New Animal Blood Banks Open, Raise Questions about Industry Standards

Employees from Sun States Animal Blood Bank draw blood from a blood donor. Photo courtesy of Sun States Animal Blood Bank.

Two new animal blood banks opened in Texas and Florida in the last two months, bringing the number of private U.S. blood banks to seven and underscoring the industry demand for blood. The Pet Blood Bank, Inc. opened in Lago Vista, Texas, March 1 and Sun States Animal Blood Bank opened in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jan. 30. The Florida blood bank had orders pending. In the absence of national guidelines, both banks sought advice from Jean Dodds, DVM, president of Hemopet, a non-profit animal blood bank in Garden Grove, Calif., that’s operated since 1991.

“I’m happy to be the grandmother of the industry, trying to push people to have better standards,” said Dodds, a member of the Association of Veterinary Hematology and Transfusion Medicine (AVHTM), whose blood bank has a 10-week backlog for plasma orders. “There’s more than enough demand to go around. We’re not worried about competition here."

She does, however, worry about the quality of blood sold to veterinarians. “I’m concerned about the growth in the industry, people with different ethical standards trying to use it as a commercial venture,” she said.

Last year Dodds drafted a set of guidelines, now being reviewed by AVHTM members, which she shared with executives from the new blood banks.

“It’s fairly difficult to find resources,” said Mark Ziller, president of The Pet Blood Bank. “There’s not a lot available and no universal agreement on standards. This is sort of a new industry in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians have used animal blood for decades on a small scale but nothing with large production or a commercial basis that lends itself to universal standards. Some [animal blood banks] have created their own science as they’ve gone along and we feel there’s some room for improvement.”

The standards gap among blood banks prompted Dodds and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights to sponsor legislation in California that tightened regulations. California is the only state that regulates animal blood banks and passage of SB 1345, which took effect January 2003, requires annual inspections by the state’s Animal Health & Food Safety Services Division and recommends several other quality standards.

“It’s kind of sad that there are no government oversights for animal procedures,” said Rick Johnson, managing director for Sun States Animal Blood Bank. “There aren’t any minimal standards.”

Even if AVHTM members pass the proposed guidelines, they will be set forth as suggestions, not mandates, said Andrew Mackin, BSc, BVMS, MVS, DVSc, FACVSc. “The guidelines are not intended to be enforceable, and they will recognize and accept individual differences in approach between the different blood banks. They are being created more as a resource,” he said.

Without enforcement, Dodds fears that some blood banks will not provide veterinary care to animal donors, which could lead to a tainted blood supply. “It’s like going to the supermarket – you buy meat from a case that is neat and tidy and don’t even think about the health or treatment of that animal. We need to alert the profession: As the need for blood grows we need to be careful about the health of the animals, the medical integrity of the blood. We need to investigate the source.”

She urges veterinarians to ask about overall health, dental hygiene, housing conditions as well as how long animals have been donors. “I don’t think we can go on blind faith alone,” Dodds said. 

The two new blood banks adopted the AVHTM draft guidelines and conduct blood tests and screening panels to detect blood-borne diseases and pathogens in donor dogs. Both are using volunteer donors instead of captive colonies.

Ziller spent a year and a half researching animal and human blood banks to determine the best course of action, and is working with the state department to establish animal blood bank regulations. “We really want to raise the bar on quality,” he said.