How do dogs donate blood?

Whilst still a relatively new process, it’s important for us to be aware of the incredible impact that dog blood donations have. Aside from already saving thousands of doggy lives, the increase in dog blood transfusions has made many advances in canine medical care possible.

Angela Graham lives near Edinburgh with her two Dobermanns, Yogi and Chloe. Yogi has been a doggy blood donor for almost four years and has donated an incredible 17 units so far.

‘I first heard about Pet Blood Bank on Facebook and, right away, I thought Yogi would be perfect because he’s so laid-back. The first time I took him to a session, I had total faith in the team’s abilities. The wait between the health check and the donation is probably the hardest bit: your dog only spends about five minutes actually giving blood.

‘Now, as soon as we walk through the doors, Yogi knows exactly what he’s there for. When he’s giving blood, he lies very calmly and, afterwards, he goes straight to the nurse’s pockets where the treats are kept! He’ll have to stop donating when he reaches nine, so we hope to reach 25 units before he retires.

‘I’ve become a big supporter of dog blood donation – I tell other dog-owners all about it, and post photos of Yogi wearing his lifesaver’s bandana on Dobermann Facebook pages.

‘My dogs have never required a blood transfusion but, if they ever needed it and blood wasn’t available, I’d be devastated. It’s lovely to know that Yogi and I are helping other dogs.’

Why are donations important, and what does a session involve?

Although we often don’t think about it, transfusions are often essential for dogs undergoing surgery and life-saving treatments for conditions including anaemia, poisoning, sepsis and bloat, or internal bleeding from ulcers or tumours.

In order to donate, each dog is allocated an appointment lasting about 45 minutes - although the blood donation itself only takes between 5 and 10 minutes. First, a fully qualified vet undertakes a physical examination and asks about the dog’s medical history. Then, two small areas on the dog’s neck are carefully clipped and cleaned, and a small blood sample is taken and tested to check they are fit to donate.

During the donation, about 450ml of blood is taken by a phlebotomist. Owners needn’t worry about this hurting their pet, as a local anaesthetic cream is applied to numb the area – many dogs don’t even realise anything is going on! After donating, owners are asked to stay for a short amount of time, so their dog can enjoy a drink and bite to eat, and staff can observe them. Furry friends will also receive a little goody bag, including a bandana and new toy.

Which dogs can donate?

The comfort and welfare of any dog donating blood is always the top priority. So, they have to meet a set of criteria: dogs must be fit and healthy, aged between one and eight years old, weigh more than 25kg, be up to date with their vaccinations, not on any medication, and have never travelled abroad. Dogs also need to have a good disposition and be comfortable with new people and situations.

If a dog is too old, or too nervous, to donate, owners can encourage others with eligible dogs to sign up – especially if they have a dog breed with the rarer DEA 1 Negative blood type. This list includes Airedales, Border collies, Boxers, Dobermanns, German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Weimaraners.

What happens to the donated blood?

After a dog’s blood is collected, it’s separated into red blood cells and plasma. The red blood cells are stored fresh for up to 42 days and the plasma can be kept frozen for up to five years. Each donation can potentially save the lives of four other dogs, and the charity sends out more than 5,000 units of blood to vet surgeries every year. Other animal blood donations could soon be possible, too, including cats.

Are there different dog blood types?

In the UK, around 70% of dogs are estimated to have DEA 1 Positive blood type, and the other 30% have DEA 1 Negative. While dogs with DEA 1 Negative blood type can only receive DEA 1 Negative blood, dogs with DEA 1 Positive are able to receive either Positive or Negative blood. This means that DEA 1 Negative blood is always in high demand.

How Petplan has helped

Pet Blood Bank was launched in 2007 by vet nurse Wendy Barnett, and hundreds of four-legged donors soon signed up. Today, the organisation runs five sessions a week across the UK and have more than 10,000 registered canine donors.

Until recently, Pet Blood Bank’s donor sessions were all held in ‘host’ vet practices. But, following a recent donation of £100,000 from the Petplan Charitable Trust, the charity has been able to launch its first mobile dog blood donation unit – so even more doggy donors can sign up.

‘It’s so exciting, because it means we can run extra sessions when blood stocks are low, and also reach more dogs and their owners by visiting new locations across the country,’ explains Wendy Barnett, Pet Blood Bank’s clinical director. ‘We’re already seeing the benefits of the mobile unit.’

The Petplan Charitable Trust grant is also enabling Pet Blood Bank to launch a handy mobile app. ‘The app will revolutionise how we manage our appointment bookings and help us communicate with our donor dog-owners much more effectively,’ Wendy adds. ‘We hope to be able to launch the app in the next few months, so watch this space!’

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