Thank you to Cathy Hayward for supplying this interesting article:

I first became aware of a canine blood donation scheme in the late 1980’s and registered one of my Irish Setters ‘Jaffa’ (Moreta Chocolate Orange) with the national charity called ‘The Holly Blood Donor Appeal’. They simply kept a list 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 simply a case of driving to the veterinary practice where the recipient was being treated, donating blood and then going home again.

Anyone whose veterinary practice uses the nationwide out of hours provider, ‘Vets Now’ will know, if they have had reason to use their services that they have a charity donation of £1 attached to every invoice that they produce. This donation is for the Pet Blood Bank UK of which they are great supporters. Launched in 2007, the 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 2 Irish Setters in the last 20 years who have benefitted 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.

The veterinary practice that I currently work for hosts donation sessions for the Blood Bank approximately every 8 - 10 weeks and just as with human blood, canine blood is in short supply and new donors are always required. The Pet Blood Bank hold sessions in veterinary practices and kennels across the UK and 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 hence a current enrolment drive aimed at the more likely negative breeds. These include Dobermann, Boxer, Weimaraner, Old English Sheepdog, Flat Coated Retrievers. Negative dogs are in such high demand because they are the universal donors. Positive dogs are the universal receivers. At first transfusion a recipient 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 practices 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 can’t be tested, negative blood must always be used. Negative dogs can only receive Negative blood, but initially Positive dogs can have either Positive or Negative blood 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 then be traced back to source and right through the process to transfusion.
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I enrolled my Irish Setter ‘Lois’ (Bardonhill Ginger Cream) 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 a visit 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 the 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 me it was a great experience from start to finish. ‘Lois’ loved the attention, the fuss, the food and meeting lots of people. She was the fastest donator of the session and announced as the 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 the top of the cake moment came some days later when a call from the 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 (Bardonhill A Splash of Ginge) 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 any fear or trepidation. This was mainly due to all 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, most importantly, the dog has to be of sound temperament, over twenty-five kilos in body weight, fully vaccinated and not been abroad. They must be fit and healthy and not on any medication and must be between 1 and 7 years of age.

At the donation appointment, each dog is given a thorough examination by the Blood Bank Vet, detailed questions are asked about the dog’s medical history and lifestyle, the microchip is checked, and a small blood sample is taken to check that each 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 then donate 1 unit of blood which is approximately 450mls which takes around 4 – 7 minutes to collect depending on the individual. Each donation is later separated into red blood cells and plasma products. Every unit of blood donated can help to save the life of 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 10 – 15 minutes. 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 Blood Bank Twitter & Facebook sites. They can choose and take home a toy. A follow up call a few days after donation is made by the 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 our experience is to highlight the wonderful work done by this charity and to let others 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 owners and dogs who gave up their time and their life saving blood. Now, thanks to ‘Lois’ and ‘Kitty’ things have come full circle, we’ve gone on to do our bit in order to thank those who have helped our beloved dogs in the past. So, we’ll be back for the next session, perhaps you and your Irish could sign up for a session near you?

For more information and to get involved please go to the Pet Blood Bank website 


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