• How dogs give blood and keeping the process safe
  • Canine blood groups and which breeds are the best donors
  • Heart-warming stories of donor dogs and the pets they’ve helped

Susie Kearley (@susiekearley) talks to Pet Blood Bank UK (@PetBloodBank) assistant marketing manager Nicole Osborne for LV= pet insurance. Pet Blood Bank UK works to make sure that a blood bank is available for dogs who need a transfusion.

Making sure life-giving blood is accessible

‘Our products and services are available to all UK veterinary professionals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,’ explains Nicole. ‘This ensures that blood is accessible when it’s needed most. Just like people, when pets get sick or injured, they may need a blood transfusion. Our service can help save a pet’s life, and each of our donors makes a huge difference – without them, there are many dogs who would not be with us today.’ 

The charity recently celebrated their 9,000th donor: a Springer Spaniel called Crosby. ‘Dogs can donate blood up to six times a year, and every unit of blood they donate can help save the lives of up to four other dogs,’ explains Nicole.

A white labrador with a woman listening to the dog's heartbeat

How you can get involved with Pet Blood UK

Even though it has an impressive number of donors registered, the charity is appealing for more. Blood transfusions are used in cases involving trauma and disease, as well as in surgery, so there’s a high demand for canine blood. Pet Blood UK typically runs five sessions a week across the UK, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

‘Last year, we collected more than 3,000 units of blood from our canine donors. As transfusion medicine advances, there’s more demand than ever before,’ explains Nicole. 

So, what are the criteria for a donor dog?

‘They should be fit and healthy, have a good temperament, be aged between one and eight, weigh more than 25kg, be up to date with their vaccinations, and they should not have travelled abroad,’ says Nicole. If you visit Pet Blood Bank UK’s website, you can register your dog as a donor, as long as it meets these criteria.

Is blood donation safe for dogs?

‘It’s absolutely safe,’ says Nicole. ‘Donor welfare is always our first priority when considering blood donation, and the health and wellbeing of our donors is at the core of our service. All our donors are given a full health assessment by our vets prior to giving blood to make sure they are suitable to donate. We always make sure the overall experience is very positive for all our donors by giving them lots of cuddles, attention and treats.’ 

In fact, the process is very straightforward.

‘First, our vet carries out a health check of your dog,’ explains Nicole. ‘This takes around 15 minutes. If everything is okay, you and your dog go through to the donation room, where we collect 450ml (just under a pint) of blood from your dog, which takes about five to ten minutes. Then we ensure your dog has a drink of water and a snack – it’s similar to us having tea and biscuits after giving blood. They also receive a goody bag which has a toy, ‘I’m a Lifesaver’ bandana and treats.’

Dog blood groups

‘Dogs have more blood groups than humans,’ Nicole says. In fact, there are blood groups DEA 1 through to DEA 8 – DEA stands for Dog Erythrocyte Antigen.

‘DEA 1 is the main blood group that we test for in the UK, as it’s the one that is important to transfusion medicine,’ continues Nicole. ‘All dogs have a DEA 1 group, and can be either positive or negative. Around 70% of dogs are DEA 1 positive. Not all dogs necessarily have all DEA 2-8 groups – they might have only some of these.

‘DEA 1 negative is less common, and only around 30% of dogs are this blood type,’ she continues, ‘but like O negative in humans, this blood can be given to any dog, so it’s in much higher demand. This is why we encourage vets to blood type their patients, so that positive blood can be used where possible, reserving the supply of negative blood for those dogs that need it.

‘We’re looking for dogs more likely to be negative blood types to come forward as donors. These include: Weimaraners, German Wirehaired Pointers, Italian Spinones, Flat Coated Retrievers, Pointers, Dobermans, Greyhounds, Boxers, German Shepherds, Airedale Terriers, Lurchers, American Bulldogs and English Bull Terriers.’ 

Different images of dogs. One image is a cocker spaniel, another is a labrador and the last one is a border collie

Left to right: Crosby, Ishka, Casey

Ishka’s donation saves Casey 

Casey, a Border Collie, is one of the many dogs who owe their lives to Pet Blood Bank UK and its donors. After Casey accidentally cut her paw, it was discovered that she had a condition whereby her body was attacking its own red blood cells. Casey needed an immediate transfusion, which was organised through Pet Blood Bank UK. 

The blood donor who helped Casey was Ishka, a three-year-old Golden Retriever-Labrador cross who has now donated five times for the charity.

Ishka’s owner Carol said, ‘We were so pleased to hear that Ishka’s donation helped to save another dog’s life. When we heard about Casey, it all felt a bit surreal. It’s when you are told about situations like this that you are reminded just how important donations are.’