Pet Blood Bank UK is giving gundogs across the countryside a second chance and it couldn’t be easier to lend your support.
Nobody wants to see a gundog suffering on a shoot day after a nasty fall or injury that has drawn blood. Too often the injuries our gundogs sustain need urgent medical attention and, sadly, not every episode has a happy ending. Thank goodness then for Pet Blood Bank UK, a charity that is looking to the gundog fraternity to help it build stocks of blood that could help save the lives of our four-footed companions when they and their owners face their darkest hour.
Picture the scene if you can. You are out pickingup and one of your dogs jumps a fence without you noticing there is barbed wire. There is blood everywhere, and if you can’t stem the bleeding it is an emergency dash to the vet to save the dog’s life, often with a blood transfusion. Sadly, situations like this happen quite frequently, and sadly the outcome is not always a life saved. Before a change in legislation, to save a dog’s life with a blood transfusion usually meant the nearest available dog was used to donate blood. Sometimes this worked, but not always. Blood transfusions are needed in many circumstances, and not always emergencies. Trauma, disease and during surgery are the most common reasons, including dogs being knocked down, or poisoned as some poisons stop the blood clotting. Auto immune diseases, tumours, some major operations — all may need transfusions, just the same as people.
Wendy Barnett, clinical director of the charity Pet Blood Bank UK, knew emergency vets, working out of hours, were often high users of blood and that it was not always available when it was needed urgently. As you can imagine, this was very stressful for the vet, and owner, as they then had to find an emergency donor, quickly, as it was a matter of life and death. In 2005, legislation in the UK was changed to allow vets to store blood under licence. Before then vets were only allowed to collect blood for emergency cases.
Wendy, with support from Vets Now, set up Pet Blood Bank UK, a charitable organisation, in February 2007. Wendy’s background is in veterinary nursing, but she also worked taking blood from people. She realised there was a need for emergency vets, who were usually
“Dogs that are DEA 1 Negative can only receive negative blood, which many gundog breeds have.”
working at night, to have blood to hand, rather than to have to make an emergency call, so did a lot of research and gained a licence allowing Pet Blood Bank UK to collect, process and store blood. The US is years ahead of us with regards to this, so Wendy spent time out there learning about techniques and also spent a lot of time talking to human blood banks in the UK.
“They were really helpful, as basically the premise is exactly the same for dogs as people,” explained Wendy. “We wanted every vet to be able to access blood easily so decided to set up the blood bank in the middle of the country, in Loughborough, with close access to the M1. This meant we had good links to all of the country.”
The bank is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A courier service will deliver the blood to vets, either as an emergency dash or, if an operation is scheduled, the day before. One of the veterinary team will often make the collection. Large veterinary practices are now able to store blood and will often allow smaller practices to use it. Plasma lasts for up to five years, frozen, and red blood cells six weeks. Obviously it is not cost effective for smaller practices to store the blood as the shelf life is so short. This is where Pet Blood Bank UK comes in.
A lot of research has been done into dogs’ blood, a lot of it by Wendy and her team. Dogs, like humans, have positive and negative blood and have different blood types. They can either be DEA 1 Positive or DEA 1 Negative. From the research, 70 per cent of dogs appear to be DEA 1 Positive while only 30 per cent are DEA 1 Negative.
Dogs with the DEA 1 Negative blood type can only receive DEA 1 Negative blood whereas dogs with DEA 1 Positive can receive either positive or negative blood.
Blood type isn’t necessarily breed related but it turns out that all rottweilers are positive. Interestingly, many gundog breeds are more likely to be negative, particularly flatcoated retrievers, pointers, weimaraners and some labradors. Greyhounds and lurchers are also predominantly negative. And this is where the gundog community comes in. Pet Blood Bank UK is looking for doggy donors. So far it has more than 9,000 donors but need many more to be able to supply every vet in the country with enough blood. Its team is collecting five days a week across the UK.
Strict but simple
The criteria for a dog is quite strict. The dog must be aged between one and eight years – donating up to their ninth birthday – weigh more than 25kg and be fit and healthy and not on any medication. It must never have had a transfusion, be up to date with its jabs, and never have travelled abroad.
The actual donation process is simple and similar to the human procedure, taking less than 45 minutes, including all checks. If you visit the website and put in your postcode, the nearest donor centre will pop up; a veterinary practice close by. The team, made up of a vet, nurses and assistants, will visit each centre four or five times a year so your dog can donate that many times. The actual donation process is made very pleasant for dog, and owner, and they seem to enjoy it. There is a nice soft bed and lots of fuss and tummy tickling – for the donor, not the owner.
In total, 450ml is taken at each session, virtually the same amount as we would give, and the same bags are used for dogs and people – hence the dog having to be above a certain weight. The donor’s leg will be shaved slightly as this is where the sample blood is taken from. This blood is then tested, and if everything is fine, a small bit of hair, to make sure the skin is clean, is shaved from the neck so the blood can be taken from the jugular. The main donation usually takes between five and seven minutes.
“Some labradors can whack it out in four minutes,” explained Wendy. Each 450ml donation can help save up to four dogs’ lives. One unit of blood is split in half, with some being stored as plasma and the rest as blood; half-units are made for smaller dogs, hence helping to save up to four dogs’ lives.
Alan Dunnet, a picker-up from Scotland, is a regular at his local session. He has five labradors, two wirehaired pointers and two springers, and is out picking-up five days a week, more than 100 days a year, on the Drumlanrig and Bowhill estates, and others, in Dumfriesshire.
“My wife works at the vets and I saw a request for blood donors,” explained Alan. “I thought it was a good idea as I know there is a strong possibility that one of my dogs might need this service one day. It is nice to think my dogs are helping save a life.” All of Alan’s dogs are donors, bar the spaniels, and are regular donors. They are also quite the stars locally. One of the black
labs has negative blood, as do his pointers, which has been used more than once for an emergency case.
“My dogs don’t mind giving blood at all – they hop on the bed and lap up the attention. There are no side effects – they are back out pickingup the next day,” said Alan, who takes all of his dogs to each session. “I stay with them throughout the donation. What I really appreciate is that at every session each dog’s blood is screened, so if there is a medical problem it is picked up much more quickly than it would be without the screening.” Alan is a keen advocate for the dogs being blood donors and would encourage other owners to do the same. “We are giving something back, it doesn’t take long, and is such a worthwhile service.”
Wendy is also keen to encourage more gundog owners. “The dogs are usually fit and healthy, not overweight and with good blood scores. They are also usually really obedient and sociable, so will keep still during the procedure, and have great natures. Crucially, many of the dogs have negative blood types, but we are equally happy to see any dog that fits the criteria,” she explained.
After the donation the dog is given some treats – if allowed – picks a toy, gets lots of fuss, is given a red bandana and has a photo taken for social media.
“We want it to be a positive experience and for the dog, and owner, to enjoy it. We will never force a dog, and like them to be relaxed and enjoy the fuss, which they do,’ added Wendy.
Once the blood has been collected it is taken back to the blood bank at Loughborough where it is processed and stored.
Pet Blood Bank UK is a charity, so only charges the vets for the blood at cost, and expects the vet to charge the owner the same. The long-term plan is for every vet in the country to have plasma on the premises, as this can be frozen for up to five years and helps the blood to coagulate.
More donors are needed, and there will be many, many dog owners who will be very grateful for your help. For more information, visit petbloodbankuk.org
A team of flatcoated retrievers wear the red bandanas they are presented with for giving blood.
Donating your dog's blood doesn't take long and helps to save lives.
Another successful donation.
The dogs receive lots of fuss while giving blood, and a toy and treat at the end.