June 23, 2009 / 9:58 AM / 8 years ago

Dog-loving Japan baying for canine blood donors

<p>Seven-year-old male German shepherd "Kinjiro" (C), flanked by veterinarian and aid worker, lies on a operating table as he gives blood at Japan Animal Referral Medical Center (JARMeC) in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo June 16, 2009.Issei Kato</p>

KAWASAKI, Japan (Reuters Life!) - One of Japan's largest animal medical centres is calling on blood donors of a different breed to help provide dogs with top-notch care.

Japan is a canine-crazy nation, with more than 6 million dogs registered as pets. Many provide company for the growing number of elderly people or sometimes replace children in a nation with one of the world's lowest birth-rates.

Many people expect their dogs, like themselves, to live to a ripe old age, and that means more blood is needed for the rise in the number of surgeries that often accompany growing older.

"Due to both the increase in number and elderly population of animals, there has been an increase in medical complications," said Hiroyuki Ogawa, executive director of the Japan Animal Referral Medical Center in Kawasaki, on the outskirts of Tokyo.

"The most common use of transfusions is for blood loss, but the amount we use for cancer treatments has also increased."

Many dog owners in Japan have no qualms about spending a small fortune on their pet's health, but dog blood donation drives are rare, and complicated for many reasons.

There is no animal equivalent of the human blood bank in Japan, so hospitals and clinics must sort out any blood required for surgery beforehand.

<p>A bag lies on the weigh machine beside a donor of seven-year-old male German shepherd "Kinjiro" at Japan Animal Referral Medical Center (JARMeC) in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, June 16, 2009.Issei Kato</p>

Canine blood can only be stored for up to a month, after which it has to be thrown out, and each dog can only donate twice a year. Bigger dogs are also preferred over smaller ones because the average amount of blood they are asked to donate is about 200 ml (7 fl oz). There are 13 blood types too, which means there is a need for a variety of donors.

"There's no recognized blood bank, and as such, we can't stockpile blood. It is allowed for individual hospitals to conduct their own donation drives. But they cannot re-sell or redistribute that blood," Ogawa said.

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To help raise awareness about the issue, the Japan Animal Referral Medical Center has enlisted the help of pet grooming salons and training centres.

And there's also a perk -- once dogs donate, they get a free blood checkup, which can detect possible diseases early.

Some veterinarians say before dog blood donations can be widely accepted, clinics will need to educate pet owners about the system and also explain that donations are safe.

Tokyo resident Yuka Torihama spends about $1,500 a year on healthcare for her two dogs, but like many other pet owners, had never taken her pets in to donate blood, mainly because she didn't know she could.

"I'm willing to donate my dog's blood as long as the donation system is safe. It's just that a lot of pet owners still don't know about the system and therefore, are sceptical about it," said Torihama. "Though I think it's extremely important, you never know when your dog might be in need of blood."

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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