WENDY BARNETT, executive director of Pet Blood Bank UK (PBBuk), looks at the life-saving difference dog blood donors are making, and what it takes to be a canine blood donor.
Imagine if your dog was involved in a serious car accident. He’s lost a lot of blood. It’s your worst nightmare. You rush him to the veterinary practice and he has to have surgery. You wait, on tenterhooks, hoping and praying that they manage to save him.
It is in situations like this where blood given by donor dogs can be used to help save lives. 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 UK - with funding from out-of-hours emergency care provider Vets Now - was set up in 2007 as a not-for-profit charity to provide this life-saving canine blood to veterinary practices around the UK.
Pet Blood Bank UK has so far taken blood from over 1,400 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.
Difference between life and death -
Golden Retriever, Beau, suffered from a life-threatening condition called GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus), where his stomach became bloated and twisted earlier this year, on Easter Sunday. Beau suffered from a haemorrhage after surgery and required a lifesaving blood transfusion at Derby Vets Now.
Beau’s owner, Mrs Liggins, said: ‘It all happened so quickly. He had his walk and food as normal, and then he started to look like he was going to be sick. He became so distressed; we rang the vet and rushed him in. We can’t speak highly enough of all the vets and vet nurses that cared for him - they did a tremendous job looking after Beau, and us!
‘Beau would not be with us today without the excellent care and the blood transfusion that he received.’
Could your dog
It is only with a continuing support 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 fulfil certain criteria:
- Have a calm temperament
- Be fit and healthy
- Aged between one and eight years old
- Weigh more than 25kg
- Not travelled abroad (to avoid the risk of passing on exotic and infectious diseases)
- Not receiving any medication other than preventive flea and worm treatment
- Up-to-date on all vaccinations
- Not had a previous blood transfusion.
Dogs are not sedated during the procedure, we simply use a local anaesthetic cream to prevent discomfort. Some owners are worried that their dogs won’t understand what is going on and become frightened. The welfare of our donor dogs is our first priority; if a dog isn’t happy, we will not continue. Most owners, however, are actually surprised how calm and relaxed their dogs are while giving blood. We find that the majority of dogs enjoy the attention and tummy rubs, and actually don’t even realise what is going on. The bowl of food and new toy that they get afterwards means that the whole thing is a positive experience for them, and ensures that the next time they come to give blood they are very happy to see us again.
The blood donation process itself takes about five to ten 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. Donors lie on a table, usually on their side and they are reassured and held still by our team of friendly veterinary nurses and animal care assistants. The team and the owner make sure that the dog is happy and relaxed throughout the procedure.
Each dog will give a donation of around 450ml of blood, depending on the size of the dog. All donors are given a goody bag, a drink, some food (the equivalent of tea and a biscuit for us!) and some well deserved fuss!
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 18ÞC. From here we then supply veterinary practices across the UK with these life-saving products.
Just like humans, dogs have different blood types. For the purposes of blood transfusions, these are classified into either DEA 1.1 positive or DEA 1.1 negative, and these are dived roughly 40 per cent negative, 60 per cent positive. Vets can blood-type your dog, so that the correct blood can be given if he or she ever needs a transfusion. Using the right blood reduces the risk of a transfusion reaction and also means that the Pet Blood Bank can make full use of all the blood donated, both positive and negative. As a charity, we are working hard to educate vets on the importance of blood-typing.
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 not-too-distant future.
PBBuk relies on owners volunteering their dogs as donors. Could your dog be a hero? Pet Blood Bank UK holds blood collection sessions around the country from veterinary practices, and now its new mobile collection unit, which has been donated by specialist pet food manufacturer, Royal Canin.
To find out when the next blood collection session is taking place, or to learn more about how to support the life-saving work of Pet Blood Bank UK, go to www.petbloodbankuk.org
Heroic pet blood donor Max
shows how easy it is
The Pet Blood Bank UK’s mobile collection unit donated by Royal Canin
Max enjoys his reward from the Pet Blood Bank UK team
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