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Do Dogs Have a Blood Type?

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  • Originally Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Revised By: Phil Riddel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2014
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Dogs have specific blood types, but the method used to classify them differs from the familiar ABO system used for humans. Instead, the dog erythrocyte antigen (DEA) system is used. An erythrocyte is simply a red blood cell, and an antigen is a substance that stimulates the production of antibodies. The actual number of blood types in dogs is still a matter of dispute amongst experts, but the basic test for canines allows for a minimum of eight distinctive results. Some experts suggest that there may be 12 or more types, but not all are universally acceptable for unmatched transfusions.

Canine Blood Typing

The process of typing is a matter of testing for a reaction to various proteins found on the surfaces of blood cells. In human tests, these proteins are designated A and B. Human samples react to either A, B, or both. A non-reaction would be considered Type O.

In dogs, however, the test for blood type involves at least six different products, called dog erythrocyte antigens or DEAs. A sample could show a negative or positive reaction to types designated as DEA 1.1, 1.2, 3, 4, 5 or 7. Dogs that have only the DEA 4 antigen are considered “universal” donors, as their blood does not provoke a reaction in any other types.

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Of all of these various reactions, one of the most important results is for DEA 1.1. A dog that tests negative for DEA 1.1 is considered a good candidate for donating blood, while a positive test indicates a universal recipient. DEA 1.1 positive blood, however, should never be given to a DEA 1.1 negative dog. A veterinarian can perform a very basic test to determine if the animal is DEA 1.1 positive or negative, but more advanced tests may have to be done in a veterinary lab.

Canine Transfusions

Where the intended recipient’s blood type is incompatible with that of the donor, an acute hemolytic transfusion reaction (AHTR) may take place. This is a life-threatening condition where the recipient produces antibodies to the donor’s blood cell proteins, causing the immune system to attack the cells. As a result, the cells are rapidly destroyed, rendering the transfusion ineffective and possibly causing complications such as kidney failure due to substances produced by the breakdown of the donor erythrocytes.

Dogs are actually better equipped to handle an accidental type mismatch than people. Humans have natural antibodies that immediately recognize and attack foreign invaders, including transfused blood cells of a different type. Dogs, on the other hand, do not have these natural antibodies. If a dog receives unmatched canine blood during an emergency surgery, for example, it may not have a dangerous reaction to the infusion. It may, however, become “sensitized” to this blood type so that any future transfusion of the same type may provoke an AHTR.

For example, if a DEA 1.1 negative dog that has not previously had a transfusion receives DEA 1.1 positive blood there will probably not be a severe reaction. Instead, the animal may start to produce new antibodies within a few days, and these will destroy the “foreign” cells over a period. This makes the transfusion less effective, but is not in itself life threatening. Now that the dog has been sensitized, however, it has antibodies to DEA 1.1 positive cells, and if more blood is required, then a proper cross and type matching must be done to avoid the risk of AHTR.

Canine Blood Banks

Supplies for transfusions can come directly from other dogs that may be kept available, or from a canine blood bank. These may ask for volunteers, as with human blood banks. Rules may vary from place to place, but usually a volunteer dog must be between one and 7 years old, weigh at least 50 lb (22.7 kg), be in good health, and not be receiving any medication, apart from tick and heartworm treatments. Additionally, the animal must be up to date for all required vaccinations. The procedure is not painful, and generally takes 15-25 minutes.

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ZipLine
Post 6

@StarJo-- Yea, I guess the need doesn't arise often, except for surgeries and emergencies. Maybe vets call up people to ask for donations personally.

burcinc
Post 5

I know that when a woman with a negative blood type and a man with a positive blood type have children, it causes problems for the second child because of antibodies.

Since dogs don't produce antibodies, do mothers and pups face any danger when two dogs of different blood types mate?

serenesurface
Post 4

Oh boy. I was thinking about getting my dog tested to see what his blood type is but this seems a lot more complicated than I expected. I suppose it will cost me a lot too.

I just thought it would be good to know this in case of an emergency situation. I am relieved to know that dogs can receive some blood from a different blood type without major complications though. Otherwise, it would be extremely difficult to find the same blood type for a dog.

kylee07drg
Post 3

@StarJo – I take my dog to a rather large clinic that has signs up in the lobby about dog blood donations. The dog has to meet several requirements, and all of these are posted on the sign.

They have to weigh at least 50 pounds, and they have to be younger than 8 but older than 1. They also have to be on heartworm prevention medication.

Since my dog met these requirements and she was rather relaxed and laid back, I decided to let her donate blood. She had to lie still for five whole minutes, and not many dogs can accomplish that!

StarJo
Post 2

I had never thought about dog blood types before. Wow, I wonder if vets ever hold doggie blood drives where you can bring your pet down to give blood?

You hear about human blood drives all the time, and people are always being asked to donate. However, I don't think I've ever heard anyone speak of the need for dog blood donations.

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