With advances in veterinary medicine, more complex surgical procedures are being performed on our beloved pets. Thus, there is an increased need for blood bank programs to supply life-saving blood components. In the past, Veterinarians had to use their own dogs, dogs owned by their staff, or even dogs borrowed from their clients as blood donors in the absence of animal blood banks.
Just as human blood banks depend on human blood donors, animal blood banks must depend solely on animal blood donors. Blood is species specific – dogs can receive only dog blood and cats can only receive cat blood. In addition, dogs have blood types just as humans have blood types. Dogs have eleven different blood groups and the most important one is the A1/A2 system. Dogs that have A negative blood types are considered universal donors.
Dogs rarely have isoantibodies against other blood types, so in most cases, it is practically safe to give a dog a blood transfusion without blood typing the donor and recipient or crossmatching prior to the transfusion. Despite this, it is still recommended that all recipients be crossmatched prior to receiving a blood transfusion (especially dogs which have received a previous blood transfusion).
There are two types of cross-matching tests: the major and minor cross matching. For major cross-matches, red cells from the donor are mixed with serum from the recipient. Then it is observed to see if there is a reaction; the recipient may attack donor cells and not accept them. If you have a major cross-match incompatibility you shouldn’t do a transfusion, unless you’re really desperate. In a minor cross-match test, the recipient’s red cells are compared with the donor’s serum. In minor incompatibilities, parts of the donor’s blood can be given to the recipient but not the blood in its entirety.
A healthy animal with no history of metabolic or heart disease or seizures, has lean body weight (greater than 50 kg), and is 1-7 years of age is a potential donor. In addition, they should not be on any medication (except heartworm and parasite meds), have a good temperament, have been neutered and nulliparous, have jugular veins that are easily visualized and palpated and should have constant vaccinations. The Greyhounds are ideal blood donors due to their amenable disposition and high PCV.
After the canine’s blood type is determined and is acceptable, donors are tested to make sure their blood values are high enough and no infectious disease is present before blood is drawn as with human blood donors. CBC, biochemical profile, U/A, fecal exam, von Willebrand’s factor, is done as well as testing for Dirofilaria immiti, Ehrlichia canis, Babesia canis, B. gibsoni, Brucella canis (in intact or previously bred dogs), and Bartonella.
There is no preparation before going to the donation center and no fasting is required. Donor dogs are not sedated and the donation itself takes less than half an hour. The dog is welcomed in and lifted onto a table. Blood is taken from the jugular vein, which is a large vein in the neck. A small patch of hair on the neck is shaved to expose the skin right over the vein. The area is then swabbed with alcohol and a needle is inserted into the vein. Blood goes into the needle, through a tube, and then into the collection bag. After the blood is collected, pressure is applied to stop any bleeding and the donor is then lifted off the table. There might be a mild bruising at the site.
Water and food are offered to replace nutrients. The dog’s system starts to replace the blood immediately after the donation. Blood volume will then be back to normal in a day and the red blood cell count in 2 to 3 weeks. Strenuous activity should be discouraged for the next 24 hours after donating, just as it is with human blood donors. Also similar to human donors, there must be a waiting period of at least two months before blood can be collected again.
The dogs are given gifts and treats after donating. A dog may get a tag, which identifies him or her as a blood donor, edible rewards such as dog biscuits, a jar of baby food, a can or a large bag of dog food and some donors may even get brand new toys or cool donor bandanas.
After the collection, the different blood components – red cells, plasma, and platelets will be separated. Anemic recipients are given red cells. Plasma builds up blood volume, thus it is given to animals that are not making enough or are losing large amounts of protein. For those recipients whose platelets are depleted or dysfunctional, they are given platelet-rich plasma.
Today, there are several animal blood banks in the world. They supply blood products to the different Veterinary hospitals. It is good that many pet owners responded with enthusiastically to the growing need for blood donations. The blood donated by the animals is brought in to the bank at the Veterinary hospital and to the bank’s bloodmobile, which visits Veterinary clinics and kennel clubs.
Other regional blood banks rely entirely on the generous and caring people who enroll their pets in blood donor programs. These animal blood banks hold drives to find new volunteer donors and encourage them to donate just like the Red Cross and other health organizations do to acquire human blood donations.
If you think your dog could be a blood donor, you can check the location of regional blood banks or the list of Veterinary Hospitals and University Veterinary Medical Centers that manage their own blood donor/blood bank programs. Or you can contact the animal blood banks for dogs and cats nearest you, or ask your Veterinarian if there’s an animal blood donor program with a donation site in your area.