Dogs as Blood Donors - Kennel to Couch

What do ailing people and ailing animals often have in common? The need for life-saving blood transfusions.

And when it comes to pet transfusions, it can be particularly difficult to find donors. This is why an increasing number of veterinary clinics are calling on dedicated dog owners to consider registering their canines as blood donors. It’s why most veterinary colleges have a blood donor program, with some even having their own resident donors. It’s also why many of these colleges are looking for dogs (and their owners) willing to participate in a donor program as well.

Unlike their feline counterparts who have only three blood types or groups, A, B and AB, dogs have more than fourteen, ordered numerically in the dog erythrocyte antigen (DEA) system. These blood types include DEA 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 3, 4, 5 and 7, with the most common one being DEA 1.1 and the universal blood type being DEA4.

dogs as blood donors

To determine your dog’s blood type, your veterinarian will draw a sample of his blood and, depending on whether the office is equipped to do so, either run the required tests there or send the sample to an external lab for testing. And although the antigens present in your dog’s red blood cells will determine his blood type, of greatest importance is whether it’s positive or negative.

Most clinics and hospitals have specific requirements to ensure that potential donor dogs are 1) a certain size (50 pounds is usually the minimum weight required), 2) have a calm, trusting disposition, and 3) are in excellent health. As for the latter, they MUST be free of infectious, blood-borne diseases and parasites such as heartworms and Lyme disease; be up to date on their vaccinations; be on NO medications other than the typical parasite preventatives; and be between the ages of one and seven.

Once your dog qualifies and is accepted, the process of giving blood is very simple. A small area of fur on your dog’s neck will be clipped and cleaned and a local anesthetic cream applied to the area. Blood is then collected from his jugular vein (it takes 5 to 10 minutes for the blood to be drawn), deposited inside a specially designed blood collection bag, and a bandage placed over the collection site. Afterwards, it’s recommended that he rest for the remainder of the day, be provided with plenty of fresh water, and not resume his regular routine until the following day.

Typically, a dog gives blood as needed. This means that you and your dog may be “on call” for emergency donations at an animal clinic or hospital near you. Each has its own program requirements and some may even reward you with credits to your account if you have one.

Another option is to donate your dog’s blood to a non-profit blood bank that sells blood to veterinarians. These blood banks are especially important for dogs needing more than one transfusion. In addition to whole blood, packed red blood cells, different forms of plasma and cryo-precipitate may also be collected. Unlike whole blood, these products can be stored for longer periods of time and used at a later date.

Like human blood donors, dog blood donors can be lifesaving heroes for other dogs in urgent need of transfusions. And if your dog becomes just such a donor, you’ll have earned the heartfelt gratitude of clinics, hospitals and loving dog owners in your community.

By Nomi Berger

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