Why the Pet Blood Bank is invaluable.


17th April 2018


At Boundary Vets we are proud supporters of the Pet Blood Bank (PBB) and host donation sessions at the practice every three months. Some of you may not know what the PBB is and how it operates, so in this blog we are going to discuss these points, plus why blood is needed and if your dog could be a lifesaver for others!


What is the pet Blood Bank?


The PBB is the only charity that collects blood from healthy dogs then safely stores it, before sharing it with vets with critically ill dogs that urgently need it. The PBB are based in Loughborough and this is the centre that deals with the blood and stores it all. The team at the Pet Blood Bank visit practices all across the United Kingdom to collect blood from healthy donor dogs – and yours could be one of them!


If you have ever given blood yourself, you will know the health teams collect just a small amount and then you have a drink and something to eat before going home. Dogs are just the same!


What is the blood needed for?


In veterinary practices, we don’t normally need to give pets blood, we can use a wide range of fluids instead that have been specially formulated to help. Some of these are:


  • Artificial plasma (known as Hartmann’s).
  • Colloid suspensions – which are plasma expanders.
  • Artificial blood substitute – not used often but available to practices.


Even with these fluids there are some clinical situations where they are not good enough and the animal needs real blood. Such conditions include:


  • Anaemia – this is where there are insufficient red blood cells in the body which can be caused by trauma, immune diseases and other conditions.
  • Pancytopenia – this is when all blood cells stopped being made in the body by bone marrow.
  • Von Willebrand’s disease – which is a bleeding and clotting disorder, usually seen in certain breeds.
  • Haemophilia – again a bleeding and clotting disorder.
  • Pancreatitis – this is where the pancreas in the body is inflamed.
  • Liver failure – this means the liver stopped making specific vital proteins carried in the blood.


Sadly, in many of these conditions there is no other option other than to give real blood. Without proper blood, the dog may die.


What about blood groups?


Just like people, dogs also have blood groups. The problem is dogs’ blood groups are more complicated than human ones. As humans we have two blood systems – ABO and Rh Factor. This means a human can be blood group A, B, AB or O additionally Rh+ or Rh-, combining to make, for example, blood group A+.


This is much simpler than dog blood groups, whereas we have two systems dogs have 13! The main system vets worry about is called DEA1 and on this system dogs can either be positive or negative. A DEA1- dog can donate to a DEA1+ dog, but it can’t happen the other way around. The reason the PBB likes a lot of donors is only around 30% of dogs have DEA1- blood and negative is more obvious.


The other systems can be used on a first transfusion as they will not likely cause problems, however it is best practice to do a crossmatch first to make sure the blood is a good match for the receiving dog.


What type of dogs can donate blood?


The PBB has strict guidelines and will only accept dogs as blood donors if they meet the certain conditions. These are:


  • A fit and healthy dog.
  • Between one and eight years old.
  • They weigh more than 25 kg – this is so they can give blood without causing harm.
  • Have a good temperament! Taking blood from a friendly dog is much easier!
  • Have never travelled abroad, so less likely to have picked up any exotic disease.
  • Fully vaccinated or titre tested.
  • Not on any medication.


What actually happens at a donation session?


Every dog is checked for this suitability, so you will have some paperwork to fill out first. When you arrive with your dog they will be checked over by one of the Pet Blood Bank vets. Then a trained canine phlebotomist (blood taking specialist) will lay your dog on a table and place a needle in the neck to collect the blood. The whole process only takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Once the needle is removed a bandage will be placed around the neck and the nurses will check the dog is okay, then your dog will be offered a drink, a treat and a toy. They will be allowed to go home after about half an hour.


How many times can my dog donate blood?


Each donor gives around 450ml of blood, but it is worth remembering that a 25 kg dog has over 2 L of blood in their body, so they won’t be drained! They can donate up to once every three months, which is why our sessions are three monthly.


Could there be problems?


Because all the pets are screened for suitability, and then examined by vets before donation, there are no significant risks. A healthy dog can lose a lot more than 450ml of blood before it causes any problems.


What about other animals – such as cats?


Currently the PBB do not store cat blood. Cats can give blood, normally in an emergency where the blood will not need storing, but is given to the affected cat immediately. The cat donor needs to be very healthy, a minimum of 4 kg, 1 to 8 years old and vaccinated.


If you think your dog could be a blood donor, please get in touch with us as soon as possible and we can arrange the first stage where your dog can help save others lives.


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