Introducing: Pet Blood Bank

This week’s blog is a bit of a ‘Did you know?’…

I’d like to introduce you to ‘Pet Blood Bank UK’ (www.petbloodbankuk.org), a UK charity which offers an amazing service that I think few people are aware of.

Most of us know of the concept of donating blood as humans, so that blood transfusions, platelets, plasma or red blood cells can then be given to patients who need them, whether that’s because of an accident, injury or illness. But, did you know that the same service is also available for pets in the UK?

Pet Blood Bank UK is a Loughborough based charity, fairly close to SLVC here in the East Midlands. It has been operating as a charity since 2007 and, in just 3 years, by 2010, was celebrating its 2000th donor, already having helped countless pets within that short time. Now, over 15 years later, the charity provides an invaluable service and continues its pioneering research to grow and evolve, advancing animal blood bank and transfusion medicine for the benefit of animal care and welfare. They are also dedicated to providing training and support for vets and veterinary practices, enabling them to most effectively use the charity’s services and blood products to treat pets. Using these products, vets are able to save 1000s of pet lives each year.

Currently, the Pet Blood Bank operates a canine blood bank service, but they have been researching feline blood for a number of years too, and soon hope to extend their service to cats. They also operate an alpaca service through collection kits and blood processing service for alpaca vets, to provide plasma to newborn crias when needed, helping build vital immunity if they haven’t had the colostrum that they need shortly after birth. Interestingly, according to the NHS Blood and Transplant Service, the very first successful recorded blood transfusion was from dog to dog, way back in 1665, conducted by a physician called Richard Lower. It wasn’t until 150 years later that the first successful human to human transfusion took place.

How does the Pet Blood Bank work?

In the same way that humans give blood, the Pet Blood Bank operates a number of donation sessions across the country. Dogs can be signed up to the donor register (subject to suitability and health check) and be taken along to donate blood. The health and wellbeing of the donor dogs is a top priority, so there are certain criteria that your dog needs to meet in order to be able to donate blood. Some of these are to do with the dog’s age, health and fitness, while other criteria are to do with its temperament and whether it’s comfortable with being handled and being around strangers. The last thing the charity would want is to cause any animal distress, so their donor dogs have to be 100% happy with the process. They look for confident, adaptable dogs who are happy meeting new people. The whole donation appointment takes about 45 minutes but that includes a health check beforehand with the fully trained team including a vet and vet nurse. In total around 450mls blood is taken from the donor dog, which takes about 5-10 minutes and is accompanied by lots of fuss and belly rubs! They’re then given water, treats and fuss in abundance. Essentially, it’s very similar to a human blood donation session – health check, donation, tea and biscuits afterwards! (Admittedly there are fewer belly rubs for their human counterparts!) Donor dogs thoroughly enjoy the experience and usually go in with tails wagging, excited to see the team and looking forward to their fuss and treats. It’s paramount that the session does not place any undue stress on the dogs, physically or emotionally, which is why they have very strict guidelines and welfare measures in place.

Each dog’s blood is processed and separated into plasma and red blood cells, which means every donation can save the lives of up to 4 other dogs – from emergency treatment to ongoing care for dogs with conditions such as haemophilia. The red blood cells are stored chilled, and have a shelf-life of up to six weeks, while the plasma is frozen and can be kept for up to 5 years. The products are safely stored at the Pet Blood Bank HQ and sent via courier to vets when they’re needed, where they’re carefully heated to body temperature and transplanted into the poorly pet. The service is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so the blood is always available and ready to be dispatched in an emergency.

Volunteering your dog as a donor is an incredibly kind and thoughtful thing to do and it’s not until you’re in the position when your pet needs urgent treatment that you realise how vital this service is.

There are currently over 10,000 registered donors and, without these, countless dogs would not receive the lifesaving blood products that they need. It’s all down to the hard work and research of this charity and the selflessness of the donors (and their owners!). The Pet Blood Bank runs donation sessions at many veterinary practices across the UK so, if you’re considering signing your dog up as a donor, the chances are there’ll be one near you. As demand for blood products increases they’re in need of donors to continue the supply. Just like humans, dogs can have different blood types, DEA 1 positive or DEA 1 negative. DEA 1 negative blood is particularly in demand as there are fewer of these dogs signed up to the donation programme (only 30% of the dogs eligible to donate in the UK have this blood type) but it can actually be given to any dog in an emergency, so stocks of this type often run low. You can find out which breeds are more likely to have a negative blood type on the PBB UK website although every donation, positive or negative, is hugely valued and will be used to save lives. There’s lots of information online about the work of the Pet Blood Bank and ways to get involved, from volunteering to fundraising or registering your pet as a potential donor (subject to suitability check). You can also pre-register your interest for signing up your cat, once their feline scheme is up and running.

It’s certainly something to consider if you have an easy-going, healthy, friendly, adaptable pet and would like to help them do something truly amazing.