A canine blood donation program in Guelph shows that dogs are not only man's best friend, but they can be lifesavers too.
The Ontario Veterinary College Canine Blood Donor Program is a program which collects blood products from canine volunteers to help treat animal patients at the Companion Animal Hospital.
Currently, there are 65 dogs volunteering in the program who donate every two or three months.
Ramona Fowler is a registered veterinary technician and program coordinator for the canine blood donor program at the OVC. She has been helping run the program for 25 years.
Twenty years ago, Fowler explains the program began informally receiving donations and slowly evolved from there.
“When I first started, we only had a few dogs that lived on the campus that donated blood, like they were our own dogs, and then we had some student’s dogs that donated.”
Fowler explains the level of care was different back then and there were not as many surgeries needing transfusions being performed.
“As medical technology developed, and surgeons were doing more complicated surgeries, and staff became more comfortable giving transfusion surgeries, we realized we were going to need more dogs.”
Today, Fowler said 25 dogs donate every month to the blood donor bank, and stay within the program for two or three years.
“Once they’re in the program and get to learn the routine of donating blood, we like to keep them in the program for a couple of years,” she said, adding many residents who had a dog previously volunteer may get a new dog that will also participate in the program.
From a single unit of blood, one canine volunteer can help up to four other dogs in need.
“I can separate that blood into different components,” said Fowler. “We have a very large centrifuge, where we can spin down the blood that we can make into separate products.”
Typically the dog blood goes to dogs, but Fowler mentions the program has supplied one transfusion for a ferret.
“We do have cats that donate as well (for use in cats), but they belong to us, we don’t use cats from the community.”
During the pandemic, Fowler said it has become challenging to have enough staff and bring enough dogs in to donate after one patient recently needed 15 units of blood from the program.
“Our blood demand has increased 10-fold, maybe not just because of the lack of staffing out in practice, but it’s just that we're able to treat a lot more complex cases than we used to,” said Fowler, who mentions many clinics that normally provide transfusions have been unable to do so.
“It’s not just for cancer patients, it’s not just for surgical patients, there’s a lot of patients who come in, whose immune system, unfortunately, has turned against them and it’s attacking their own blood cells and is attacking their own platelets,” said Fowler.
She adds the number of transfusions done at the OVC has also increased the past couple of years to over 300.
While demand for blood is rising, Fowler does mention they have a lot of dogs on a current wait list to volunteer. Running the program on top of her RVT duties, Fowler explains they will not be accepting new volunteers until next year.
“We don’t always have time to see as many people as we would like,” said Fowler.
While the program reviews its current wait list of volunteers, the OVC website does list all the requirements needed to become a canine volunteer. All eligible dogs need to be large, friendly dogs between one to five years of age. The dogs need to weigh more than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) and must be on a cooked or kibble diet.
All potential volunteers are also brought into the clinic for testing, said Fowler.
“Not every dog ends up being suitable, whether it’s their personality, or the owner didn’t realize they were not over 55 pounds, or something comes back on their blood test that isn’t suitable.”
Once in, canine volunteers do receive various perks, including free heartworm prevention medication, examination, nail trimming and free dog food after each donation. Besides the perks, Fowler mentions many people who have a dog in the program, saying they are just happy to give back.
"I know a lot of people that do find that (donating) obviously very beneficial to their dog, where I find just as many people who say, 'I just want to help.'"
Those who would like to learn more about the OVC Health Sciences Centre Canine Blood Bank can go to ovchsc.ca.