Just My Type

by Maryann Szalka

Do you know what type your Beardie is? I’m not referring to the breed standard, but rather your dog’s blood type. More than a dozen blood types have been described in dogs, compared to only four types in humans. The canine blood systems (or types) are referred to as Dog Erythrocyte Antigens, abbreviated DEA, and followed by a number. If a dog has DEA 4, he is considered a universal donor, and his blood can safely be used on any other dog. Since Beardies come from such a small gene pool, many have inherited the same blood type, DEA 4, which makes them universal donors. Two of my four Beardies have been tested, and are canine blood donors.

There is a screening process for potential donors. Dogs must weigh at least 40-45 lbs or 20 kg on average, and they must be healthy, friendly, on heart worm preventative where appropriate, and less than 9 years old. Females who have had a litter, and dogs who have received a transfusion in the past, are not acceptable donors. In both cases they may carry antibodies which may increase the incidence of a transfusion reaction. As for Beardies, those that have or have had autoimmune disease or a strong history of such diseases in their pedigree may also be excluded from donating. It is recommended that bitches in season do not donate due to the additional stress and loss of blood. First, a small sample of blood is drawn and tested for DEA typing. If the dog is of suitable type, they will then undergo a brief exam which includes a medical history, weight, vital signs and a complete blood count. If these results are satisfactory, your dog can now donate blood. Approximately one pint of blood is taken from the jugular vein, and the process takes about seven minutes. The “Buddies for Life” Canine Blood Bank, where we donate, also performs a complimentary wellness profile which includes testing the thyroid, kidneys, liver, electrolytes, as well as a test for Ehrlichia and Babesia. These tests will further confirm the health status of the donor. Copies of the results are sent my regular veterinarian. A dog can safely donate every three weeks, since their spleen is so efficient at replenishing red blood cells. The only adverse effect of donating may be dehydration, but that is easily avoided by making sure the donor receives needed water and, of course, a cookie! Dogs who donate frequently are sometimes placed on an iron supplement as a prophylactic measure.

Initially, veterinarians were using in-house donors, or dogs owned by clients or staff. Now there are six commercial blood banks nationwide, and the demand is growing. These donor programs adapted their standards from the American Association of Blood Banking, thereby assuring the quality and safety of their blood products. Several donor programs have also been initiated by veterinary schools such as the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University. The need for blood is increasing due to by advances in veterinary medicine and the willingness of people to pay for treatments to keep their beloved companions alive and healthy. Blood is most often needed in treating immune disorders, abdominal masses and cancers. Generally, the blood components (packed red blood cells and plasma) are used instead of whole blood, which allows the clinic to treat many patients from a single blood donation as well as reducing the risk of transfusion reactions.

My dogs don’t seem to mind the procedure at all, and I find the experience very rewarding. On several occasions, the recipient’s family has sent a card to my home expressing their gratitude for our small part in their pet’s recovery process. If you are interested, ask your veterinarian if there is a canine donor program in your area and have your Beardie tested. Remember, the next life you save could be a Beardie’s!