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Blood Donation

Could your pet be one of our special blood donor heroes? Are there risks involved? Why may a pet need blood? Find all the answers below.

Just like the importance of human blood donations, pet blood donations can often mean the difference between life and death when our pets are threatened by illness, disease, trauma, surgery, or poisoning incidents.

Can dogs and cats be blood donors?
Yes, just like humans our pets can also donate blood. In fact, the first successful recorded blood donation was between two dogs in 1665 before the first successful human-to-human transfusion.

In NZ there is at least one companion animal blood bank, and some veterinary hospitals have developed blood donor programs to assist with the collection and storage of blood products, so they are on hand when needed.

Blood can only be stored for 1 month, so we are reliant on regular donations from generous fur donors to help us utilise this life-saving treatment when an emergency strikes.

Why would a pet need a blood transfusion?
There are a number of reasons why a pet would require a transfusion, such as:

  • Severe trauma resulting in acute blood loss, for example being hit by a car.
  • Blood clotting and bleeding disorders.
  • Toxins that cause bleeding, such as rat bait.
  • Anaemia (low red blood cell count) – most commonly immune mediated destruction of red blood cells (RBCs) or platelets (without these dogs are at risk of severe bruising and blood loss)
  • Cancer.
  • Blood loss during surgery.

Our clinic has blood or blood donors on hand to provide this life-saving therapy for our patients because sometimes the difference between life and death is just minutes.

Do dogs have blood types?
Just as we have blood types, so do our dogs – in fact, dogs have over a dozen known blood types. Known as Dog Erythrocyte Antigen or DEA. The most common dog blood type is DEA 1.1. When we screen your dog’s blood we will be able to tell you what blood type they belong to based on the antigens in their blood. However, the most important information when screening blood is whether it is positive or negative.
Interestingly, some dog breeds have a predisposition to being DEA 1.1 positive or negative. Greyhounds, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Pit Bulls are more likely to be negative. On the other hand, Golden Retrievers and Labradors are more likely to be positive.
Whether your pooch’s blood type is positive or negative, every donation makes a big difference to another dog’s life.

Is it safe for a pet to donate blood?
Our donor selection criteria and screening process ensure there is minimal risks for donating blood. We use a mild sedative and local anaesthetic cream to minimise any discomfort. Throughout the donation process, our team monitors the donor’s welfare, and should the donor show any signs of being unsettled the donation is stopped straight away.

Most pets experience no side effects. However, occasionally, donors may feel tired – just like humans can. If you do notice anything unusual immediately following a donation we ask you please contact our team.
It is recommended your pet takes it easy for the rest of the day and can resume normal activities the next day. We also recommend offering plenty of fresh water following their donation.

What are the blood donor requirements?

In order for your dog to be eligible, they need to complete the following check list:

  • Temperament – they must be friendly, well socialised and calm or the procedure becomes too difficult for patient and staff!
  • Over 25 kg and in good body condition (i.e. not underweight or obese)
  • Between 2-8 years of age
  • Never had pups.
  • Not currently on any medications
  • Regular veterinary health checks, with vaccinations up to date.
  • Healthy with no pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Not on any current medications.
  • Have a normal blood test.
  • Blood-typed. (It is ideally recommended that canine donors be DEA 1.1, 1.2 and 7 negative and have normal von Willebrand’s factor concentrations).

In order for your cat to be an eligible blood donor, they need to complete the following check list:

  • Healthy with no pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Not on any current medications.
  • Up to date with recommended vaccines.
  • Easy to handle.
  • Bodyweight > 5 kg.
  • Have a normal blood test
  • Negative for FIV/FeLV, Toxoplasma gondii, and Mycoplasma haemofelis.
  • Blood-typed.

Unfortunately, not every pet is a suitable blood donor. They may be ineligible for the following reasons:

  • Breeds with short necks are not ideal.
  • Being treated for heart or lung disease
  • Experience seizures or are on seizure control medications.
  • Suffer from chronic illness or disease.
  • Have recently received a blood transfusion.
  • Inappropriate blood-type

How often can dogs give blood?
Dogs are able to donate blood every eight weeks. However, we manage our blood bank carefully and will only ever ask your pooch to donate when we are in need of blood.
The health and welfare of our amazing blood donors are always our first priority. We closely monitor each of our donors through their vet health check and blood test prior to their donation to ensure their wellness.

What is the blood donation process?
There are two parts to our blood donation process. After registering your interest for your pet to become a blood donor hero, our team will be in contact with you to arrange a meet and greet before any screening process or donation is performed.

The meet and greet.
During your meet and greet session, one of our team will explain the entire blood donation process in detail to you and answer any questions you may have. This is to ensure not only if your pet is suitable but to make sure you are comfortable and happy with the process before it begins.
During the meet and greet our team will also get to know your pet to check they are a good fit for being a donor. This is to ensure they have a calm and friendly temperament, enjoying meeting new people, are comfortable going to the clinic, and are happy with being handled. We want the experience to be a positive one so they will look forward to their next visit.

Our team will also carry out a:

  • Complete physical examination to ensure they are fit and healthy and review their medical history.
  • A small blood sample will be taken to complete their full health check, to test and type their blood and to screen for diseases.

The donation
The actual donation process itself takes 20-30 minutes, with your pet being in the hospital for approximately an hour.

If your pet meets the requirements to become a blood donor, our team will call you to arrange a suitable time for them to visit us to donate when we are in need of blood.

The blood donation appointment has four parts, and the process is the same each time they donate:

  1. Welcome. On arrival at our hospital, our team will meet you and take you through to a consult room for your pet to get comfortable.
  2. Pre-donation health check. One of our vets will perform a physical examination and a blood test to ensure your pet is fit and healthy to donate on the day.
  3. Place IV catheter.
  4. The donation. Once our vet signs off on your pets health check the donation process will start.
  5. They will be given a mild sedative and lifted onto the donation bed. They are able to sit or lie, but most prefer to lie and often end up falling asleep.
  6. A small area of fur on the neck will be clipped and cleaned where the collection will be taken from.
  7. A local anaesthetic cream will be applied to the area.
  8. Blood is then collected via the large jugular vein. It will take 5-10 minutes for blood to be taken.
  9. After the collection, a bandage is placed over the collection site and once the sedation has been reversed we are done.
  10. Thank you. After their donation, your pet will receive a lot of love from our team as well as lots of treats as our sincere thanks for their hard work.

What happens to the blood after the donation?
Following the collection, your pets blood donation is then processed so as it can be used to save as many lives as possible. Each blood donation can save up to three other lives.

A donation can be used as whole blood or can be separated into different blood products. There are three main types of blood products that are used within our clinic – whole blood, packed red blood cells, and plasma. They all have their own use depending on the illness of the patient as well as having different lifespans.

Blood collected from our donors can be stored as whole blood which has the shortest lifespan of all blood products with it being up to 28 days.

Collected blood can also be separated using a centrifuge into plasma and packed red blood cells. Once the red blood cells are separated, they are combined with a solution to prolong the life and health of the cells, giving them a lifespan of 35 days.

The plasma is separated into a storage bag and is quickly frozen giving it a lifespan of 1 year, however, it can be used up to 5 years in certain situations (for example, in cases where a pet has consumed rat bait).
All blood products are stored and monitored in our dedicated blood bank with continuous temperature monitoring of the fridges and freezers to ensure quality control.

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