Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Blood, hounds and other types of dogs
I am a regular human blood donor and I really do encourage others to do it, too. Is it possible for dogs to become blood donors? Do they have blood types, too? What do I need to do? Are big dogs more useful than small dogs? I'm guessing an Irish Wolfhound could give a lot more blood than a Chihuahua!
Do dogs get a biscuit after they give, too?
Juliette Garner, Stockbridge
It has only been since 2005 that blood can be legally collected and stored by vets, in a similar way to human blood donations. Before vets had access to stored blood, they had to rely on local donors to be on hand or use synthetic products. This change means that veterinary surgeons now have access to blood for transfusions as and when they need them.
Donor blood is often used in trauma cases, such as road traffic accidents, pre- and post-surgery where there has been excessive bleeding, as well as in the management of many other diseases.
The UK’s first Pet Blood Bank (PBBuk) – with funding from out-of-hours emergency care provider Vets Now – was set up as a not-for-profit charity to provide this life-saving canine blood to veterinary practices around the UK.
PBBuk has so far taken blood from over 1,200 volunteer donors. Every time a dog donates blood it can potentially save the lives of four other dogs. This means that for every 1,000 donations, we can potentially help up to 4,000 of the UK’s dogs.
It is only with a continuing supply of donors at our blood collection sessions that enough blood can be collected to continue to supply UK demand.
For dogs to become blood donors, they need to have a good temperament, as they are not sedated during the procedure. We use a local anaesthetic cream to prevent discomfort, but we find that the best donors are dogs that enjoy human interaction, play and rewards.
Donor dogs also need to be fit and healthy, aged between one and eight years old and have a lean bodyweight of more than 25kg. They should not have travelled abroad, to avoid the risk of infectious diseases, and they must not be receiving any medication other than preventive flea and worm treatment. In addition, they need to be up-to-date on all vaccinations, and must not have had a previous blood transfusion.
Just like humans, dogs have different blood types. For the purposes of blood transfusions, these are classified into negative and positive blood types.
Blood typing kits are available for veterinary practices to test your dog’s blood type, so in the event of your worst nightmare becoming a reality, sourcing the right blood will not be an issue for your vet.
As a charity, we are working hard to educate vets on the importance of blood typing. Although all dogs can initially be given negative blood during transfusions safely, dogs are split roughly into half negative and half positive blood types. Testing and using the right blood type is best practice and makes best use of all the blood donated by our heroic donors!
The blood donation process itself takes about five to 10 minutes, but the whole procedure takes around 30 to 40 minutes.
Each dog is initially given a health check by the qualified veterinary team to ensure they are fit and suitable to donate on that day. First-time donors are blood typed and screened to give us all the vital information we need about their blood. We have the most stringent screening for infectious diseases in the industry.
If our donors are not already microchipped, we will also chip them so that all donors are individually identifiable.
After giving their donation of around 450ml of blood, depending on the size of the dog, our donors are given a PBBuk goody bag, a drink and biscuit (the equivalent of tea and a biscuit for us!) and a well deserved tummy rub.
Processing the blood
The PBBuk team takes the donations back to our state-of-the-art laboratory in Loughborough, Leicestershire and are processed within stringent time frames in order to produce specific blood products.
Once back at the laboratory, the blood is separated into red blood cells and plasma. Red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days in a fridge. Plasma is frozen and can be stored for up to five years at temperatures below minus 18˚C. From here we then supply veterinary practices across the UK with these life-saving products.
At the moment we do not have a donation system in place for cats, but we have received a grant from the Waltham Foundation which is allowing us to run a study into conscious blood collection in cats. This is something we are hoping will pave the way to a feline blood bank in the future.
PBBuk relies on owners volunteering their dogs as donors. Could your dog be a hero?
Your dog can be a donor if he or she fits the following criteria:
• has a calm temperament
• is fit and healthy
• aged between one and eight years old
• weighs more than 25kg
• has not travelled abroad (to avoid the risk of passing on exotic and infectious diseases)
• is not receiving any medication other than preventive flea and worm treatment
• is up to date on all vaccinations
• has not had a previous blood transfusion.
Enid Apsey was one dog owner faced with the awful reality that Robson, her Bichon Frise, was on the verge of life and death. Jenny Walton, veterinary supervisor for PBBuk said: “This little dog was literally taking its last gasps when he was presented to the clinic in October suffering from post-operative complications. Robson was admitted to Vets Now’s emergency clinic, taken into intensive care and given a blood transfusion. When you look at Robson now, it really makes you proud to be working for a charity that makes such a difference to the lives of pets and their owners.”
Ms Apsey, speaking to Ms Walton, said: “We are so pleased at the expert care he received. We know you all saved his life, for without that care and the blood transfusion, our wee Bichon would not have survived.”
To find out when the next blood drive is taking place, or to learn more about how to support the life-saving work of PBBuk, go to www.petbloodbankuk.org.