Did you know your dog can be a blood donor?

by ANTONY CLAY

IT is well known that people can donate blood. Indeed, it is an esential service that helps save people’s lives every day.

But did you know that dogs can also give blood?

Unfortunately, as is the case with human donations, not enough canines are offered up by their owners to donate which could lead to pets missing out on life-saving treatments, particularly during the summer.

The reason is quite simply that most owners are not aware that their dogs can make the vital donations.

Currently only 40 per cent of pet owners know their dog can give blood, according to new figures.

But the lack of knowledge varies dramatically across the UK with people in the North East most likely to be aware that dogs can give blood (57 per cent), whilst those in Wales were the least likely (30 per cent).

The charity Pet Blood Bank UK is now working with Vets4Pets to encourage more owners to register their dog to give blood, as the charity faces challenges over the summer months which lead to lower stock levels of blood during this period.

The focus is also on dogs with the negative blood type, as these supplies are often particularly low because only 30 per cent of dogs eligible to give blood have this blood type.

Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Just like people, sick and injured dogs may need blood transfusions, and, in most cases, it is literally the difference between life and death.

“The reasons for needing a blood transfusion can be very similar between humans and dogs, as it is used to treat anaemia caused by anything from auto-immune diseases to emergency cases where severe trauma has resulted in dramatic blood loss.

“We recently focused on the topic of pet blood donation in our 2019 Vet Report, with the aim of educating pet owners, but we also wanted to understand what the current awareness was across the UK.

“That’s why we put together our latest research, which has found that awareness is unfortunately still low, with 60 per cent of people being unaware that pets can give blood, and only two per cent of 45-plus year-olds own a dog that has donated blood.”

Vets4Pets and Pet Blood Bank are hoping owners who give blood will help increase the number of dog blood donors, as the research revealed only 13 per cent of respondents have had, or currently own, a dog that has given blood, compared to 51 per cent who said that they have donated blood themselves.

Pet Blood Bank is the UK’s only charity that provides a canine blood bank service for vets, but the team often face issues with owners cancelling appointments and the heat effecting dogs being able to donate. This means stock levels of blood reduce throughout the summer.

The charity works with more than 50 UK veterinary practices, which act as donation centres where the Pet Blood Bank team can hold sessions, visiting each venue between three and six times a year.

The team is also on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to dispatch blood, ensuring this is always readily available to help save the lives of pets in need.

Wendy Barnett, clinical director at Pet Blood Bank, said: “We hope by working with Vets4Pets it will help increase the numbers of people registering their dogs as donors, particularly negative blood type breeds, so we can continue our work of helping to save pets’ lives.

“We often have problems getting blood in the summer and keeping stocks from being critically low, as the number of no-show appointments increases.

“Dog owners often cancel last minute, due to the weather or going on holiday, and then we find it difficult to book appointments in.

“Unfortunately, we currently have a lack of negative blood type dogs donating, and our research shows that only 30 per cent of dogs eligible to donate are this type. Labradors are one of the most common dogs we have registered with us, but they generally tend to be positive blood type.

“Breeds that are most likely to have a negative blood type include Dobermans, Flat-Coated Retrievers, Weimaraners, Greyhounds, Pointers, Lurchers and German Shepherds.

“We currently have over 10,000 registered dog donors; however, this doesn’t mean that all 10,000 are still active donors.

“On average we have 1,000 new registrations a year, but for many reasons dogs stop donating over time, such as moving away, a change in health status, or retire due to age. This is why it is so imperative that we have a constant steady stream of new donor dogs, as stocks can diminish quickly.

“We can also see that demand for blood is increasing across the UK. Last year we sent out over 5,000 units of blood to vet practices across the country. And, as negative blood can be used for all dogs in an emergency, these stocks decrease at a faster rate. It is an ongoing challenge to keep stocks up.

“We have recently launched our first mobile donation unit, which is really helping as it allows us to reach more donors. We can hold sessions at short notice and visit areas where we don’t have a donation centre nearby.

“One of the most important things for us is to ensure that people know that their dog can become a donor and that any concerns around the process are addressed.”

According to the new research, 27 per cent of respondents think giving blood would hurt their dog, whilst a third think their dog would be scared when giving blood and one in five think their dog would be unwell afterwards.

However, ensuring donating blood is a safe and enjoyable experience for every dog is something that Pet Blood Bank prides itself on achieving with every donation,

“Our primary concern is always the happiness and safety of the dog, and we have a strict welfare first policy with any donation,” said Wendy.

“We ensure that all dogs who come in to donate are weighed, that their blood is screened, and they undergo a thorough check-up to evaluate if they are fit and healthy enough to give blood.

“The dog also has to meet a set of stringent criteria. They have to weigh over 25kg, be on no medication other than preventative flea and worm treatments, be between one and eight years old and have had the core vaccinations. They also can’t have travelled abroad or have been imported from outside the UK or Ireland. These criteria help to ensure the safety of the blood supply for both the donor and recipient dogs.

“We also have to ensure that both the dog and the owners are happy and stress-free, and we try to alleviate any fear. If there are any concerns, we won’t take the blood, but on average 75 per cent of dogs that come in for a session will donate.

“Whilst people may have a fear of needles, this is not something that extends to dogs. With reassurance from the Pet Blood Bank team and their owner, who is encouraged to stay with the dog during the donation, we find our donors are very relaxed and happy throughout the process.

“It only takes around five minutes for each unit of blood to be taken and we use local anaesthetic cream to prevent any discomfort. There are plenty of treats on offer, as well as lots of fuss and belly rubs. We make it a very positive experience for all our donors, so much so that many of them come bounding through the doors, full of excitement for what lies ahead.”

Each donation is split into two components – packed red blood cells and plasma, and each of these can be split in half meaning one donation can help to save the lives of up to four other dogs.

Red blood cells can survive for up to six weeks, whilst plasma can be frozen for up to five years.

Dr Stacey said: “Some of our practices have been working with Pet Blood Bank as donation centres for years. We are always keen to help organisations and charities that share our goal of working hard to improve animal welfare.

“We hope that this helps to raise awareness of the important initiative and that more dogs sign up to become donors. This really can help to save thousands of pets’ lives every year.”

Breeds that are more likely to be negative blood type:

  • Airedale Terrier
  • American Bulldog
  • Border Collie
  • Boxer, Doberman
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • English Bull Terrier
  • Flat Coated Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Greyhound
  • Lurcher
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Pointer
  • Weimaraner

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