By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Q. Do dogs have blood banks like people?
A. The answer is yes, and just as for people, there is a shortage. With the advancement in veterinary medicine in the treatment of our companions, the need for blood and blood components has been escalating.
In the past, blood was collected from the hospital cat or a staff pet. These guys were used only once in a while, and the recipient could only have one transfusion because of the risk of a lethal reaction if repeated. Over the years, this process has become more sophisticated.
Specialty practices and emergency clinics now have innovative ways to help our best friends during surgery, injuries, cancer treatments, internal medicine, and many others.
Now there are many options to acquired blood components. There are non-profit and for-profit businesses around the country that supply the veterinary community. Some of these institutions have a closed environment. This is required in California for any organization that is running a blood bank. For example, Hemopet is a non-profit organization which uses retired racing greyhounds. These dogs are housed, exercised, and played with during their stay. These dogs are tested for any communicable disease, donating blood a few times over the year and then are adopted to a forever home.
Donor dogs must meet strict requirements to be used in donating blood. The dogs are fully vaccinated and not on any medication except for heart worm and flea and tick treatment. They are one to nine years old, weigh over 35 pounds and not fat, have normal blood work and free from any tick borne diseases, brucellosis, and other communicable diseases. They must have a stable calm temperament, friendly, easy to handle, happy to be held by strangers without the guardian present. Depending on their size, they will donate a “half pint” or a “full pint”.
The donor dogs are treated like people who donate blood. They are on soft beds, and gently held during the collection of blood from their neck. This process takes fifteen to twenty minutes. After the blood is drawn, the pup will get belly rubs, super treats, and fluids for rehydration. The blood is then taken to be processed.
Dogs have blood types called groups. Just like people, there is a universal blood group. Forty percent of the dog population are in this group. It is important to have blood from this group because, like in people, if the donor and the recipient are not the same blood group, there could be severe adverse reactions.
Owners of dogs enrolled in a donor program have great satisfaction that their pup is helping to save others. Often the owners may save on preventative care or receive reimbursement for future care. Expensive, extensive blood screening and typing are done for free. The owners get valuable information about their dog through this process. Other perks may be available as well.
As the progress seen in veterinary care for our beloved pups has grown, so has the need for blood and blood components. The requirements for donating blood vary from around the country and programs. If you are interested in enrolling your dog in a blood donor program, contact your veterinarian, emergency vet clinic, or specialist to find out more.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center