Can your dog donate blood?

If your dog is eligible to donate blood, he can help save the lives of other dogs in need!

Dogs enrich our lives in a multitude of ways – no doubt about it. But did you know they can donate blood and give life to other canines?

Just like people, dogs can sometimes require blood transfusions, and that means compatible canine blood supplies need to be available. Anemia, cancer, Von Willebrand disease, surgical procedures and serious accidents are all cases in which your dog, or someone else’s, may need blood. It saves lives, yet there is always a shortage of blood for dogs.

Several national animal blood banks, such as Hemopet and Animal Blood Resources International (ABRI), regularly collect blood, mostly from rescue dogs. However, Pat Kaufman of ABRI says the need for canine blood outweighs the supply provided by these blood banks. And because canine blood only has a shelf life of 30 to 35 days, regular donors are needed to replenish the supply so it’s on hand when animals need it. “There would not be near enough blood if people didn’t let their dogs donate,” Pat says.

Could your dog donate blood? 

Veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds, the founder of Hemopet, says the ideal canine blood donor weighs 50 pounds or more, (without being overweight), is between one to nine years old, has a stable, friendly temperament, is able to sit still, and is in good health and free of any infectious disease transmissible by blood, such as heartworm.

She adds that short-haired dogs are often preferable since their hair is easier to keep clean and less likely to pose a risk of bacterial contamination. (Your bearded collie might be able to donate blood, but keep in mind that his hair will have to be shaved from the injection site.) Dogs with lean bodies and long necks with prominent jugular veins (like the greyhounds used by Hemopet) are also preferred as they’re the easiest to collect blood from.

This doesn’t mean your dog would automatically disqualify if he doesn’t quite measure up to the ideal. If you’d like to sign him up to donate blood, consult your veterinarian. Some clinics collect donor blood, while others may refer you to a blood bank. Depending on your jurisdiction, however, your pooch may or may not be able to donate at a blood bank. California law, for example, requires that commercial blood banks house their donor animals on site. The rescued greyhounds at Hemopet (based in California) serve as donors at its facility for 12 to 18 months before being adopted into forever homes.

How is canine blood collected?

The process of collecting blood from dogs is similar to the human blood donation procedure. The only difference is the vein the blood is drawn from. Canine blood is drawn from the jugular vein in the neck, since this is the most accessible and least sensitive site in the dog’s body.

The dog typically sits on a cushion, with a person standing behind him and gently holding his head up. The veterinary technician drawing the blood sits in front of the dog, shaves and disinfects the side of the neck that will be used for collection, and inserts a needle into the vein. A standard size human blood bag is used. The procedure is quick – only taking about five minutes. After the needle is retracted, pressure is applied to the injection site, and the dog is free to go home.

If you’re worried that donating blood will be hard on your dog, don’t be. Dr. Dodds states that it’s no more risky for dogs than it is for humans. Your dog does not need to be sedated during the procedure, and can resume his normal activities immediately after donating, although he may want to take a nap when he gets home. In place of orange juice, canine cookies are often provided to dogs as a reward for their donations. Some dogs may develop a small lump at the injection site, but this will go away on its own.

Your dog does not need to be sedated during the procedure, and can resume his normal activities immediately after donating.

Dogs donating 250ml of blood can donate every ten to 14 days; those donating 450ml can donate every three to four weeks. According to Dr. Dodds, most volunteer donors make donations every two months. “A 250ml pediatric unit makes enough packed red blood cells for a 30 to 40 pound dog,” she says. “Smaller dogs need less than a full unit while larger dogs can require several of these units.”

Blood typing

Just like humans, dogs have blood types, although the nomenclature is different. There are seven major canine blood groups, also referred to as DEAs (Dog Erythrocyte Antigens). Depending on which DEA a dog has, his blood type can either be positive for a certain antigen, or not.

“The ideal donor has blood type designation DEA 4,” says Dr. Dodds. This is considered the “universal” donor blood type since most dogs are positive for DEA 4. These dogs can give blood to other canines of any blood type without significant risk. DEA 4 dogs make especially ideal donors in emergency situations when the blood type of the recipient animal is unknown and there is no time to perform blood-typing tests.

If your own dog turns out to be a good candidate for blood donation, know that you’ll be helping save the lives of other beloved canines. And that spot of shaved skin on his neck will serve as a badge of honor at the dog park when you tell all the other puppy parents about your pooch’s act of service!

Where can my dog donate blood?

Hemopet —

Animal Blood Resources International —

Canadian Animal Blood Bank —