Blood transfusions in dogs

Transfusion therapy is an effective replacement of blood or one of its components. Transfusions are indicated for anemia, platelet disorders, clotting disorders and acute and excessive blood loss. Fresh and stored whole blood is the most commonly used transfusion agent in veterinarian medicine.

Blood types are genetic markers on the surfaces of red blood cells and are specific for each species. Dogs have 13 blood types known as dog erythrocyte antigens or DEAs. The frequency of each blood type varies considerably among breeds. There are three clinically significant blood types in dogs. These include DEA 1.1, DEA 1.2 and DEA 7. Dogs that test negative for these three blood types are considered universal blood donors. It is easy for us to send off your dog’s blood to the lab to determine its blood type. This would be important in the situation where your dog would need to receive blood or to give blood.

There are many sources of blood that veterinarians use for these potential emergencies. Most veterinarians rely on clients’ dogs who have been tested and determined to be universal donors. When the veterinarian comes up on a situation when a transfusion is necessary, the veterinarian calls upon that client to bring in that universal donor so that blood can be taken for subsequent transfusion. One unit of blood is the same as 500 mL. Depending upon the situation, one to two units of blood may be transfused. There are blood banks for canine blood that service all veterinarians. Unfortunately, it takes one to two days for blood banks to send the blood to the individual veterinarian. In many cases where transfusions are necessary, one to two days is too long. So outpatient blood donors, usually client- or staff-owned, are used.

Blood is collected aseptically by gravity from the jugular vein. Plastic bags or glass bottles containing an anticoagulant called ACD or an anticoagulant called CPD–A are used.

Blood is best administered intravenously through an indwelling catheter over three to four hours. Most transfusion reactions can be avoided by carefully selecting only healthy blood donors and using appropriate collection, storage and administration techniques. Performing blood typing is extremely important.


Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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