Pet Blood Bank: how VNs can help

Written by: Helen Rooney
Published on: 8 Mar 2021

One of the whole blood units collected.

One of the whole blood units collected.

Pet Blood Bank UK (PBB) was founded in 2007 and is the only charity supplying life-saving blood products to veterinary practices nationwide, 24 hours a day.

Unlike many blood banks operating outside of the UK, PBB donors are “volunteers” – not colony or stray dogs – and the bank uses no chemicals, only light restraint, and fuss and treats.

Since starting, PBB has had more than 11,000 dogs registered to donate, although the number of active donors is lower as some have retired due to age or health reasons.

The demand for blood products is continuously increasing as more practices become confident performing transfusions, and knowledge on the use of blood products expands. Blood products are unique, the components within PBB’s red cell and plasma products cannot be found anywhere else, and the impact it has on supporting patients through critical illness cannot be overstated.

Dogs have many blood types, but in terms of their clinical relevance, we really only talk about their dog erythrocyte antigen (DEA) 1 status. A dog will either be DEA 1 negative or DEA 1 positive. While we would like more donors of both blood types, we particularly need to increase the more DEA 1 negative donors on our register, as they make up only 36% of our donors (as of August 2020). DEA 1 negative blood can be given to any dog; therefore, demand is always high.

Through data analysis, PBB has identified certain breeds are more likely to have a DEA 1 negative blood type:

  • greyhound
  • lurcher
  • Dobermann
  • German shepherd dog
  • Weimaraner
  • border collie
  • Old English sheepdog
  • flat-coated retriever
  • boxer
  • pointer
  • Airedale terrier
  • American bulldog
  • English bull terrier
  • dogue de Bordeaux

Any dog meeting our criteria can donate – it does not have to be a pedigree.

To register as a donor a dog must meet all our criteria, which can be found on the PBB website. As important as the physical criteria is, so is the temperament and character of the dog. Owners can register their dogs online, and read through our donor owner information and watch the donation day video. They will be contacted by one of our donor admin team, who will chat to them about their dog some more, explain the process and answer questions.

The welfare of donors is never compromised – they are always placed at the heart of everything the charity does. Even though owners may be apprehensive for their dog at first, they are immediately reassured at their first visit. After each successful donation, donors receive a goody bag and a toy, and “milestone” donations are rewarded with special gifts.

Donors can donate up to six times a year. How frequently depends on their blood type as we invite donors to sessions based on the stock level of each blood type.

As a charity, the support of the public and the veterinary profession are critical to it being able to continue to provide and expand its services. VNs have always had a central role in supporting PBB, which it recognises and really appreciates; the following discussion focuses on some of the key support areas for VNs.

A VN collecting a donation.

A VN collecting a donation.

The blood donation is taken by trained VNs, assisted by donor assistants. As VNs, hitting veins is what we do, but 450ml whole blood collection takes the skill of phlebotomy to the next level. Strict processes exist around blood collection to protect the welfare of donors and to ensure the blood collected is quality assured for the profession. Full training is provided and, once learned, the processes become second nature.

In addition, phlebotomists need to be able to collect the donation, while chatting to the donor owner (outside pandemic restrictions). Again, performing interventions on patients in front of owners is not new to VNs.

As a PBB phlebotomist, the charity asks that you support a minimum of 6 sessions per year; however, 10 to 12 is preferred to ensure your phlebotomy skill and process knowledge remain current. Regional sessions are usually held over a weekend to enable VNs working in practice to attend. VNs are paid for the session and travel expenses are reimbursed.

I've had a transfusion.

Help raise donor numbers

Many owners have never heard of PBB and never really thought about what would happen if their dog needed blood. VNs are perfectly placed to spread the word:

  • Carry out a mailshot of all owners with adult dogs weighing more than 25kg to tell them about the charity, and ask them to register their dog or contact PBB directly.
  • Hold a client education evening. PBB’s training department will happily support these with a presentation (virtually or in person, if possible).
  • Chat to owners of suitable dogs at their vaccination or nurse-check appointments.
  • Discharge patients following neuter surgery with a PBB leaflet for owners to read.
  • Make reference to PBB blood donation at your puppy parties.
  • Display PBB posters and literature in your waiting room, or play the charity’s collection session video on waiting room screens.
  • Invite PBB to your practice open evenings and events.
  • Chat to owners of any dog that has received a blood product about where the blood came from, and provide the PBB leaflet and “I have had a transfusion” collar tag. Although their dog can no longer donate, they can help spread the word.

Become a PBB host venue

PBB collects blood from all over the UK – it does not have a single regional location. Instead, it works within “host” practices. Host practices are vital so it can reach donors in all areas to collect the most units possible and PBB could not operate without their support. It holds sessions every two to four months on a mutually convenient day – often at weekends – and the sessions run for approximately eight hours.

To run a collection session, host practices need to:

  • be passionate and enthusiastic for the cause
  • allow PBB to use a minimum of two rooms (usually consulting rooms) and the waiting area (due to Covid-19 restrictions owners are not permitted to enter a host practice)
  • have a reasonable-sized car park for donor owners and the PBB team vehicles
  • allow the team to store their belongings away from public areas, and use the staff room for breaks and lunch
  • appoint a session coordinator/liaison – having a single point of contact at the practice to communicate with when organising sessions is helpful. This person does not need to attend the sessions. This person would also help to identify donors, and promote the session with clients and the practice staff
  • have a minimum of 50 to 60 donors registered from the practice or local area. To ensure at least 20 donors a session, PBB has found it needs a pool of donors slightly larger than this.

PBB is always looking for new venues across all regions, and is particularly looking for venues in Worcestershire, Peterborough, Hull, Kent, Gloucestershire and Cardiff.

Host venues also get a lot out of our collection sessions. RVN Molly Valance from Carrick Veterinary Group said: “We think the sessions will have a positive impact on our practice. Most of our time is spent helping sick or injured dogs, so it is lovely to spend time with and make a fuss of all the healthy dogs who come to donate. It gives us all something in the diary to look forward to and it’s even better knowing that we are helping to save lives.

“Our clients are also really pleased to see us supporting a charity in this way.’’

Funding support

Fund-raising is a wonderful way to get involved. As a charity, PBB also needs support to ensure it can maintain its service and continue delivering additional initiatives, such as training and CPD.

For more details, including how to host sessions, fund-raising ideas and donor criteria, visit