“HELP, BLOOD DONOR NEEDED FOR MY DOG!” is a relatively common cry for help in the Sunset Vet waiting room and on social media in Bali, where cases of life threatening anaemia from tick-borne disease are common.

Bali doesn’t have a canine blood bank like some Western countries do, and synthetic blood products such as ‘platelet-rich plasma’ (also available in UK, USA, Australia etc.) are also not available here. As a result, dog owners are forced to plea for help from other dog owners, with mixed results as the donors found are often not ideal donors but used nonetheless for want of a better alternative.


Ticks the major vector for disease

Ticks are everywhere in Bali (see our Sunset Vet article last month “Bravecto /Nexgard Most Effective for Ticks”). They are the vectors for the dreaded ‘blood parasite’ diseases Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis. Pedigree breeds such as Huskys, German Shepherds and Poodles are particularly susceptible to these diseases and have little natural immunity like the indigenous Bali Dogs have. Preventing these diseases is all about minimizing the number of ticks attaching to your dog, and regular vet checkups to nip it in the bud before the parasite gets into the bone marrow and spleen.


When is a blood transfusion necessary?

Healthy dogs have a red blood cell count of 39%-55%. As a rule of thumb at Sunset Vet we do not recommend blood transfusion unless the red blood cell count, also known as ‘haematocrit’ or ‘packed cell volume/PCV’ is less than 15%. However as an example if it was at 24% then days later is at 20%, this means it is dropping worryingly fast and a transfusion may be initiated early.


Why wait for it to drop so low, why not treat earlier?

Firstly, because blood transfusion has some potentially serious adverse effects including allergic reactions. Secondly, because many dogs will respond positively to the drugs used to treat their blood infections and that will be enough to increase their red blood cell counts without the need for a blood transfusion.


Do dogs have blood groups as humans do?

Yes indeed – over a dozen different blood groups have been identified in dogs, but rather than the O/A/B/AB and rhesus +/- system in humans, dogs are categorised according to Dog Erythrocyte Antigen (DEA) group. Some types of dogs such as those carrying DEA 1.1 cannot be blood donors as it would induce acute haemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) in the recipient dog. Thus once a potential blood donor is found, blood must be taken from both donor and recipient dogs and ‘cross-matched’ in the Sunset Vet lab to see if the transfusion is a match or not.


Which dogs make suitable blood donors?

Selecting an appropriate donor is the first step to providing a safe, effective transfusion. Donors should never have received a blood transfusion themselves. They should be of docile temperament and have easily accessible jugular veins to facilitate blood collection. Donors should be free of infectious diseases and fully vaccinated. Since we are using human blood collection systems, canine donors should be > 25 kg. This allows approximately 450 ml of blood to be collected without risk to the donor. In Western countries greyhounds are often recommended as good choices for donors because of their size, temperament, slender necks and availability, but this breed is very rare in Bali so not used. Female canine donors should not have previously given birth, as this may have induced antibodies, which could cause a transfusion reaction. Diseases potentially transmitted by transfusion in dogs are heartworm and the tick-borne diseases babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.


Is there any risk to the donor dog?

At Sunset Vet we have never had any significant complications happen to a donor dog, however they are carefully screened to make sure the donor is in good health prior to giving blood. Most dogs will require sedation to have the blood taken, as they need to sit still for 15-20 minutes while the blood is drawn. After giving blood the donor is usually hospitalised at the clinic for 1 night as to replace the volume of blood taken, vets need to give 3 times that volume of saline by IV infusion. Red blood cell counts of the donor are taken before and after the transfusion to make sure they are safe to go home.


What is the success rate of blood transfusions at Sunset Vet?

This is difficult to quantify as do we measure success by fully recovering from illness, or by extending lifespan by 2 weeks or 2 months? When treating anaemic dogs that are suffering from tick-borne blood parasites, the outcome is usually positive if the transfusion is performed before the disease has got to a very advanced stage. Certain breeds also tend to respond better to transfusions than others, and other factors include how close a cross-match the donor and recipient were.


What about cats? Do they ever need blood transfusions?

Cats do not tend to suffer from tick infestations; partly because they are obsessive groomers so would not allow the tick to attach. However they can develop anaemia from another cat specific blood parasite called Hemobartonella felis which is also spread via vectors such as fleas and lice.

The ideal feline donor weighs 5-7 kg. This body weight allows approximately 60 ml of blood to safely be collected. Cats that are allowed to roam free outdoors should not be used as blood donors. Cats are MORE complicated to give blood transfusions to as the exact blood type must be known in both donor and recipient, there is no ‘universal donor’. All cats of blood type B have strong antibodies against type A cells and all type A cats have antibodies against type B cells, even if a previous transfusion has not been given. Fortunately blood transfusions in cats are a much rarer occurrence than those in dogs.


How can I register my dog as a blood donor in Bali?

If you would like to volunteer your dog as a potential blood donor to save lives here in Bali, please email Sunset Vet so we can add your dog to our database of potential donors.


Sunset Vet offers veterinary services via their Kuta (24hr) and Ubud (8am-7pm) clinics. For further information or to make an appointment call them on 03619348915 (Kuta) or 0361975296 (Ubud), or visit or


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