We know that being a blood donor can save lives, but do you know that pet blood donations can save the lives of our furry companions too?
Every year thousands of family pets across Canada are given blood transfusions, largely for the same reasons people do: illness, blood disorders, after accidents, major surgery or trauma. Many dogs need a transfusion after being hit by a car, or suffering a bad bite. Dogs may need blood for a ruptured tumour in the abdomen or diseases like anemia that destroy red blood cells.
Dogs that receive a blood transfusion typically recover faster from procedures, and it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
But in the Vancouver area there is a shortage of high-quality dog blood with a Universal blood type, which means that it may not be available in case of an emergency.
That shortage has prompted Vancouver Animal Blood Services (VABS) to issue a call for new doggy recruits to add to the donor pool.
The program collects and stores dog blood for use across the Lower Mainland. VABS currently has just 10 donors, and each one is only allowed to donate every three months. There’s also a risk the current donor pool could shrink at any given time because sometimes dogs need to be retired early because of health issues.
“There are also times of the year where our need for blood is higher and some of our volunteers allow us to call them on an emergency basis for an emergency donation. With more donors, the chance of having someone available is that much greater,” says Dr. Uschi Craigdallie, who heads the program.
But just like people, dogs have different blood types, and not all blood is suitable for all patients.
“There are universal donors and 1.1+ donors. Ideally we would have all universal donors so the blood we collect could go to any patient but universal donors can be hard to find as they are less common,” she says.
Donor candidates will undergo a physical exam and mini-blood type test to find out if they meet the blood type requirements. If approved, the actual donation is relatively simple: The dogs are given sedation – or “happy drugs” – beforehand and blood is collected over 10 or 15 minutes. Dogs are given a water/electrolyte solution during the procedure to keep them well hydrated.
That donated blood is spun in a centrifuge to separate it into plasma and red blood cells, and can be used to help up to four different dogs.
“This is a very special program and is a wonderful way for owners and their canine companions to help others in their time of need,” says Dr. Craigdallie.
Not all dogs can donate. The ideal requirements are those that:
- Weigh more than 50 pounds
- Are able to donate every one to three months
- Are between the ages of one and six
- Have a calm and friendly disposition
- No history of serious or contagious disease
- Up to date on vaccines
- Not on a raw food diet
- Has never had a blood transfusion
The program does not currently have any cat donors because it is a riskier procedure: Cats need a heavier level of sedation and even light anesthesia.
Visit the VABS website to find out if your pet could be a donor or to learn more.
The Canadian Animal Blood Bank also operates in other Canadian cities, and also needs donors.