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Someone asked me the other day about organ donation in animals, and then I just happened to attend a really cool lecture on pet donors so I’ve decided to share it with you today. When someone meantions organ donation most people tend to think about heart, lung and kidney transplants, however I think it is amazing that in humans the most commonly transplanted tissue is blood, followed by bone.
Since April 2009 there has been a pet donor scheme in the UK, the scheme is run by the Veterinary Tissue Bank and is based on the human model however there are some big differences. First of all instead of giving consent themself, it is up to the owner to register the pet. Secondly only bone, tendon and ligament is currently used in transplant procedures. This is because organ transplantation is very complex both medically with the need to manage anti-rejection medication and logistically with getting organs to animals in need within hours of harvesting the organ from the donor.
Ethically as an animal is legally the “property” of the owner more complex organ transplantation scenarios are a ethical minefield as deciding that one animal should die so another can live is something that many vets would struggle with. To get a viable organ the body needs to be alive at the time of harvesting the organ, and many euthansia drugs have effects on different organs within the body. Currently bone, tendon and ligament can be harvested after the death of the animal, and are more robust and can in some cases with proper preparation have a shelf life up to 5 years.
Now its easy to wonder just how these are used to help other animals, this is suprisingly simple. After harvesting the tissues are processed to usable states and to allow them to be stored, when a vet has a patient which may benefit from this tissue they contact the VTB and order the tissue. With bone for example this may be in the form of bone chips for a animal that has been hit by a car and has a gap in the bone skeleton that needs to be filled. Previously this may have required the vet to harvest bone from another area of the animals body to use which causes more trauma (and in some cases is impossible as the animal is too small etc), and use it to fill the gap. In this case bone from a donor makes the surgery safer, decreases the pain the animal will experience, and speeds up recovery.
I know if I had a pet, I would consider adding them to Pet Donor register as if they needed surgery of this type I would want a donor graft. In addition the veterinary tissue bank also arranges for cremation of the remains and return of the ashes to you at no charge.
What are the steps of organ transplantation?
- The animal is registered as a Pet Donor at http://www.petdonor.co.uk
- Consent is collected and your vet is contacted to discuss this with you
- When the time comes for your pet to cross the rainbow bridge your vet examines and discusses the suitability of donation with the VTB – obviously some diseases may mean that your pet is not a suitable donor
- The VTB arranges collection of your pets body anywhere in the UK and transportation to their donor center where the tissue is harvested in a sterile and controlled environment
- The VTB arranges and pays for cremation of your pet and the return of the ashes to you
- The tissue collected is processed to be ready for use by veterinary surgeons across the country.