We humans are often reminded of the importance of blood donation and are encouraged to take an active role in contributing. For dogs, the effort deserves more attention.
Our rescue dogs have never required transfusions, but Joe Pugga, our Pug, has endured major procedures. He’s our first dog with ongoing medical challenges, and that has forced us to face some stressful questions. Should we be donating to stockpile for our dogs? Should we be donating to help others? Can we donate to help others?
We have a house full of healthy candidates and we want to do our part, and we want to ensure our vet can give Joe the best care available. That experience opened our eyes to the challenges vets and hospitals face not only in raising blood supplies, but also in raising community awareness about opportunities to help.
Here are five critical questions dog owners should ask about blood donation.
The vast majority of donation programs use three primary criteria: size, age, and current medical status. Typically speaking, dogs be healthy and must weigh a minimum of 50 pounds.
At the blood banks at ACCES (Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services) in Seattle, there are age restrictions in place for the animals’ safety as well. “We do not donate animals younger than one year, as we want them to have ﬁnished growing, and we retire them at nine years of age as they are considered at that point to be senior citizens,” says senior public relations manager Virginia Piper. “We also only use the healthiest animals in our program. For this reason, we ask that our donors not be on any medications except, ﬂea, tick and heartworm preventative.”
A lack of knowledge and fears of undue pain for the dog keep people away. In truth, the process is rather simple, takes very little time, and is not invasive for the pooch at all. Plus, dogs can only donate once every 60 days.
“We do not use sedation for the blood collection,” says Jennifer Lane, blood bank administrator for Hemopet, a nonprofit Greyhound adoption program in Garden Grove, California. “Our dogs sit on nice cushy pillows with one person holding their head while another person collects the blood.”
They take only a half unit — 250ml — from each dog per session, which takes five to seven minutes. “We prefer to have the owner in the room helping to hold their dog during the donation as we find it helps to keep them calm,” Piper says.
“Everybody who adopts from us knows that their new pets have been blood donors and are proud that their new family member has helped save numerous lives,” Lane says. “There are no adverse effects of donating blood, and once adopted the Greyhounds never donate again and are just like any other pet adopted from any other adoption group.”
The process is painless aside from the initial poke. After the blood is collected, the dog and the partner they live with get cookies. It’s simple, quick, and painless, and it ends with a reward!
“Your dog gets free blood workups and annual exams at clinics where the blood donation is taking place,” Lane says. “Your dog is helping save another life or two per donation, and just knowing that you’re helping another dog and pet owner makes it all worth it.”
Demand often exceeds supply. “Hemopet supplies canine blood all over the United States, Canada and also into Hong Kong,” Lane says. “We are sold out on a daily basis, and that’s with our 200-plus Greyhound donors that we have here.”
Piper of ACCES also points to the number of situations that raise the demand for blood. “Many medical situations require blood transfusions including trauma, cancer, surgery, immune problems, and poisons like rat bait. Without life-saving blood product, most of these animals wouldn’t survive.”
Jeannie Losey, RVT of the Blood Bank Service for the Veterinary Health Center at North Carolina State University, put it best: “If you ever wanted to save a life, this is the easy way to do so since one donation can save up to four dogs.”
Losey thinks vets and hospitals should encourage participation by rewarding pet owners with incentives like free monthly flea, tick, and heartworm meds, which also help keep donors healthy. “From what I have heard, vet practices will give free yearly blood work, vaccines, and heartworm preventives as incentives to have your pet donate on a regular basis for their clinic,” Lane adds.
As pet owners, we have to help our communities and encourage participation as well. Jordin Karalunas, the ICU Coordinator for Oakland Veterinary Referral Services in southeastern Michigan, notes, “Word of mouth is the best way to spread awareness to fellow pet owners.”
Piper agrees. “Talk to friends and family about the animal blood bank and the need for animal blood donors. Word of mouth has been our best recruiting tool!”
Losey adds some potent suggestions as well. “Spreading the word that pets can donate blood and encouraging friends and family to ask your local veterinarian if they know of a donor program in the area is critical. Dog walks and other activities where pet owners gather are good places to start handing out brochures.”
Blood bank efforts tend to be regional and can typically be found via a local internet search. The Humane Society serves as another excellent source (as always) for information on blood donation programs across the Unites States. Many international markets lack options for dog owners, but efforts like PetBloodBankUK.com can help.
Losey recommends the Canine Blood Bank of Central Iowa and HemoSolutions as great resources for dog owners looking for a donation program. Piper suggests the ACCES Blood Bank, and Karalunas notes that the OVRS site offers a virtual tour of the volunteer blood bank program.
If you have questions about blood donation in your area, speak with your vet to see if they have a plan or effort they support. If not, don’t hesitate to call local animal hospitals to inquire.
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Heather lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters, and a number of four-leggers depending on how many fosters are residing in the house. She’s primarily a full-time volunteer where her services are needed the most.