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More Dog Blood Donors Are Needed

Many of us will be travelling over the school holidays and sadly some of our dogs may require a blood transfusion for a variety of reasons. We spoke to Rebecca Charteris, the founder of the Australian Animal Blood Bank to learn more about this unique community-based donor program and how your dog (just like Milo, pictured above) can make a difference in the lives of others.

"Having worked in an emergency clinic for over fifteen years, we would average about three transfusions per week in our clinic, maybe more." explains Rebecca. As it is, the clinic is a multi-specialty clinic comprising of Surgery, Medicine, Oncology etc. where multiple patients with different issues may require a blood transfusion.

WHAT SITUATIONS WOULD TYPICALLY REQUIRE A BLOOD TRANSFUSION?

Just like us, our dogs can suffer from the same accident, illness and emergency situations that will require a blood product intervention. Whole blood contains red blood cells, platelets and plasma and each component can be used to treat particular situations.


Situations that can arise where a dog would need one or more of these components include an acute blood loss from trauma (such as motor vehicle accidents) or blood loss during surgery. Unfortunately, dogs can sometimes be exposed accidentally to toxins like snail or rat bait or snake envenomations

Patients with cancer can also at times require blood transfusions whilst going through their cancer treatments. As well as autoimmune diseases (such as haemophilia) where the body, for some reason, destroys its own red blood cells making the patient anaemic.

The Australian Animal Blood Bank collects a whole blood unit from the donor dogs and then separate the red blood cells from the plasma. Therefore, we create products that can be used to treat more than one patient and sometimes up to three patients.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO SET UP THE AUSTRALIAN ANIMAL BLOOD BANK?
Rebecca Charteris from the Australian Animal 
Blood Bank, with regular donor Cooper the Boxer
When I started the process of setting up this blood bank there was only one other “commercial” blood bank in Australia" explains Rebecca. "We are currently the only community-based blood bank where are donors are pet owned dogs and live within the community.

Clinics, in the past and still now, run their own in-house blood donor programs to help patients who require blood products. This is necessary and most practices function in synergy with a commercial blood bank as sometimes pets need after hours or emergency transfusions.


The difference with in-house blood donor programs and commercial blood banks in Australia is that commercial blood banking is regulated by the government. 

The APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) is like the TGA but for animals. This means that blood banks have very specific criteria that must be adhered to in regards to stringent testing of their donors, quality collection processes, production and testing of the products before it can be distributed. Also, not many clinics have the means to separate the whole blood units into components.

It took many years to set up our blood bank and the process included testing of the products and ensuring proper approval processes with the APVMA before we could start recruiting donors.The initial set-up, licencing and registration of products was funded by myself. The AABB is now able to continually operate as veterinarians are always in need of transfusion products and are purchasing our products for their patients.

WHAT ARE THE DONOR CRITERIA AND WHY ARE THEY SO STRINGENT?

Skoota the Greyhound is recovering after giving blood
The amount of blood collected must be done so safely so we need to have dogs in the program who can donate the 450ml of blood needed to make the blood components: red blood cells, platelets and plasma. This requires the dogs to be between 25kg and 70kg in order to have the adequate blood volume that we can safely collect.

The blood that is collected needs to be from dogs who are current on vaccinations, up to date with flea, tick and heartworm control as well as intestinal parasite control. This helps to minimise the risk of disease exposure including Vector Borne Diseases, which can be transmitted by internal and external parasites. 


Much like in human blood transfusions, the donors need to be in optimum health in order to make sure that no further risks are imposed on the recipient from the transfusion they receive. Dog blood donors must be between the ages of 1 and 6 years (donors are retired at 8 years of age). You will find more details on the donor criteria and exclusions here.


Dexter is proudly wearing his dog bandana
This does make it more challenging, however we also help educate donor owners about the importance of internal and external parasite prevention and vaccinations because - donors or not - these provisions are essential to keep our pets healthy.

There are eight major canine blood groups - with more being discovered - and one is a universal donor, like the human O negative.
Each unit of blood collected is also quality tested for bacterial contamination: this is part of the ongoing quality control and reassurance with the product.

The Australian Animal Blood Bank currently has about 40 dogs in the program but we always need more. We would like to see this number triple over the next 12 months. Sometimes our regular donors may not be able to donate as they may be away at the time, they could be moving away or need some unexpected surgery themselves which cancels them out until such time as they are cleared to donate again.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP IF A DOG OWNER WANTS TO GET INVOLVED?

Xavier the Greyhound reporting for duty
Anyone who believes their dog meets the criteria or would even just like to come in and meet with myself and the team can contact us through our email and we can set up an appointment time.

At the moment we have had a lot of success recruiting donors through our approved donor site at Newbridge Animal Centre, Moorebank. 

All our locations must meet both the APVMA and Australian Animal Blood Bank criteria to be involved. 
In time, we would like to expand to other areas and we will keep the public updated through our website and Facebook page. A mobile donor centre is also part of our plan once the funding becomes available.



WHAT WILL ACTUALLY HAPPEN DURING THE COLLECTION PROCESS?


Prior to each donation the health status of the donor is evaluated by one of the Blood Bank Staff. A small sample of blood is collected to ensure that your pet is able to donate. The dog donor is then placed on his or her side on the collection table and the owner is allowed to sit next to their dog's head to alleviate any anxiety and provide reassurance.

Ash enjoying some tasty chicken after the procedure

Hair is clipped from a small area on the neck and the skin is cleansed with using a skin disinfectant. 
A unit of blood (approx 450ml) is collected from the jugular vein in the neck area. 

The collection process procedure takes approximately 5 minutesFollowing the collection the needle is removed and pressure is applied to the collection site.

And the best part? Our dog donors are being rewarded with lots of yummy treats and praise!


WHAT IS THE MAIN MOTIVATION OF DOG OWNERS INVOLVED IN THE PROGRAM?


People who are genuinely interested in having their dog as a blood donor tend to not ask straight away about the benefits. It is a wonderful thing to come across dog owners who just want to help other pets in need. People are keen to sign up and then, they are pleasantly surprised about the benefits includded in our blood donor program such as:

  • Comprehensive blood screening and health check upon entry to the program. The donors are tested annually for every year they remain in the program. This includes testing for heartworm disease, Blood Typing, organ function, blood cell evaluation, coagulation evaluation (clotting tests) and Vector Borne Diseases which can be transmitted by fleas and ticks. 
  • Physical exam, red blood cell and haemoglobin testing every 3 months prior to each donation making it more likely to pick up early issues with pets if they were to arise.
  • Complimentary parasite prevention for fleas and ticks. Helping save owners some costs with their doggies, our donors receive a Seresto collar each time they donate, which is provided to us by Bayer Animal Health to minimise the risk of our donors being exposed to Vector Borne Diseases.
  • A goodie bag for our donors from a range of supporters of our blood bank e.g. Dermcare shampoo products, Love’em pet treats and Black Hawk pet food.

If you're in a position to help other canines in need with dog blood donations, please visit www.aabb.com.au
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