Blood Donation in Cats and Dogs

Following on from my previous blog about Tissue Donation in Cats and Dogs, it got me thinking that maybe the subject of Blood Donation in these animals isn’t widely known about either. So guess what? This blog is going to tell you a bit more about this topic, why it’s important, and whether your pet could help. I’ll start with dogs first, then move on to our Feline friends.

Not all dogs will meet the minimum “25kg weight to donate”

standard that the Pet Blood Bank (PBB) and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate have set for the welfare of potential donors. Although smaller dogs are immediately excluded by this weight requirement, there are a couple of heavier dog breeds that aren’t able to be blood donors. The English Bulldog is ruled out thanks to its body shape and brachycephalic skull which means they can’t be held in the necessary donation position (on their side) comfortably, or stay optimally oxygenated during the process. Chow Chows are also not allowed to donate, as their pigmented mucous membranes can’t be adequately assessed for oxygen saturation during the donation.

It goes without saying really that any dog wishing to donate blood needs to be up-to-date with all vaccinations, and be fit, healthy and not on any medications. If you have arranged an appointment at a donation centre and your dog has diarrhoea or is vomiting on the day, they won’t be able to make the donation – but you can re-schedule the session.

There aren’t any horrible side-effects for your pet after they have given their donation of blood; after 24 hours or so, your dog will be bouncing around again, happy as Larry! It takes approximately two months for the volume of blood taken to be replaced by the body though, which is why PBB will only accept a maximum of six donations per year from any animal.

Canine blood donation is a straight-forward process, and every care is taken to ensure the donor is relaxed and happy. A local anaesthetic cream is applied to the cannula (needle) site to prevent any discomfort, and they receive plenty of reassurance and cuddles to distract them from what’s happening. So good are the staff involved, that it has been known for dogs to have a quick power nap!

Unlike the relatively simple blood types of humans, Canines have a much more diverse range of blood types.

There are currently a number of research studies being carried out to identify the multitude of Canine blood types and what the significance of them is. Research also helps develop this field of Veterinary Medicine, helping to highlight any issues between donors and recipients through blood screening.

It is now known, thanks to research, that dogs who have previously received donated blood via transfusion may develop anti-bodies in their own blood, which may potentially cause a serious reaction if their blood is then subsequently donated and given to a recipient animal.

This does mean unfortunately, that some dogs are ruled out as donors themselves when they’ve benefitted from this amazing scheme, which can leave their owners saddened that their pet can’t “give something back”. Donating blood though is only one small part of what a pet and owner team can do; owners can help spread the word about the scheme in their community, they can encourage friends to consider letting their dog be a donor, or they can get involved with fund-raising for the PBB (Pet Blood Bank).

Cats, clearly, have a different weight limit criteria set for them being able to donate their blood.

If your puss weighed 25kg we’d be more than a little worried here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre, and be suggesting that they come along to our weight loss clinic and go on a specialised diet! The minimum weight for kitties wanting to donate their blood is 3.5kg; they must also be at least one year old but no more than 10 years, and they must be easy to handle. As with their Canine counterparts, potential Feline donors need to be fit and healthy, and not on any medications. They also need to be up-to-date with all their vaccinations and not to have travelled abroad or have been the recipient of a blood transfusion themselves.

The Feline blood donation process itself only takes about 10-15 minutes, but any donor cat is monitored for about 4 hours after they’ve made their precious donation. This isn’t because it’s more traumatic for them than for dogs (so please don’t be anxious), it’s just that cats can be fussy drinkers and the staff involved want to make sure that your fur-baby is rehydrated enough before they let them go home.

Pet blood donation probably isn’t something you’ve given a lot of thought to; we never do, until we need it: it’s the same with human donation.

We utilise the amazing service the PBB provides and often blood is delivered to the practice within 3 hours of it being ordered!

This is why it’s important for animals to donate; as with humans, blood is often needed during routine cases too – and these happen on a daily basis, so blood is regularly being used.

As a practice, we are always trying to raise awareness of schemes such as this, and point owners to local donation sessions as-and-when they are going to be held. If you think this is something that you and your cat or dog would like to get involved with, then please get in touch with a member of the SLVC team, or mention it at your next appointment.

Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂