Canine Blood Banks: Your Dog's Life Saving Transfusion

If you’ve never had to face the horror of your dog needing a blood transfusion, you may never have given a second thought to canine blood banks. They are a relatively new phenomenon, borne of the advances in veterinary medical care that can enable vets to keep your dog alive despite what would formerly have been overwhelming odds.

Bag of dog blood
Canine blood banks operate the same way human ones do.

As pet guardians, we appear to be ever more willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to assure our pets the best of everything, including medical care. Transfusions might be necessary to help your dog not only after a horrible catastrophe such as being hit by a car, but also to enhance care for cancer, during certain medical procedures, and following orthopedic surgery.

It used to be that vets would draw blood from their own pets or those who live with their staff members, friends and family members when the need arose. But now that transfusions are becoming more commonplace, they need to have a more reliable and consistent source of blood products.

How do canine blood banks work?

Dog in emergency surgery
Blood transfusions might be necessary to save your dog's life after an unforseen accident or orthopedic surgery.

The vast majority of canine blood banks operate in the same way as human ones do: donors come in and give up a pint (or a half pint for small dogs) of their blood. The blood bank cleans it and separates the blood into its component parts, then ships it to the doctor / vet who in turn pumps it into needy patients.

In some cases, dogs are kept on the premises to provide blood. The donor dogs are usually retired racing dogs or dogs from shelters who would otherwise be euthanized. Although being a professional blood donor is better than the alternative of being gassed out of existence, this method strikes many as being a little less than kosher. The idea of keeping an animal in a cage in order to extract its blood on a regular basis seems a little cold.

However, because this is a new field, many dog families simply don’t know the option exists for their dogs to become lifesavers for other canines. To solve that problem, some blood banks utilize bloodmobiles to bring the blood draw equipment to public events where they not only get blood, but also advertise the concept to new donors.

Which dogs can give blood?

The first requirement is temperament. If you want your dog to donate blood, he or she must be calm, receptive to strangers, cooperative, and willing to be handled by a stranger.

Assuming your dog passes the behavior test, the blood bank will next seek to qualify your dog medically. You must be able to prove the dog is up to date on all of his or her vaccinations including distemper, hepatitis, rabies, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. Your dog may be disqualified if he or she takes daily medication (or has taken medication recently) other than flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives.

If your dog has health problems already, chances are he or she will not make a good donor. Cardiac conditions are usually an automatic disqualifier, and dogs who have previously been the recipient of a transfusion are also ineligible. Dogs are screened for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Brucellosis and Lyme Disease, among other chronic conditions as part of the vetting process. The dog is also given a complete physical, including blood work, before being placed on the donor list. Last, but not least, the dog must meet specific age and weight requirements, which vary by program.

Most programs have a website which will tell you upfront what qualifies or disqualifies a dog. Checking out these lists will (hopefully) keep you from wasting your time and theirs.

Because the vetting process is so extensive, the blood bank has a vested interest in having your dog make more than just one donation. To keep you coming back, many centers offer free medical care, food, and other incentives to their donors.

What’s the process?

Bag of dog blood
The proceedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

If your dog gets through the qualification process, you will be asked to bring the dog into the facility for the actual blood draw. You will likely be asked to wait in the waiting room while your dog undergoes the procedure, which takes somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes.

The dog lies on his or her side on a comfy dog bed, and the technician cleans and sterilizes the area around the jugular vein in the neck. If your dog has longer fur, a small area may be shaved. A needle is inserted into the vein and the blood flows out through a tube into a sterile collection bag. Depending on your dog’s size, the amount collected will be either a pint or a half pint. Technicians are trained to soothe your dog during the process, and treat them extravagantly afterwards, with belly rubs and treats. Sedation is not required for canine blood draws.

A bandage is placed over the collection site, and your dog may be given IV fluids to help replace some of the lost blood volume. Depending on the center, your dog may also receive a bandanna, toy, or some other accessory to commemorate (and publicize) the occasion.

Your dog may experience a little bit of discomfort and swelling around the draw site, but should be fine to resume his or her normal activities within just a few hours. Of course, there is always the possibility of an infection whenever the skin is broken, but this risk is slight.

What happens to the blood after it’s drawn?

Just as with human donations, each canine donation can benefit several different dogs. To accomplish this, the blood is placed in a centrifuge and spun to separate it into its various components: white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma.

The most common transfusions are of red blood cells, which are used to treat bone marrow disease, anemia, and blood loss due to cancer; and plasma, which can treat internal bleeding or hemophilia, and supplements blood volume after a catastrophic loss. Refrigerated red blood cells can be kept for only 30 days, while frozen plasma can last as long as a year.

Does my dog’s blood type have to match the patient’s?

If you took an 8th grade biology class, you likely learned that humans have blood types known as A, B, AB, or O. Blood type has to do with the antibodies present in a person’s blood. A person of blood type O has no antibodies and can be given to people of any blood type.

Dogs have blood groups instead of blood types, and there are more than 12 different groups, although only six are common. About 40% of dogs are universal donors and, similar to humans with type O blood; their blood can be given to a dog in any blood group.

Where can I take my dog to give blood?

There is no comprehensive listing of all of the blood banks nationwide, but the bigger ones are listed below, linked to their websites. Many also serve other animals including pets, farm animals, and exotics.

 

Alaska
Palmer: Far Country Animal Hospital Blood Bank

Arizona
Tucson: Murphy’s Blood Bank / Southern Arizona Veterinary, Specialty, and Emergency Center

California
Davis: UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital Blood Bank
Dixon: Animal Blood Resources International
Garden: Grove: Hemopet (This is a non-profit)
Tahoe Vista: Agate Bay Animal Hospital

Colorado
Colorado Springs: HemoSolutions
Parker: Rocky Mountain Blood Services

Florida
Wilton Manors: Blood Banks for Animals Inc.

Indiana
Vallonia: The Veterinarian’s Blood Bank

Iowa
Des Moines: Canine Blood Bank of Central Iowa

Massachusetts
Boston: Angell Animal Medical Center

Michigan
Bloomfield Hills: Buddies for Life Canine Blood Bank
East Lansing: Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Stockbridge: Animal Blood Resources International (also has location in California)

Minnesota
Apple Valley: Twin Cities Animal Blood Bank
St. Paul: University of Minnesota Blood Donor Program

Mississippi
Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Missouri
St. Louis: St. Louis Animal Blood Bank

New York
Orchard Park: Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center

North Carolina
Raleigh: NC State College of Veterinary Medicine

Ohio
Columbus: Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Sylvania: Slyvania Vet Blood Bank

Oregon
Portland: Dove Lewis Blood Bank

Rhode Island
East Greenwich: Ocean State Veterinary Specialists

Tennessee
Knoxville: University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine

Texas (Central)
The Pet Blood Bank This site has lots of useful information about blood banking for animals.

Virginia
Purcellville: Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank

Washington
Pullman: Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Wisconsin
Madison: Emergency Clinic for Animals Blood Donor Program

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