‘She absolutely loves it’: The dogs donating blood and saving lives

dogs donating blood
Maggie Davies

UK’s only blood bank charity for pets appeals for more donors amid high demand for transfusions.

The Guardian reports that Mabel didn’t set out to be a life-saver. In fact, the six-year-old greyhound has been known to fall asleep on the job. The former racer – even if she came last in 43 out of 58 fixtures – is now excelling in an altogether different field, as a champion pet blood donor.

“She absolutely loves it,” says her owner, Julia Purton. Mabel is a people-oriented dog and loves her food, Purton explains, so the combination of fuss-making staff and copious treats means a trip to the blood bank has become her favourite outing.

It’s obvious on reflection that animals require blood transfusion but it was only after a law change in 2005 that it became possible to collect, process, store and distribute pet blood to vets across the UK in the same way as the national human blood bank operates.

“Demand is high and continuing,” says Wendy Barnett, who in 2007 launched Pet Blood Bank UK, the country’s only blood bank charity for vets, after working as a veterinary nurse at an emergency clinic. “I saw first-hand how hard it was – blood could only come from someone the owner knew, perhaps a family member or a friend’s dog, and if a transfusion was needed at the weekend or overnight it was really difficult.”

The service caters for dogs and alpacas, with an application to extend it to cats currently being considered by the regulator.

This week Pet Blood Bank UK launched a new blood product, the canine platelet concentrate, offering a more efficient treatment of life-threatening bleeding. As well as platelets, which are essential to the clotting process, dog blood is split into other components, including plasma and red blood cells, for convenience in treating a range of chronic conditions and emergencies from anaemia and haemophilia to rat bait poisoning.

Just like humans, dogs have different blood types: in the UK vets identify dogs as either positive or negative for the DEA1 antigen. With only an estimated 30% of dogs having the negative blood type – which can be given to a dog of either blood type in an emergency – this is the one in high demand. The blood bank is especially keen to recruit donors from breeds likely to carry this type, which include German shepherds, Dobermans, flat coated retrievers, greyhounds and boxers. But any breed can donate, provided they are fit and healthy, confident around people, weigh more than 25kg and are aged between one and eight.

The three-part donation appointment includes a health check from a vet, then a tummy rub in the donation room while the dog gives approximately 450ml of blood. “It takes about 10 minutes and a lot
of dogs just wag it out on the table,” says Barnett. Then comes the canine equivalent of post-donation tea and biscuits, with fish snacks currently on the menu, and the dog can choose a toy – squeaky or raggy – to take home.

“It’s a very gentle process and the staff are so caring,” says Purton. “If a dog shows any sign of distress they just stop and there’s no pressure. But Mabel is in her element: when they are clipping her hair and putting in the needle she just lies there asking ‘is someone going to give me a gravy bone?’ Sometimes she falls asleep on the table and we have to peel her off.”

The charity holds about five donation sessions across Scotland and England each week, and collected more than 3,000 units of blood last year, which has been delivered to patients from Guernsey to Thurso to Belfast.

One such recipient was Milo, a cavalier King Charles spaniel who was 10 months old when he fell gravely with pancreatitis. He received his first emergency transfusion as soon as he was admitted to the Small Animal Teaching hospital in Liverpool. “If he hadn’t got that blood on the first day he wouldn’t have survived,” says his owner, Gwyneth Melling.

Eight months later, Milo is fully recovered although, curiously, the hair that was shaved for his tests and transfusions has grown back with silver streaks. After several months confined to his home and requiring a regular drip, he only wants to run around chasing balls and sticks. “I can’t believe he’s so full of life,” says Melling.

“Now he’s making up for lost time.”

(Story source: The Guardian)

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