Can dogs donate blood?

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 1/19/2021

People volunteering to donate blood has been described as giving the gift of life. Did you know that dogs can become blood donors as well? One unit (450 mls) of blood can be used to save four different patients with life-threatening conditions like cancer, poisoning, clotting diseases, or traumatic injuries. Blood products are also given to dogs undergoing major surgeries and other intensive treatments.

Can my dog donate blood?

Canadian Animal Blood Bank (CABB) holds donation clinics through neighbourhood veterinary clinics. To become qualified as a donor, dogs must meet the following criteria:
  • Veterinarian-recommended healthy, even in temperament and calm enough to be restrained
  • Minimum 55 lbs (25 kg) lean body weight 
  • 1 – 8 yrs of age to start and can donate until age 10 (health permitting)
  • Not taking medications that may exclude the donor eligibility to donate
  • Current on core vaccines as determined by the CABB (titre testing is accepted) with a minimum of four weeks post-vaccination at time of donation
  • Eligible to donate every 3 months for a minimum of two years
  • Universal donors (Blood type DEA 1.1 Negative) are especially appreciated. The following breeds are more likely to possess this blood type: Airedale Terrier, American Bulldog, Boxer, Cane Corso, Doberman, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Bull Terrier, Greyhound, German Shepherd, German Shorthaired Pointer, Great Pyrenees, Irish Wolfhound, Lurcher, Newfoundland, Old English Sheepdog, Pitbull-type breeds, Siberian Husky, Standard Poodle, and Weimaraner.

Critical donor skills to work on with your dog

  1. Comfort with lifting. Dogs are lifted into place and held on their sides during the donation process. Practice giving your dog big hugs and then lifting with another family member or friend to waist height. Offer lots of treats before and after the lift.
  2. Walking onto the weigh scale at the clinic. The donation team needs to know exactly how much your dog weighs prior to the procedure. At home, teach your dog to step onto thick books or the sturdy lid of a storage container. Clinic staff will welcome your dog into your regular veterinary clinic prior to donating for happy weigh-in visits and treats. 
  3. Settle. Patients are generally lying on their side for 15 minutes or so while donating. Two veterinary techs or assistants will help your dog lay still on the table. Ensure your dog is comfortable in a settle position while relaxing on a mat or dog bed.
  4. Desensitize to vibration noises and sensations around the neck. The donation team needs to shave a small area on the neck to prep the needle site. See how your dog reacts to the site and sound of an electric toothbrush. Start by holding it for your pup to see and hear it. As he gets used to the sound, place it at the chest and work your way up and over the neck.

Does my dog receive anything in return for donating?

Yes! CABB celebrates your dog’s gift with a bandanna and dog tags denoting milestone donations. Blood testing for eight blood-borne diseases is performed with each donation. A 4DX SNAP test, including heartworm check, is processed once per year. Any results of concern are forwarded to your veterinarian. Dogs receive an identification microchip after their second donation (rescue dogs are eligible on their first visit). The coolest benefit is that every donor receives one blood product item for every donation should they ever need a transfusion themselves (other treatment costs are the owner’s responsibility). Visit www.canadiananimalbloodbank.ca for more information.

What about my cat? Can she become a blood donor?

Feline blood donation is a trickier process. Cat blood products cannot be stored the same way as human and dog blood. Cat donors must be sedated to collect the sample, and this requires additional testing to ensure that the medications used are safe for the cat. Where patients need blood products, veterinary staff will often use their own cats or clinic cats to help a sick kitty.

Pet insurance can help with the cost of vet visits

Petsecure can help cover the costs of blood donor products and transfusion therapy for insured pets with eligible conditions. Learn what’s covered by Petsecure and get a free quote today.