Dog Blood Donations – What, Why & How

Dog (and cat) blood donations are needed now more than ever. In this article, we break down the facts about dog blood donations – What, Why & How – with Isobella McGrath from BLOOD Hound Australia.

Why donating blood?

For the paw-parents, it’s up there with the worst of nightmares. Your beloved dog is struck by a car or a grave illness – for example severe anaemia, traumatic injury, immune illnesses, parasitic burden, poisoning and cancer (just to name a few) – and needs to have surgery or serious medical treatment. Like human patients, dogs also need blood transfusions, and if dogs have transfusions, other dogs need to donate.

How does the blood get matched between donors and recipients?

Dogs have many blood types, however it is the DEA1.1 antigen that needs to be looked at when giving a blood transfusion. A dog can be either DEA1.1 positive or DEA1.1 negative. Positive blood can go to positive dogs only while negative blood can be given to any dog in need.

Whole blood expires after a month, so it is vital that supplies are constantly kept topped up! Some blood gets broken down into blood products which can be frozen and kept for longer. When the blood is not used and has passed its use-by date, it needs to be discarded as it can no longer prove effective. This is just one more reason that we need as many blood donors as possible!

Can my dog donate blood? How do I go about it?

Dogs who are over 25kg, between 1–7 years old, cooperative in a veterinary environment, up-to-date with vaccinations, worming etc, and generally healthy make great blood donors!

If your dog meets these requirements, contact your closest emergency/specialist vet clinic as these clinics most often use blood. If there is not an emergency clinic in your town, talk to your regular vet about being an on-call donor for them!

Vets do not charge you as an owner to donate blood, however as an owner there are many incentives to enlist your dog. Apart from knowing your dog is saving lives as well as the free health check your dog gets at each donation, many vets will also offer things like bags of food, toys, accessories, even discounted or free veterinary services in return of your generous gift of blood.

How does dog blood donation work?

Donor dogs will have their blood typed before their first ever donation, which will then be recorded. Before each donation is made, a blood test will be run to ensure the dog has normal readings and is in tip-top shape so that they are right to donate blood.

After your dog has had their blood screened, they will be administered a light sedative – this is just to keep the dog happy and still throughout the donation – however some donors are so good that they give blood with no medication! They will have a patch of fur shaved off their neck and have the blood taken from their jugular. The blood donation process takes approximately 10 minutes, though allow a few hours from admission to going home.

Currently in Australia only dogs over 25kg donate blood, which means a full bag of blood (up to 500mL) is taken in a donation. BLOOD Hound Australia is currently encouraging Australian Veterinarians to adopt the standards of some overseas Pet Blood Banks, where they take half bags of blood from donors over 15kg. This will help reduce wastage of blood as well as vastly increase the donor pool.

Dogs can donate as often as every 12 weeks, but you are not expected to donate this often. Many donor dogs provide life-saving blood once or twice a year – it all makes a difference!

Will it hurt my dog?

As with any kind of needle there can be a small sting when the needle is inserted. In addition to the light sedation that many donor dogs get, a lot of clinics will also provide a topical anaesthetic gel over the needle site before insertion which means the dog feels nothing at all.

Because you can’t tell a dog to drink before and after their donation, blood donors are put on an IV drip after their donation to ensure they are hydrated and the fluids they lost in the donation are effectively replaced before going home. During this time the dogs will also be offered a delicious snack as a reward for their bravery.

Should I go to a Canine Blood Bank or local clinic?

There are many wonderful clinics you could choose from – so go with whoever feels right to you. If you are comfortable, your dog will be too, which makes the donation process much easier for all involved. Most emergency/specialist clinics will have some sort of blood donor program as will university vet hospitals. If you are feeling overwhelmed with options, you can approach BLOOD Hound Australia, in particular their Facebook group, which is full of donor owners and clinical staff who would be more than happy to help you on your journey!

A little bit about BLOOD Hound Australia…

BLOOD Hound Australia was conceived by Isobella (Bella) McGrath, a specialist veterinary nurse living on a station in outback NSW. Bella’s rescue dog, Roo is a dog blood donor.

BLOOD Hound Australia’s mission is to raise awareness of the need for dog blood donors amongst dog owners; to educate the general public regarding the facts of canine blood donation; and to see both vets and dog owners doing their part to ensure that blood is available to anyone on need.

BLOOD Hound Australia is a social media advocate providing dog blood donation resources, particularly on their Facebook group. It has become a go-to point for vets and dog owners to arrange blood donations.

“Despite all of the many wonderful things BLOOD Hound has to be proud of, nothing will ever beat how it felt to meet Roo’s first ever blood recipient. Seeing her alive and being doted upon by her loving owner first hand, and now knowing that there are hundreds of dogs out there doing the same thanks to Roo’s advocacy for blood donation, is the only thing I could ever want.”

Roo, Alou and owners Dianne Davidson and Bella McGrath meet following Alou’s lifesaving blood transfusion (featured on ABC News story)

Thank you Bella for sharing your passion and knowledge, and helping us to understand more about dog blood donations. All the best with your endeavour to create Australia’s first and only online National Canine Blood Donor Registry.

Image credit to Bella McGrath, BLOOD Hound Australia