Should you let your dog donate blood?
If you’ve ever seen the 1998 film “Belly,” you remember the part when Nas’ and DMX’s characters stole the scene, simply by walking through an entranceway. That’s about how cool my German Shepherd looked when she trotted into rooms. But getting her to go to the veterinarian’s office was drastically different. It was more like watching Mose Schrute* run alongside the car — if we could get her out of the car at all. Muzzles were needed, and she was tense the entire time.
So when I first read the Psychology Today study that dogs and cats can donate blood, my first thought was, “Who in the world would subject themselves to extra stress like this? Dogs hate going to the vet more than some men I know hate going to the doctor’s office.”
And unlike people, they can’t particularly control whether they want to donate blood or not. If I decide to voluntarily donate blood, I know I’m potentially helping to save up to three people’s lives. And every two seconds, someone somewhere in the world needs blood. Considering diabetes is hereditary on both sides of my family, I know what it’s like to be disappointed that you’re not in the 38 percent of the population that is eligible to give blood (or platelets). And so I do.
But I still have mixed feelings about getting a dog to do it. That is, until I think about it from the perspective of the owner whose dog needs a blood transfusion.
Needles suck. They just do. And for an animal that cannot ask why this is happening or what (s)he did “wrong” to be subjected to a veterinarian’s office, it makes sense. So the responsibility lies in the hands of the owner. And, according to this study, 89 percent of 158 people said they would consider allowing their pet to make a blood donation. The top reasons for blood donations include anemic pets, car accidents and/or internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen.
Interestingly, dog owners were far more likely to agree to a blood donation versus cat owners (96 percent to 69 percent). Considering dogs don’t consistently have to be sedated and tend to need blood transfusions more, that higher agreement rate could be considered a relief. However, dog owners saying that they would allow their dogs to donate blood isn’t quite the same as actually doing it.
There are several locations sprinkled throughout the United States for pet blood donations. The Association of Veterinary Hematology and Transfusion Medicine has a list of potential locations.
According to a veterinarian from the Pet Blood Bank UK, a national canine blood bank service, the process is “not painful.” Started in 2007, the charity has more than 6,000 dogs that have donated blood, with up to 22 dogs donating during stages of three blood donation sessions. If the dog is stressed out, the donation stops immediately. (But whose dog isn’t stressed out during a veterinary visit?)
Afterward the dog gets a toy, water, snack and a red bandana to humble brag about the dog blood donation. Considering the amount of dogs I’ve walked who wrestle bandanas off, I’m pretty sure they’re not all that impressed with the apparel. The water, toy and snacks? Now that’s a different story entirely. When dogs can affiliate something with a snack at the end, their behavior may shift a little.
But before you decide to allow your dog to be next on the list — to save another dog’s life — make sure you ask all the questions you need to beforehand. You should be as comfortable with making this decision for your dog as you would for any other procedure.
* “The Office” fans fully understand this joke.