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Facebook Plea Connects CVM to
Critically Ill Cat a Thousand Miles Away

Keeter, an 8-year-old Selkirk Rex, a former MU College of Veterinary Medicine blood donor cat, was adopted by veterinary technician Matt Haight. When a cat in Baltimore became critically ill, Keeter’s rare blood type provided the needed transfusion.

Dee Roche of Baltimore adopted her domestic shorthair cat, Squashies, four years ago. Last month when Squashies suddenly became lethargic, Roche took her in to see her regular veterinarian.  Tests revealed mild anemia, but the cause of her illness remained unclear. Squashies, whose age is estimated at 12 or 13, was placed on antibiotics and steroids and sent home.

“I made an appointment with a hematologist for the following Monday,” Roche said. “But her health crashed over the weekend.”

Convinced her cat would not survive until the Monday appointment, Roche took her to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic. Squashies’ packed cell volume, which measures the percentage of red blood cells, was found to be 10 percent. A normal count for cats is between 24 and 45 percent. However, the cause behind the cat’s rapid deterioration remained elusive. A series of tests, including three separate blood tests for feline leukemia virus and exams to determine if the cat was bleeding internally, failed to give her emergency veterinarians any leads as to what disease they should be treating. They took the cat off the antibiotics, which seemed to be making her sicker, placed her in an oxygen tent and advised Roche that her pet needed a blood transfusion to stay alive until they could determine why she was so ill.

However, Roche and Squashies’ veterinary team now faced another challenge — the type of blood needed for the transfusion could not be quickly located.

The major blood group system in cats contains three different types of blood: A, B and AB. The vast majority of cats in the United States have type A blood. Squashies has the far less common type B, which is mostly found in purebred cats.  Although there are animal blood banks throughout the country, securing the needed type B for the life-saving transfusion became a race against time.

Roche is part of the Cat Blogosphere, an online group with a shared interest in and affection for cats. She shared the details of Squashies’ illness and the frantic search for suitable blood with her online friends. They responded by joining the quest.

A thousand miles from Baltimore, the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine maintains a colony of cats and dogs that serve as blood donors for animals being treated at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. One of Roche’s fellow cat bloggers found a Facebook page the CVM created to share information about the blood donor dogs and cats. The six blood donor cats live in the Tiny Tigers’ Lair, a room within the Veterinary Hospital, until they are needed to supply blood to animal patients who are injured, ill, or undergoing surgery. After a one-to-two-year stint as donors, they are adopted to loving homes. Roche’s friend posted a plea for help even offering to pay all expenses for someone to bring a type B blood donor cat to Baltimore.

Longtime veterinary technician Matt Haight, who manages the CVM’s blood donor program, found the Facebook message when he went to work that Monday morning and contacted Roche. He advised her that the CVM didn’t currently have any donor cats available with type B blood; however, his own cat, Keeter, a Selkirk Rex who had previously been one of the CVM’s donors, was a suitable blood type.

Haight went home to collect Keeter and return with her to the Veterinary Hospital. Keeter had other ideas. She was hiding. She remained in hiding for the rest of the day. The reluctant life-saver finally emerged Tuesday night and Haight was able to take her into the hospital to draw blood. He shipped the blood via Federal Express to the waiting veterinarians in Baltimore in the hopes of buying time for Squashies.

The emergency transfusion worked. Squashies’ condition improved dramatically.

With Squashies’ health restored, the veterinary hematologist in Baltimore was able to perform a bone marrow test that had been deemed too risky when her health was compromised. The cat was found to have a focal infection with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in the bone marrow, a condition she had probably had since she was a kitten, but that had remained dormant until recently. FeLV is incurable, but Roche said Squashies is now being treated with interferon and is doing well. Roche said she will always be grateful for the long-distance help from the CVM, Haight and Keeter in helping to treat her beloved pet.

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Last Update: November 5, 2012