How your dog could be a blood donor

Did you know that your pet could save other dog’s lives? Here’s how canine blood donation works

How your dog could be a blood donor

Source: Best Health magazine, January/February 2013; Image: Thinkstock

Dogs and cats can give the gift of blood and help a fellow furry companion survive surgery, an illness or serious trauma. And just as with humans, there is often a shortage of blood supply for pets. Some vet clinics keep cats in-house partly for the purpose of donating blood  to felines in need, but for dogs, blood donations are sought from the community, and new donors are always needed.

There are several organizations, animal clinics and veterinary colleges across Canada that solicit canine blood donations, including LifeStream Animal Blood Bank in Kingston, Ont.; the Canadian Animal Blood Bank in Winnipeg and Edmonton; the Vancouver Animal Emergency Clinic; the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph; the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of PEI; and the Mississauga Oakville Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Oakville, Ont., to name a few. Donating is free, of course. (If you’re interested in volunteering your dog, talk with your vet.)

According to Beth Knight, laboratory director at the Canadian Animal Blood Bank in Winnipeg, supporting sick or injured dogs with donated blood products such as red blood cells and fresh plasma increases treatment options, speeds recovery and helps them return to full health. ‘It makes a huge impact,’ she says. A dog may require blood products if he has been involved in a trauma such as being hit by a car, or is suffering from cancer, hemophilia, Von Willebrand’s disease, parvovirus or anemia.

Donor dogs must meet certain criteria (see below). Depending on the program, blood is collected either from the jugular vein in the dog’s neck or from his front leg during a 15-minute appointment. After the blood is drawn (which takes less than five minutes), pressure is applied to the injection site, just as with human donations. Once at home, dogs can resume their normal activities. ‘Dogs seem to recover much more quickly [than we do],’ says Knight. Because their heads are at the same height as their heart, a dog’s blood pressure will return to normal much faster.

From one donation (typically 350-450 mL), ‘you could save up to four dogs,’ says Sandra Powell, president of LifeStream Animal Blood Bank, where as a thank-you for their donation, pets receive special blood-type dog tags, a bandana that identifies them as LifeStream blood donors, a free test for blood-borne pathogens and free emergency blood services.

There are differences in blood types for dogs; the sample will be tested to determine if a dog is DEA 1.1 positive or negative. While there are eight to 12 canine blood types, ‘negative dogs that are DEA 1.1 should only get negative blood, while a dog that’s positive can get either,’ explains Powell.

A blood donation won’t guarantee an ill dog’s survival, but it can facilitate a faster recovery. ‘Blood transfusion is not a cure,’ says Knight. ‘However, it can buy time for the body to heal. It’s a phenomenal gift.’

Most programs state that a dog can donate every three months. Canine blood donors must fit the following criteria:

‘  weigh 50 lb. (23 kg) or more without being overweight
‘  be young (depending on the program, anywhere between the age of one and eight)
‘  have a calm temperament and be able to sit still
‘  have up-to-date vaccinations and be free of disease

Some blood donation programs have additional criteria your pet must meet, so always contact the organization you’re considering before volunteering your dog.

This article was originally titled "Do-good doggies" in the January/February 2013 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!