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Blood Transfusion: When Do Dogs with Distemper Need It?

Blood Transfusion: When Do Dogs with Distemper Need It?

Canine Distemper is a viral disease that has been around for quite a while. As a dog owner, you’ve probably heard a lot about it. Perhaps, online or from your veterinarian, given that Distemper shots are one of the most important first steps when getting a new puppy. Distemper comes with scary, life-threatening effects and on top of that, it currently has no cure. The only way for infected dogs to recover is through the help of supportive care, which generally includes fluid therapy to prevent dehydration, antibiotics to fend off secondary infections, anti-emetics to control nausea and vomiting, and anti-seizure medications. However, in some cases, the disease progresses to the point of causing anemia in infected dogs, and when this happens, a blood transfusion will need to be done.


What’s Anemia?

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of blood transfusions, let’s first define anemia. Anemia is a term used to describe a lower than normal red blood cell count. Contrary to common belief, it isn’t a disease in itself, but rather a medical condition that develops as a result of an illness, which in this case is Canine Distemper.

A study in the Sokoto Journal of Veterinary Sciences found that Distemper can lead to a significant decrease in the number of red blood cells of infected dogs. That makes sense because the presence of infections and diseases cause the number of white blood cells to increase. As Distemper worsens, the number of white blood cells goes up as the number of red blood cells goes down, leading to anemia.


What’s a Blood Transfusion?

Now that we understand anemia and what causes it, let’s move on to blood transfusions. A blood transfusion is a medical procedure meant to replenish the number of red blood cells in an anemic patient by giving them blood from a healthy donor. It’s done by a veterinarian at the animal clinic or hospital.


How Is a Blood Transfusion Performed?

Fluid Therapy: What Is It and How Does It Help Dogs with Distemper?Before a blood transfusion is done, all potential donors are thoroughly screened. Tests are done to ensure blood type compatibility between the two dogs and that the donor is infection and disease-free. The patient may also undergo coagulation testing to confirm their need for a plasma transfer.

Once everything is set and ready to go, the blood from the donor is given to the patient through an IV catheter. Depending on how much blood is needed, the transfusion process can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. After the procedure, the infected dog is monitored for a couple of hours to make sure that they’re stable and that there are no adverse reactions, like hives, vomiting, or edema. Blood tests may also be done, in addition to checking their vital signs, to determine whether or not their body is responding and their red blood cell count is improving.


What Does a Successful Blood Transfusion Look Like?

Like the symptoms that come with Distemper aren’t bad enough, anemia causes a lot of health issues in infected dogs, including tiredness, loss of appetite, breathing trouble, and an increased heart rate. That’s because red blood cells are the ones that carry oxygen from the lungs to the other organs. If there aren’t enough of them, the body won’t be able to function normally. Through blood transfusions, dogs suffering from Distemper are given a second chance at survival.

Now, blood transfusions aren’t made to permanently cure anemia. As long as the disease is there and red blood cells are dropping, the infected dog will remain anemic. However, blood transfusions do save lives and help greatly in helping our sick canine friends make a complete recovery. Most of the time, dogs that undergo the procedure feel a lot better after 24 hours.


Has your dog ever had a blood transfusion?

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