A reader who is a regular blood donor (or hero, as I think of them!) asked if her dog could also give blood to help other dogs. Here’s the scoop.
Q: I’m a regular blood donor to the Red Cross, and I’m curious if there are blood donor programs for dogs, too.
A: As with humans, blood transfusions can keep dogs alive after trauma, illness or surgery. Dogs may need red blood cells in the event of severe blood loss or chronic anemia; fresh-frozen plasma to treat or control bleeding disorders such as von Willebrand’s disease; or plasma proteins and globulins to treat illnesses or infections such as pancreatitis or parvovirus.
Some large veterinary hospitals keep donor animals “on staff.” These may be pets belonging to staff members or to clients who are willing to bring their animals in to donate as needed. Commercial pet blood banks are another source of blood for sick or injured dogs.
Dogs have eight different blood types, known as Dog Erythrocyte Antigens, or DEA. DEA 4 is considered to be universal.
Every veterinary hospital or blood bank has specific requirements for canine donors, but usually donor dogs must be 1 to 7 years old; weigh 50 pounds or more; be free of Lyme disease, ehrlichia or any other condition that could be passed on through a blood transfusion; on heartworm preventive; shorthaired; and up to date on vaccinations. They should have a calm temperament and be comfortable with handling. Short-snouted breeds such as bulldogs and pugs aren’t good candidates, but any other breed or mix who meets screening criteria can potentially help to save another dog’s life.
In the same way that the Red Cross hands out cookies and juice to humans after they donate, donor dogs receive lots of treats, petting and attention before, during and after their red-blooded contribution. If you’d like to sign up your dog to be a donor, talk to your veterinarian about whether your dog has the right stuff.
There’s more – including how to avoid puppy and kitten scams – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.