In the new Jurassic Park movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the kindly, domesticated velociraptor Blue faces a life-threatening bullet wound and rapid loss of blood. Without any other surviving raptors in sight, paleoveterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) saves Blue with a blood transfusion from a Tyrannosaurus rex. This, of course, raises a question: Could you really give a velociraptor a blood transfusion from a T. rex?
Yes, but you’d probably only be able to do it once. According to the veterinarians we spoke to, it would be possible to transfuse blood between two different species of dinosaur—provided, of course, that dinosaurs exist—but it would be risky to repeat it, and not just for the doctor. “The second time you would expect more complications, like the red blood cells breaking apart or severe allergic reaction,” explained Lauren Witter, a general practice veterinarian based in Queens.*
Cross-species transfusions, also called xenotransfusions, can be perilous, but they’re not unheard of, and the cooperation of the immune system is key. That’s because the system recognizes the blood as foreign and tries to protect the body from invasion.
To determine how successful a transfusion from T. rex to velociraptor might be, the veterinarians we spoke to compared the procedure with the logistics of cross-species transfusions in animals such as reptiles and birds. The immune systems of those animals likely resemble what dinosaurs’ were more than those of, say, mammals, so their reaction as they accept or reject foreign blood cells should be comparable.
“Once the foreign matter is introduced into the body, it produces antibodies to reject that. When you use the same species, you might not get that reaction,” explained Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic animals specialist. “But when you do dog to cat or pigeon to parrot, their bodies recognize those blood cells as foreign, and the next time you transfuse the animal will go into shock.” The second time a xenotransfusion is attempted, there is a roughly 60 percent chance the animal will die, according to Dr. Quesenberry.
In her 35 years in the exotics department at the Animal Medical Center, Dr. Quesenberry has done about 50 cross-species transfusions in birds. Birds often receive cross-species transfusions because they do not have blood types and there are thousands of different species. These procedures are only done to buy time to stabilize a creature in shock. “Whenever you go across species, the red blood cells are destroyed, and it varies how long they last. It can be as short as half a day, or five to six days,” Quesenberry said in a phone interview. “But what that gives you is time to stabilize the animal and provide other life-supportive measures.”
Otherwise it might be done in a place where blood is not accessible, Dr. Quesenberry explained. In the United States, veterinarians keep stores of blood, but “if you’re out in the boonies in Australia, there is no access,” Quesenberry said.
In places without adequate blood stores, dog blood has even been transfused to cats. Dr. Quesenberry noted that T. rex and raptors are in the same order, and therefore are about as related as dogs and cats are.
Correction, June 29, 2018: This piece originally misidentified the veterinarian interviewed as Laura Witter. Her name is Lauren Witter.