A Pet Owner’s Experience of Pet Blood Donation and Pet Blood BankCathy, one of our receptionists, shares her experience from a doggie owner’s perspective.
“I first became aware of a canine blood donation scheme in the late 1980’s and registered one of my Irish Setters ‘Jaffa’ with the national charity ‘The Holly Blood Donor Appeal’. They compiled a register of owners who would be willing to allow their dogs to donate blood. He was called up once, to donate blood for a dog suffering from auto immune haemolytic anaemia. In those days, it was a case of driving to the veterinary practice where the patient was being treated, donating blood and then going home again. Things have changed so much since those early days.
Launched in 2007, Pet Blood Bank UK provides a national blood product service to all veterinary practices across the UK. In my early days of working in veterinary practice which began in the late 1970’s, blood transfusions were performed very rarely and, if they happened at all, were generally performed when patients were referred to one of the universities. Today, they are carried out in general practice as routine. Having had two Irish Setters in the last twenty years who have benefited from transfusions, I felt it was time to give something back. There are many reasons why a dog would need a transfusion from trauma to acute or chronic illness. In my case, one dog suffered a perforated gastric ulcer and the second developed a clotting disorder. Neither would have survived without transfusions.
Just as with human blood, canine blood is in short supply and new donors are always required. The Pet Blood Bank holds sessions in veterinary practices and kennels across the UK and they now have a mobile unit. Donor dogs are typed at their initial donation and are either DEA 1 Positive or DEA 1 Negative. Approximately 30% of donors have the negative type, and certain breeds are more likely to be Negative. These include Dobermann, Boxer, Weimaraner, Old English Sheepdog and Flat Coat Retriever. Negative dogs are in high demand because they are the universal donors. Positive dogs are the universal recipients. At first transfusion a dog can receive Negative blood regardless of its own blood group. Obviously, it is far better to type all patients before a transfusion, but this isn’t always possible as not all veterinary keep the typing kits in stock. Dogs requiring subsequent transfusions must always be typed so that they receive compatible blood, but in an emergency situation where the recipient’s blood group isn’t known and cannot be tested, Negative blood must always be used. Negative dogs can only receive Negative blood, but initially Positive dogs can receive either Positive or Negative, hence the drive to enrol new donors from the potentially Negative breeds. Each donor is given a number which is used to label the blood products, consequently donations from that individual can be traced back to source and right through the process to transfusion.
I enrolled my Irish Setter ‘Lois’ because, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to give something back and of all my dogs, she is the most outgoing, is people friendly and sees visits to the vets as one of the highlights in her life. Everything about the donation process is aimed at being a positive experience but the moment a dog becomes apprehensive or afraid then the session is stopped regardless of which point it has reached. For this reason, there are some dogs who don’t get as far as donating, but, if that is the case, they are not written off as failures but are invited to the next session to try again if the owner wants to pursue donation. For ‘Lois’ and I it was a great experience from start to finish. She loved the attention, the fuss, the food and meeting lots of people. She was the fastest donator of the session and announced as star of the day. As for me, I was extremely proud of what she had done and the way she had behaved. The cherry on top of the cake moment came a few days later when a call from the Pet Blood Bank announced that she fell into the minority Negative group.
Because ‘Lois’ fell into the Negative group, I wondered what the possibility of ‘Kitty’, her litter sister being Negative would be. The Blood Bank thought it quite likely and were keen to at least test her. I had some reservations about enrolling her as she is more reserved than ‘Lois’, and generally views a visit to the vets as something to be tolerated but not enjoyed. However, she sailed through the whole process without fear or trepidation. This was mainly due to the amazing, dedicated staff who make everything so positive and encouraging. Again, I left the session feeling uplifted and proud. Three days later came the welcome news that ‘Kitty’ was also in the Negative group.
New donors are constantly required, and I’m left wondering if Irish Setters could indeed be one of the breeds which are more likely to be Negative. Volunteering your dog as a donor is easy. There are certain criteria which need to be met, most importantly the dog must be of sound temperament, over twenty five kilos in body weight, fully vaccinated and never been abroad. They must be fit and healthy and not on any medication, and be between one and seven years of age.
At the donation appointment, each dog is given a thorough examination by the Pet Blood Bank veterinary surgeon, detailed questions are asked about the dogs medical history and lifestyle, the microchip is checked, and a small blood sample is taken to check that the dog is fit to donate. In first time donors, a larger sample is collected and sent away for analysis for a full health screen. Results are sent to the donor’s veterinary practice. If all is well the dog will donate one unit of blood, which is approximately 450mls, and takes around four to seven minutes to collect. Each donation is later separated into red blood cells and plasma products. Every unit of blood donated can help save the life of up to four other dogs.
Following donation, the dog is given a bowl of food and has access to water, is kept under observation by the qualified staff for approximately fifteen minutes. After the first donation a goody bag which includes treats, a collar tag and a ‘lifesaver’ bandana are awarded to each dog and they have their photo taken for the Pet Blood Bank Facebook page. They can also choose and take home a toy. A follow up call a few days later is made by the Pet Blood Bank to the owner to check on the wellbeing of the donor, and is a chance for the owner to ask any questions or give feedback.
My purpose in writing about my experience is to highlight the wonderful work done by this charity and to let other know how easy it is to get involved. At the end of the day, my two dogs went on to make recoveries from their illnesses thanks to the owners and their dogs who gave up their time and lifesaving blood. Now, thanks to ‘Lois’ and ‘Kitty’, things have come full circle and we’ve gone on to do our bit to thank those who helped our beloved dogs in the past. If you and your dog have a few hours to spare on a Saturday I would urge you to support the Pet Blood Bank and give donation a try. There is absolutely no pressure to donate, it’s not for every dog and if that is the case the session is simply stopped. It’s then entirely the owner’s decision on whether they want to try again at the next session.
For more information, to register and get involved please go to the Pet Blood Bank website, or give Milton Keynes Veterinary Group a call.”