Dogs and cats that donate blood must be healthy and up-to-date with their vaccinations and heartworm prevention. They need to be a certain age (ideally between 1 and 8 years old although healthy animals over the age can be used) and a certain weight (over 25kg for dogs and over 4.5kg for cats). In addition, animals must be neutered and, in the case of females, not have had a previous litter. To qualify, the dogs and cats are not allowed to have any long-term diseases or be on any medications other routine parasite prevention.

To ensure they are healthy enough to donate blood to our patients, the donors have blood tests every year, and cats have a test for cat viruses before each donation. The donors must also have a good temperament and enjoy the process of coming into the vet hospital to give blood!

These criteria may seem strict, but this protocol ensures that all the blood that is transfused into our patients is only of the highest quality, giving our patients the best possible chance of making a full recovery after a blood transfusion.

To find out about our Canine Hero Donor program, click here.

Do dogs and cats have different blood types?

Yes, they do! There are many different blood types in dogs, and more than one type may be present in an individual dog. However the main blood type of importance is the DEA 1 system, of which dogs may be DEA 1.1 positive or DEA 1.1 negative. DEA 1.1 negative blood can be given to all dogs whereas DEA 1.1. positive blood should only be given to DEA 1.1. positive animals.

Cats have three bloods types, A, B and AB. Just like with us, it is crucial that we know the blood type of a dog or cat, as they may have a reaction if they are given the wrong type of blood.

All of our donor animals and patients that receive blood are blood-typed. This is easily done at our hospital by special test-kits that will quickly determine the blood type of an animal, so that we can start a blood transfusion in a sick animal without delay.

When would a pet need a blood transfusion?

A dog or cat may need a blood transfusion for many reasons. These may include:

  • Anaemia
  • Severe haemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Blood clotting problems, such as rat bait toxicity
  • Septic shock
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Low blood protein levels

As can be seen, there are a wide variety of diseases which may require a blood transfusion to treat them effectively. As an emergency hospital, we see cases such as these on a regular basis and as such are highly experienced with giving blood transfusions.

Is there any other types of transfusions that can be given?

Although it is common for us to give transfusions of whole blood to our patients, it is not the only product we use. Plasma is another common blood product that may be given in certain circumstances. Plasma is the fluid component of blood, and is obtained by removing the red blood cells after blood donation. Plasma contains many of the proteins required for blood clotting, so is used mainly for clotting problems, especially rat bait toxicity and liver disease. It is also used for shock and some inflammatory conditions, such as severe pancreatitis.

Precautions during and after blood donation

Because pets are usually sedated for blood donation, food should be withheld for 4–5 hours before donation is performed to reduce the risk of vomiting occurring.

All relevant pre-donation checks should be performed.

The blood donation involves collecting blood from a large vein (jugular vein) in the neck. This is usually collected quite slowly over about 30 minutes. Generally no more than 40-50ml blood is collected from any one cat and no more than 420 to 450ml from any one dog.

Whenever an appreciable volume of blood has been collected, a donor pet should be put on an intravenous fluid drip for a up to several hours, to help replace the fluid that has been lost and maintain blood volume and blood pressure. Usually a catheter will be placed in a front leg to administer the initial sedation and also to allow for the intravenous fluids to be given.

They should always be kept warm and monitored closely after blood donation. They are usually fed as soon as they have recovered from the sedation and are awake enough to eat.

Common questions and concerns

How often can my pet donate?

Animals can donate blood up to a maximum of four times per year i.e. every 3 months. Blood cells are replaced within a month of the donation.

Can I find out who received my animal’s blood?

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide this information for confidentiality reasons. Rest assured, however, that all transfusions make a big (often life saving) difference to the recipient.

How long can the blood be kept for?

Canine blood can be stored for up to one month after collection. Feline blood, however, is always transfused straight after it is collected and is not stored at our facility.

Don’t rush your decision

It is important not to rush into the decision to volunteer your pet to donate blood – you must be comfortable with what is going to happen, and confident that all the necessary precautions are being taken. Discuss everything with your vet, and ask them to explain anything