Could Your Dog Help Save a Life?
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
- March 11, 2020
- Like humans, dogs sometimes need blood transfusions; those blood donations must come from other healthy dogs with a compatible blood type
- Criteria for canine blood donors varies by state in the U.S., so if you’d like your dog to be a donor, check with your local veterinarian, emergency animal hospital, or veterinary hospital
- The donation itself takes from 15 to 30 minutes; most dogs handle it well and return to their normal lives as soon as the procedure is over
Like humans, dogs sometimes need blood transfusions in cases of trauma, surgery, cancer, an infectious disease, or certain other medical situations.
Even if you’re a blood donor yourself, it may have never occurred to you that your dog might be a good candidate donor for his own species. It’s just not something pet parents think much about — until, heaven forbid, their beloved animal companion needs a transfusion.
Pet blood bank donation requirements and enrollment procedures vary from state to state. If you’re interested in seeing if your dog can become a donor, contact your local veterinarian, veterinary school (many have blood donor programs), or emergency animal clinic.
Dog Blood Types
To date, science has uncovered over a dozen different dog blood types.
“Blood types in dogs are genetic with complex inheritance patterns,” writes holistic veterinarian Dr. Aja Senestraro for PetMD. “Each blood group is inherited independently, which means that a dog could have any combination of the 12+ blood groups. This creates variability in which blood types are most common depending on geographic area and breed.
Even though there are many dog blood types and possible combinations, the one called ‘dog erythrocyte antigen 1’ (DEA 1) is the most medically important. Some dogs are negative for DEA 1, but if they’re positive, they can have one of two forms — DEA 1.1 or DEA 1.2.
Dogs that are negative for DEA 1 are preferred for donating blood because their blood can be safely transferred to dogs that are negative or positive for DEA 1.1 or DEA 1.2. However, DEA 1 negative dogs aren’t truly ‘universal donors’ because a dog may be positive for another blood type that might cause an issue.
To make sure there won’t be a serious immune reaction to any of a donor dog’s blood types, the veterinarian will do another test called “crossmatching.” This test checks the overall compatibility of donor and recipient blood. After confirming DEA 1 blood type and running a crossmatching test, a veterinarian can typically determine which type of blood will be the most successful for the dog receiving the transfusion.”1
Is My Dog a Blood Donor Candidate?
As I mentioned earlier, requirements for canine blood donors vary by state. The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine Companion Animal Blood Bank, as an example, requires the following of each donor dog:2
Must be friendly and happy to meet people
Must weigh over 50 pounds (without being overweight)
Must be current on vaccinations (must provide proof) and cannot be receiving any medications other than heartworm, flea, and tick preventive
Must be on heartworm, flea, and tick preventive during the six-month flea and tick season
Must be healthy and without a heart murmur
Must be between 1 year and 6 years old when entering the program
Must have never received a blood transfusion nor been pregnant
These criteria will rule out lots of dogs, including, unfortunately, those belonging to pet parents who don’t feel the current vaccination guidelines are appropriate, preferring to titer test instead, as well as those who don’t want their dogs on multiple pest preventives half the year.
Dogs who meet all the criteria undergo extensive blood screening tests and a physical exam. The diagnostic tests are valued at about $600 per dog, so owners are required to commit to 6 to 8 blood donations per year.
What’s Involved in the Donation Procedure?
Dogs typically handle the donation well and don’t require sedation (cats are a different story). They should be fasted for 10 to 12 hours prior to the procedure.
Your dog will lie on his side on a comfortable surface. A small patch of fur over the jugular vein in the neck will be clipped or shaved. The skin will be disinfected with a sterile scrub before the needle is inserted into the jugular vein. The entire procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes, during which your dog will be praised, petted and tended to.
Afterwards, he’ll be given intravenous (IV) fluids through a separate catheter to replace the pint of blood that was removed. When the catheter is removed, he’ll get lots pets and praise, and a toy or treat. Typically, pets recover quickly from the procedure and are able to spend the rest of the day as they normally would.3
Once the blood is collected, it’s processed in a centrifuge and separated into components. White and red blood cells, platelets, and plasma comprise canine blood; the most common canine blood transfusions utilize red blood cells and plasma. Per the AKC Canine Health Foundation:
“Each blood component has its own unique healing properties. Red blood cell transfusions are useful when treating anemia, cancer-related blood loss, and to supplement the body’s waning production of red blood cells as a result of illness such as bone marrow disease.
Plasma is rich in anti-coagulants and proteins. As a result, plasma transfusions are used to treat ailments such as internal bleeding, deadly canine diseases such as Parvo, inherited bleeding disorders, and hemophilia.”4
Red blood cells are stored in a nutrient solution for up to 42 days in a fridge at a monitored temperature of 4 degrees centigrade. Plasma is frozen and can be stored as fresh frozen plasma for one year and as frozen plasma for up to five years at minus 18 degrees centigrade.5