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wellness/first aid

Bento Donates: Bento’s Blood Helps an Anemic Dog

Bento heads to the entrance of our local emergency vet hospital. This is the cream Labrador’s third visit. It’s starting to feel routine. Bento knows where to search for the best sniffs. He wags his tail in anticipation of what’s next. Meanwhile, I feel sad walking past the waiting area where dogs and their companions sit with looks of concern. I can only imagine what they are going through.

We make it to our appointment. Bento gives a tug of the leash as he sees Kelsey, the blood bank director.

We’re at Dove Lewis, a non-profit emergency pet hospital in Portland, Oregon.  

Blood is a lifesaving tool for critically ill or injured animals. Dove Lewis runs a community-based blood bank for dogs and cats. Donors are volunteers from the community. It’s not a colony-based blood bank; donors are not confined for the purpose of providing blood. Dove Lewis provides enough blood for over 700 transfusions annually, from coast to coast. Bento is one of about 100 dogs in their program who donates three or more times a year.

The Benefit of Bento's Calm Nature

Bento loves to play, but he settles down very well. If he isn’t stimulated with pets or conversation, he’s content lying down next to a human companion. This one skill alone is extremely useful in blood donation and in his therapy work.

Bento meets all the screening criteria for a donating dog, including a clean medical record, never having received a blood transfusion, and a 55-pound minimum weight. His docile nature also makes him a great candidate for the program. 

Qualifying to Be a Blood Donor 

Bento’s initial intake included a short evaluation of his disposition, blood type, and a blood panel to screen for antibodies, bloodborne diseases, pathogens, bacteria, and parasites. 

A few weeks later, I received an enthusiastic email from Kelsey saying everything is perfect and Bento is okay to start donating! 

Suddenly, I became hesitant. I realized I still had nagging questions remaining about his well-being.

Will he be anesthetized?

What if he is in pain?

Is this dangerous?

I was quickly put at ease by the blood bank. I learned that donor dogs aren’t anesthetized. Dogs aren’t forced to give blood. If dogs become sensitive and fidget, Kelsey stops the process immediately. Dove Lewis follows the American Association of Blood Banking standards, as adapted for dogs and cats. A vet surgeon friend assured me that giving blood is a safe thing to do. The biggest potential risk is extra wear on the veins if Bento is in need of a catheter for surgery or supportive care. To address this, Kelsey draws blood from the jugular vein, which isn’t typically used for transfusions. 

The Donation Process 

After a quick screening to ensure he has adequate red blood cells in circulation to donate, Bento is invited to a room with a cozy fleece on the table.

Bento knows the drill. He jumps up on the bedding and gives Kelsey a lick on the face.

Bento jumps on the table and gives Kelsey a lick.

Kelsey asks Bento to lie down and places a weighted blanket over him. This encourages him to stay still. A tech gently places one hand over Bento’s cheek and another over his chest. This ensures he won’t jump. Then Kelsey inserts a catheter into Bento’s jugular vein. 

Bento lies calm and still, just as he does on a patient’s hospital bed during his therapy work. He is content to be draped with a warm blanket and have people around him.

Within eight minutes, I see the number on the scale climb to 425 milliliters! The goal is to collect about a liter of blood.

“We’re good,” says Kelsey as she removes the catheter and then places a piece of gauze and self-adhesive wrap around Bento’s neck. She removes the weighted blanket and invites Bento to get down.

Bento finishes his blood donation.

The Reward 

Bento is rewarded with a small jar of baby food made of chicken. He still has his normal appetite and devours it in seconds.  

Bento is rewarded with a small jar of baby food.

Kelsey tips over a chest at the other end of the room. She reveals a selection of over 30 donated dog toys for Bento to choose from. He gently sniffs, but hesitates to grab one.

“It’s ok,” I tell Bento, encouraging him to choose a toy for himself. This part of the process begins to feel like the most time consuming. Finally, he selects a reward: a stuffed animal.

Bento chooses a toy as a reward.

My reward is access to free emergency evaluations if he ever needs them. I also feel assured that we would catch developing illnesses earlier due to the annual blood screening.

Our mission is complete. We walk out of the clinic and pass the waiting room once again. I feel fortunate that we’ll be able to enjoy our regular walk this evening. I’m hopeful Bento’s donation will help one of the dogs in the waiting room return to their favorite routines soon. Our last donation helped an older anemic dog with an immune disease.

Bento posing after his first blood donation.

Want to help?

Become a blood donor.
Give a financial donation to the blood bank.
Give a toy donation to the blood bank.

*Header photo by Matt Wolfe of Dove Lewis