Dogs and Cats Can Donate Blood (But Most People Don't Know)

Study shows peoples' motivations to let their pet be a blood donor

Posted Nov 27, 2019

Did you know that dogs and cats can donate blood to help another animal in need? Most pet owners don’t, according to new research published in Veterinary Record. But after learning about the possibility, 89% said they would consider their pet making a donation. Pets can need blood transfusions for several reasons including anemia, which can be due to an accident like being hit by a car or internal bleeding because of a ruptured spleen.

Dr. Karen Humm (Royal Veterinary College, UK), one of the authors of the paper, told me,

“Pet owners clearly love their animals and really want to help other pets. They care about the animals and they also relate to their owners. They also could imagine their pet being in need of blood and so can empathise with the owners of the pets needing blood.”

The survey took place in the waiting room of a veterinary clinic in southern England, where 158 adults attending with a pet agreed to take part.

Ylanite Koppens/Pixabay
Source: Ylanite Koppens/Pixabay

Knowledge of animal blood donation was low: 75% did not know that blood banks for dogs and cats exist, and 70% did not know that dogs and cats can donate blood. Despite that, 89% of pet owners said they would be willing for their pet to donate blood. The rate was higher for dog owners (96%) compared to cat owners (69%). This is perhaps not surprising as cats are generally perceived as having a more difficult time at the vet than dogs.

The reasons people gave for considering animal blood donation are similar to the motivations of people who donate blood. The most common reason people gave for considering having their pet donate blood was beneficence, such as “to save another life” or because they felt it was “the right thing to do.”

Feelings of reciprocity were also important; just as human blood donors realize they may one day need blood themselves, pet owners said their own pet might need blood one day and so they would be willing to help another pet owner. Some pet owners had previously had a pet in need of a blood transfusion, and in one case the person sadly reported that their pet died because a suitable donor was not available. These owners said they felt it was important for their pet to donate blood because of the experiences they had had.

People also reported the idea of a ‘necessity of service’; just as human blood donors are motivated by knowing their donations are needed, it seems the same idea can motivate pet owners regarding their pets’ donations.

People also had reservations or concerns about their pet donating blood, such as finding it difficult to fit in around full-time work, simply wanting more information about it first, or their animal (especially cats) already finding vet visits stressful. It’s important to remember that just because people express willingness for their pet to donate blood, does not necessarily mean they will do so.

Of course, the animal cannot decide for themselves whether or not to participate. The scientists say that whereas human blood donors may feel happy because they know they have done something valuable to help people, dogs and cats will not experience this, and so they do not personally benefit (except for a few treats after the procedure). It is easier for dogs; many cats have to be sedated to donate blood.

Blood donation involves a vet check that includes a complete blood count and other tests, and so the owner will benefit from the peace of mind these tests bring, and from not having had to pay for them. However they may not have felt a need for the tests at that point in the animal’s life. Some blood banks, such as the Ontario Veterinary College, include a nail trim, heartworm prevention, and dog food and treats.

If people would like their dog or cat to donate blood, Dr. Humm says that in the UK they should contact the Royal Veterinary College (if nearby) or the Pet Blood Bank. Elsewhere, ask your local vet, who will know about animal blood donation programs in your area, or may keep a list of people who are willing to bring their pet in should blood be needed. (N.B. The situation varies by state in the US, where some states allow dog colonies to be kept for blood donation purposes; California requires vets to buy blood from commercial animal blood banks and a bill to change this was recently vetoed).

The age and weight requirements for blood donors vary depending on location, but the dog or cat should be relatively young. They should also be friendly, healthy, and fed kibble or cooked food (no raw food diet). Some places will only accept donations from dogs, and not from cats.

Blood transfusions are more common for dogs than cats. As well as whole blood, plasma can be used separately, just like with people. Dogs and cats also have different blood types which must be checked prior to receiving a transfusion.

This study is an interesting look at what pet owners say about the topic. The results suggest that, since most pet owners do not know about dog and cat blood donation, simply raising awareness would lead to more donations and allow more pets’ lives to be saved.

References

Wilder, A., & Humm, K. (2019). Pet owners’ awareness of animal blood banks and their motivations towards animal blood donation. Veterinary Record, vetrec-2018. https://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/185/16/509.abstract