Can dogs and cats be blood donors? How does it work?
Simple answer, yes they can! There are many situations where a blood transfusion is genuinely lifesaving.
Why would you need to do a blood transfusion?
There are several possible reasons:
- Severe bleeding (e.g. after major blood loss, such as in a road-traffic accident; or rat-bait poisoning)
- Anaemia (e.g. immune anaemia).
- Clotting disorders (like von Willibrand’s Disease, haemophilia or liver failure) can also be treated with blood products.
But where does the blood come from?
From donor cats and dogs. These are healthy pets whose owners volunteer them either regularly, or in emergencies, to provide blood to save other animals’ lives.
There are two basic systems:
Most practices have a list of dogs and cats who meet the requirements who can, in an emergency, be called on to donate blood. Often, these are the pets of vets or nurses! If a patient comes in who is in urgent need of blood, the vet will call these animals’ owners, and they bring their pet into the surgery to donate.
The Pet Blood Bank UK (PBB)
Pet Blood Bank UK (PBB) is a charity which is similar to the human blood service but for dogs! Dog owners kindly bring along their much-loved canine companions to give blood at donation sessions across the country. Although the charity does not currently provide feline products, they are hoping to in the future. The blood is then stored and sent out when needed – usually as “blood products” rather than whole blood. In an emergency, we can even call them and get blood sent to us by same-day courier!
Does it harm the donors?
No, most dogs don’t even realise that they are donating blood! We do use local anaesthetic cream to prevent discomfort. In addition, we find that by making lots of fuss and giving reassurance, the dogs are very happy. Our donors come bounding through the host practice’s doors with their tales wagging and many fall asleep on the donation table! Sometimes, donors are a bit sleepy for the next day or two, but usually there’s no visible effect. It takes them about 7-14 days to replace the blood cells, but as long as they get a good meal and plenty to drink afterwards, they’ll make a very rapid recovery.
What are blood products, and what are they used for?
Blood products are processed donated blood, and each type is used to supply different blood components to the patient. Therefore, one donation of blood may help several different patients! The main products used are:
- Whole Blood – as the name suggests, this is whole blood, as it came out of the donor! This is what is used from “ad-hoc” donors, but obviously, one unit of blood can only help one patient, so it isn’t often used by the Pet Blood Bank (usually only where platelets, clotting cells, are needed, as these don’t last very well in storage).
- Packed Red Blood Cells – this product contains the concentrated red blood cells from the blood, and is used mainly to treat blood loss, whatever the cause.
- Fresh Frozen Plasma – this is the liquid component of the blood without the cells, and contains all the proteins and clotting factors; it is usually used for clotting disorders.
- Frozen Plasma – if a unit of Fresh Frozen Plasma isn’t used within a certain time, some of the proteins become less active, and it is then referred to as “Frozen Plasma” or “Stored Frozen Plasma”. This is still useful, however, in some clotting disorders and for burns victims.
- Cryoprecipitate – a processed plasma product, where the clotting factors are extracted and concentrated, used in certain clotting disorders.
What about blood groups?
Compared to humans, dogs and cats are really complicated! Humans only have two blood systems (ABO and Rhesus), giving eight possible blood groups – A, B, AB and O, any of which may be Rhesus Positive or Negative.
The PBB has discovered that 70% of donors are Positive whilst only 30% are Negative. Certain breeds are more likely to be Negative too!
Dogs, however, have eight different systems (DEA1 – 8)! The most important is the DEA-1 group, which should almost always be matched between the donor and the recipient (otherwise, the recipient may develop a transfusion reaction, which can be fatal). However, in an emergency, a one-off transfusion even between unmatched dogs is usually safe, as long as the recipient has never received an unmatched transfusion before.
Cats, meanwhile, are much more like us – they can be A, B or AB. However, again like us, we need to match the donor and the recipient’s blood groups every time (sadly, there is no universal donor in cats!). To learn more, visit the International Cat Care website here: https://icatcare.org/advice/blood-donor-cats/
That sounds great! What sorts of pets can donate blood?
For dogs, the requirements are that donors must be:
- Fit and healthy adults (between one and eight years old)
- Weigh over 25kg (lean body weight!)
- Have a good temperament (!)
- Never have travelled abroad.
- Be vaccinated, but not on any medication.
The requirements for cats are similar –
- A happy and ideally indoor cat
- They should be a healthy adult (1-8 years old), weighing over 4kg
- Be vaccinated, but not on any medications
If you want to know more, contact us, or visit the Pet Blood Bank website at https://www.petbloodbankuk.org/