Ever wondered if your dog could be a blood donor? The answer is yes! And canine blood donors are in high demand.

The Pet Blood Bank is a charity that is set up to provide blood products for veterinary professionals so they can treat their neediest canine patients, much like the NHS Blood & Transplant human equivalent service. While canine blood transfusions aren’t an everyday occurrence, most veterinary practices are affiliated with the Pet Blood Bank as thousands of blood transfusions are required each year. The Pet Blood Bank provides a life-saving service that not many pet owners know about, but that some may need in the course of their pet’s life!

Where does the blood come from?

Canine blood comes from a canine blood donor. Many practices have their own blood donor register and are continuously recruiting for new donors. Since dogs can’t donate more than every 2 months, may become too old to donate, are prescribed different medications, or the owner may move away from the local area, there’s always the need for a large and growing donor base.

Veterinary practices are affiliated with the Pet Blood Bank so that they can order blood products. Although blood can be stored on site, it has a finite shelf life. Having a database of client dogs that meet the blood donor criteria is extremely helpful so they can be called upon to donate directly at the practice. Red blood cells are stored in the fridge with a shelf life of around 6 weeks, but plasma is stored in a freezer and can be kept for up to 5 years.

If the collection and transfusion is not performed ‘in house’ the patient may be referred to a specialist veterinary centre who would take the patient on for treatment. Alternatively, the practice can order a blood product directly from the Pet Blood Bank if they do not hold a database of blood donors to call on themselves from their client base.

Vet Nurse testimonial

From the perspective of working in practice as a nurse, I have seen a number of dog’s lives saved from a blood transfusion. A particular Labrador stands out to me that came into the practice as an emergency out of hours while I was on a night shift. This was a young dog that had consumed a life-threatening amount of Warfarin (rat poison) and had begun bleeding internally, needing external support to keep the blood flowing around its system and to vital organs. We had a dog donor come in that evening with its owner and we collected the blood needed to transfuse the Labrador. We were extremely grateful for the donor dog and his owner who came into the practice in this emergency situation! It never ceases to amaze me what a dog will willingly do and the complete trust they put in their owners.

My job for the night was to sit with the Labrador, monitoring its vital signs (heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, pulse, mucus membrane colour) in case of any allergic reaction and to make sure the blood was transfused successfully. Precise calculations must be made so that the drip rate of blood enters the patient over a safe time period- it was a long night, but a successful one. Thankfully the dog made a full recovery!

As with human blood donation the blood is used for a multitude of things such as: internal bleeding like the Labrador mentioned, life threatening blood loss due to an injury, loss of blood during surgery, or blood conditions such as anaemia or leukaemia that cause a deficit in blood cells or other component parts of blood.

Could your pet be a lifesaving blood donor?

Not all dogs make suitable donors, and they must meet certain criteria as follows:

• Weigh more than 25kg
• 1-8 years old
• Fully vaccinated or have an annual titre test
• Healthy and not on medication
• Has not been abroad
• Does not get stressed during vet visits and can be confident and calm while donating.

How is the blood taken from a dog?

Before donation the dog will have a clinical exam by the vet and will have a red blood cell count (PCV Packed Cell Volume) to check they are not anaemic and are okay to donate.

A local anaesthetic cream will be applied to the needle site of the jugular vein in the neck. The dog may be asked to lie on its side on a table while the blood is collected. Approximately 250-400mL of blood is taken depending on the donor’s weight and the needs of the recipient dog.

The donor dog is monitored following donation (heart rate, pulse, respiration rate, mucus membrane colour). They will also be offered food and water. There is no monetary transaction for blood donation but many vet practices offer benefits like a discount on annual vaccinations or maybe a free bag of dog food.

If you would like to find out more about the possibility of your own dog becoming a donor, then please visit the Pet Blood Bank website. The Pet Blood bank and local veterinary practices are always looking for potential donors, so get in touch to see if your dog can help save the life of another!

Dog Blood Donorship Infographic