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What is Blood Transfusion?

Blood transfusions are often life-saving procedures. By intravenously introducing new blood into an animal, a vet can compensate for blood that has been lost due to injury, or replace blood cells that have died off due to infection or illness. In cats, however, there are some specific factors that need to be considered before a transfusion is conducted, in order to minimize the potential risk of complications.

Blood Transfusion Procedure in Cats

If the blood type of the cat in question is unknown, the vet will first take a blood sample for testing. This will allow them to determine the blood type of the cat and administer the correct blood. Doing this will prevent a hemolytic reaction, which can be potentially fatal for already weakened animals. The cat is then given a mild sedative to prevent it from damaging the transfusion equipment. The next step is to shave a small spot over the vein that has been targeted for infusion - this will allow the vet a good view of both the vein and the surrounding area. Next, the vet will insert a needle, followed by an IV catheter into the vein and connect it to an IV bag filled with fresh blood. The drip is then taped in place and the blood bag is elevated to allow the blood to drain naturally via gravity into the cat. Once the transfusion is complete, the vet simply removes the catheter from the cat.

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Efficacy of Blood Transfusion in Cats

The results of the blood transfusion should be apparent to the owner of the cat immediately after the sedatives have worn off. If it had been suffering from anemia, the animal will appear visibly more energetic and lively than before the transfusion. If blood loss was the problem, the cat's heart rate and breathing should stabilize as the body has more blood to work with. The duration of the effects of the blood transfusion will depend on the precise nature of the condition. In injured cats, they should return to their old selves as their body naturally produces more blood to replace that which was lost. Anemic cats may, dependent on the type of illness affecting them, require longer-term treatment. Cats with autoimmune diseases, meanwhile, might never fully recover.

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Blood Transfusion Recovery in Cats

Cats affected by blood loss should immediately begin to produce new blood, meaning that owners should be primarily concerned with tending to their injuries. In addition to administering antibiotics, open wounds should be monitored, the use of an E-collar may be needed to prevent the animal from pulling out sutures, and painkillers may be prescribed to treat discomfort. Whilst simple lacerations can heal in a few weeks, broken bones and deeper injuries can take months to fully recover from. The treatment plans for cats suffering from low red blood cell count or a low platelet count can vary drastically depending on the exact cause. While many conditions can be resolved in a matter of months with the proper medication, more serious problems such as autoimmune diseases can require lifetime management.

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Cost of Blood Transfusion in Cats

Depending on several factors (including the blood type, age, and overall health of the cat), the price of a blood transfusion can vary quite drastically. Most healthy cats can expect a cost of roughly $500 for the full service of blood type determination, sedation, and transfusion, whilst the price for more infirm animals can be much higher.

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Cat Blood Transfusion Considerations

While a blood transfusion can be a critically important factor in saving an animal's life, there are some potential drawbacks that owners should be aware of. The first is the risk of the transmission of infections from a donor animal to the recipient. Although rare and avoidable with proper screening, there is a small chance of cross-contamination occurring. Second is the risk of an immune system reaction to new blood, such as a fever or digestive discomfort - though unusual, this can have a large impact on the health of an animal that is already sick.

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Blood Transfusion Prevention in Cats

Whilst autoimmune diseases are by and large hereditary, there are some methods that cat owners can use to prevent a situation in which a blood transfusion may be necessary. One of the main things that owners can do is to feed their animal a rich and healthy diet. Most anemia is caused by iron deficiency and by ensuring their pet is getting good quality, nutritious food, owners can prevent most forms of the condition from setting in. The other big factor is to properly train and socialize the cat other animals live on the property. By preventing rivalries with larger animals (i.e. dogs) from developing, owners can mitigate much of the risk of serious injury from animal attacks. 

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Blood Transfusion Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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tabby

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Eleven Years

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1 found helpful

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Anemic

Had a tumor removed - no cancer. is eating but losing weight, licks cement and has become anemic. no vomiting but will not drink water. is getting enough from food to urinate and have normal poop. is there another treatment for anemia besides a transfusion? do the symtoms point to anything particular as she is fighting an infection with orbax

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Anemia needs to be treated at the cause, and your veterinarian will need to find out why she is anemic. Transfusions don't treat the anemia, they just provide enough blood so that she can survive while her body recovers, if she needs one. Anemia can be caused by an immune disorder, a blood parasite, or a bone marrow problem - each one is treated differently, so your veterinarian may need to give different medications. I hope that all goes well for her and she feels better soon.

Oct. 4, 2020

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Calico cat

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One Year

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Pale Pink Gums

Our vet told us we are out if options unless we go to a more expensive vet to do further testing, Said she cannot regenerate red blood cells and don’t have enough left in her to survive. What kind of cost are we looking at to have to taken to a more advanced vet

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Unfortunately, I do not know where you live or have access to who is able to see her in your area. Your veterinarian will know who they are considering referring her to, and they would be able to let you know what the cost of consultation might be.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Tabby

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Sixteen

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2 found helpful

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Anemia, Low Potassium, Ataxia

My cat has several chronic health issues: rhinitis, gastrointestinal disease, hyperthyroidism, mild kidney disease and a heart murmur. Up until 3 weeks ago, he was doing quite well except for the constant dripping from his right nostril. He was put on Budesonide for 2 wks. During that time, he stopped eating wet food. He'd been on a novel protein diet since May and now no longer is interested in that food. He does eat dry. However, since he's been on primarily dry food (not my choice, nor normal for him), he's now anemic and potassium deficient. Might a blood transfusion be helpful?

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. We tend to see the combination of anemia and low potassium with chronic kidney failure, and a blood transfusion would likely not help him. There are medications that can help with anemia of chronic renal disease, and with low potassium, there are supplements. Since I don't know the rest of his lab work, it would be best to discuss this with your veterinarian, as they know his whole clinical picture and can see what might be able to be done. I hope that things go well for him.

July 31, 2020

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Short hair cat

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Three Years

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Rapid Breathing, Fast Heart Rate, Pale Gums

My cat was diagnosed with Cholangiohepatitis and spleen inflammation. He was on supplements for a while and now his liver condition is much better but he has severe anemia. He was on IV fluids and iron infusion. His RBC's raised from 0.9 to 2.9 after 4 iron infusions. Now he has breathing difficulties and has no energy to move. He is eating but his abdomen is bloated and full of gas. The vet is saying that blood transfusion would kill him. Do you think it will end the problem? Or just buy me some time? He has no immune system diseases

July 14, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If your veterinarian is able to blood type your cat, a transfusion may buy him some time to see if his body will respond. Without knowing more about his condition, unfortunately, it is difficult for me to say if that is the right thing to do, but if you are not sure of your veterinarians treatment plan, it is okay to seek a referral to a specialist, or a second opinion. They will be able to examine him, see if there is anything else that can be done to help him, and give you their opinion. I hope that he is okay.

July 14, 2020

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Tesoro

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Cat

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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Licking Weird Things

Guess I should start with I noticed Tesoro licking the fireplace bricks rust on the cookie sheets dishwasher and the coils on the electric stove and attacking Diavolo and the dog and I brought him in Friday for blood work and a stress test. Just got back from the vet with Tesoro. He’s very sick. His red blood cells are extremely low at 14% and should be between 28% to 40%. He is lacking oxygen needed to help his red blood cells grow where they should be. It’s causing him to attack Diavolo and the dog as his brain is imbalanced. He doesn’t have enough oxygen in his blood and it’s causing him to not breath properly. He will be going thru a series of treatments over the next 4 weeks including a steroid and hemp oil drops. Let’s hope for the best as he is as of right now dieing because his body is killing him. He starts the medicine tomorrow and will go in for another test Monday with a treatment. I just remembered that May 2nd 2018 he was stung by a bee and went to the vet for a few shots of medicine to help with swelling and inflammation from the sting. Could the bee sting have caused this.

Sept. 20, 2018

Tesoro's Owner

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Henry

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Unknown

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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Anemia
Lethargy
Panting
No Appetite
Falling Over
Bruising
White Gums

My mom's cat has very low blood counts and most likely got his anemia from blood loss that's related to eating a poisoned mouse. Unfortunately we can't afford to pay for the blood transfusion right now... it is my hope that he keeps fighting so that I can get it for him after I get paid. I have hope that he will survive but without the BT is that unlikely to occur? He is taking Prednisolone and Vitamin K for now since those things are cheaper.

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Sparkle

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Kitten

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3 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Weight Loss
Anemia
Lethargy
White Gums
Distended Stomach

I rescued this baby kitten from the streets at 3-4 weeks old. She had pneumonia at 1 and a half months. Overcame pneumonia and was doing great. Then at 2 and a half months she started experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. Multiple visits to the E.R for oxygen and medications only to find out her RBC dropped from 30% to 13% in a matter of 2 weeks. Did a blood transfusion that cost me $2000. Little hope that she will survive as the vets think she might have the disease called F.I.P. No medications have been prescribed. Does anyone know of any medications that would help anemia or what can be the underlying issue if it’s possibly not F.I.P? Thanks. Well wishes to everyone else.

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Callie

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Calico

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Had Bad Breath, Low RbCs

Callie had bad breath. Was having her tooth extracted. Did bloodwork found anemia RBCs was 25, gave her iron supplements. Went for a recheck now at 22. Goes back on Friday. Did test positive for Leukemia. Devastated!

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Honey

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tabby

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18 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pale Gums
Anemic
Low Energy
Low Red Blood Cells
Add

My Honey is 18 years old. Over the last 1-1/2 yrs. she's gone from 10.5lbs. to 5.8lbs. She was throwing up a few times a week so we changed her to a prescription diet which worked for a few months. She went back to throwing up so we put her on steroids once a day which helped slow down the getting sick we now have her on it twice a day and she hasn't thrown up in 2 weeks now. I recently brought her to vets because she was crying and had lost her balance a few times. I'm told she is anemic, her red blood cells at 15% and needs a blood transfusion to stabilize her so we can then figure out what's causing it or I can euthanize her. I took her home while i thought it over and I'm so conflicted on what's right to do. She can still get up on the couch, she uses litter box, she eats and drinks water, she still cuddles, she's very alert. The only outward signs are she's thin, she sleeps a lot and she is very slow. She does have a heart murmur, onset of kidney disease and IBD. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Lovey

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Domestic shorthair

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Anemia
Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Loss Of Mass

Our 9 year old kitty had been getting medical care from what was ruled to be an auto immune disease (most likely) and was on his third day of steroid treatment. We woke up yesterday and found he had become significantly more lethargic and unstable. We rushed him to the hospital, his temperature had dropped to 93.8F. We admitted him to ER (also a hospital that can do tests and advanced treatment, his third visit in one month) where they calmed our worry over their plan for a transfusion. Within 5 hours, our kitty was in heaven, we had to call to find out. The doctor said he had suffered a neurological episode and was making noises and then his heart stopped. We are so confused. The doctor said they must have been battling something else and it wasn’t just anemia. Our cat had never shown a sign of neurological distress but now he is gone and nothing can be said. Please, is their any information to help us through these hard times, to find answers?

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