed blood themselves for a procedure, they get it for free.
Candidates for the donor program have to meet several criteria, Kelly said.
They need to weigh at least 50 pounds, be one to five years old, have an excellent temperament, be spayed or neutered and be healthy and on no medicines other than preventative.
According to Kelly, temperament is also taken into account as during the five- to eight-minute procedure, the canine needs to remain calm.
The donor process takes about an hour, Kelly said, and it starts with a period of 15-20 minutes for the dog to settle into the environment with positive praise, because no sedation is used.
They check the dog’s red blood cell count to be sure it’s safe to donate that day. If so, they clip an area, prep it and use the same blood collection equipment as human blood banks use to collect it.
Anyone can learn more about the canine blood donor program by visiting the blood bank website.
Kelly said dogs belonging to UF staff and students are a large percentage of the donors and some pet owners travel great distances to be a part of the program.
“One donor comes as far as South Carolina every few months,” she said, noting others come from Orlando and Tampa.
“There are not many programs like this in the state,” Kelly said. When the pandemic hit, a similar program in South Florida and another donor center planned for Jacksonville were both put on hold.
Other than canine red cell products, the center also collects plasma and platelets.
Kelly said that greyhounds used to be the main breed to be used as donors and that UF is “really lucky to have a lot of champions like Kenzie. But we are open to all breeds.”