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Risks and Complications of Dog Blood Transfusions

Dog Blood Transfusions

If your dog is in need of a blood transfusion because of a traumatic accident or an underlying medical condition, you may be wondering what types of risks and complications of dog blood transfusion your dog may be prone to. The procedure of giving a dog a blood transfusion is not without complications, but fortunately statistics show that their incidence is low. Veterinarians take several steps to prevent dog blood transfusion complications and the transfusion is stopped at once should there be any signs of trouble.

A Look at Statistics 

dog red blood cells

Blood transfusions in dogs consist of transplanting blood from a donor dog to a dog who is need of fresh blood. The most common blood components used for a transfusion include whole blood, packed red blood cells (PRBCs), platelet rich plasma (PRP) and platelet concentrates, (PC).

A blood transfusion in an anemic dog  can therefore be a life-saving event as the dog is provided with oxygen carrying cells to correct the red blood cell deficiency.

As mentioned, blood transfusions in dogs are not without risks for complications, but their incidence is fortunately low. According to s study conducted by the University of Minnesota, the incidence of dog blood transfusion reactions in dogs were as low as 2.9 percent with most reactions being minor (Reference 1). The chances for severe and fatal reactions are over all rare.

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Transfusion reactions in dogs may appear immediately (within 2 to 4 hours) or they may be delayed (appearing anywhere from days, weeks or even months later.)

Dog Transfusion Complications

dog blood transfusion complications

In dogs, transfusion reactions may stem from a variety of reasons such as inappropriate storage, preparation or administration or individual reactions to the blood. Following are more detailed causes of dog blood transfusion complications.

Transmission of Disease

Just as in people, it is possible for dogs to get disease from infected blood. This is why it's important to carefully screen donor dogs. Donor dogs must meet several requirements such as being free from any infectious disease, having normal blood work and urinalysis, and not be taking any medications.

What dog diseases can be transmitted through a blood transfusion done using blood from an un-screened donor? Babesia canis, Babesia gibsonii, Ehrlichia spp., Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Neorickettsia risticii, Leishmania donvanii and Bartonella vinsonii are just a few.The predisposition for such diseases varies based on location and other individual factors.

For example, blood from Pitbull and foxhound donor dogs can be problematic because these dogs tend to respectively have a relatively high incidence of Babesia sp. and Leishmania sp. requiring further screeningexplains Dr. Matthew Beal, a veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care.

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Transfusion Hemolytic Reaction

A serious and potentially life-threatening reaction associated with blood transfusions in dogs is what's called a hemolytic transfusion reaction. What happens in this case is that the dog's immune system destroys the red blood cells that were given during the transfusion. The term hemolytic indeed means destruction of red blood cells.

Affected dogs develop signs of trouble right away after the transfusion. Symptoms of a dog hemolytic transfusion reaction include fever, low blood pressure, trouble breathing, vomiting and abnormal heart rate. These symptoms can progress to shock and even kidney failure. When these signs are noticed, the transfusion is stopped immediately.

Transfusion Metabolic Reaction

When blood is delivered in large amounts (especially plasma) and too quickly, a metabolic reaction may take place. In this case, the reaction is due to citrate toxicity. Citrate is the anticoagulant used in blood products. This toxicity results in hypocalcemia (low levels of calcium in the blood) which causes restlessness and tremors, and in severe cases, even heart arrhythmia..

life expectancy of addison disease in dogs

Transfusion Allergic Reaction

And of course, then there's an allergic reaction. As dogs may be allergic to foods, pollen and dust, they also can be allergic to certain foreign proteins found in the blood. Affected dogs develop swelling of the face, itching, trouble breathing and presence of hives. Some dogs may also start vomiting and having diarrhea.

These allergic reactions tend to resolve once the dog is provided with a course of antihistamines and steroids.

Should the symptoms resolve, then the transfusion may be continued, but this time, at a slower rate and under close supervision. Further antihistamines or steroids may be given. In some cases, it may be necessary to use the blood from another donor.

"There is always a risk that your dog could have an allergic reaction to the blood. This is minimized by cross-matching your dog with the donor, although this is not always done in the case of a first time transfusion since the risk is low. If your dog has had a transfusion before, then this must happen as there is a higher risk of a reaction. "~Dr. Joey, veterinarian

Transfusion Febrile Reaction

A fever is the most common complication associated with giving dogs a blood transfusion. The fever can be due to several factors and it can be an early sign of a possible complication (from bacterial contamination, immune response). If a dog therefore develops a fever during a blood transfusion, it should be taken seriously and the transfusion should be immediately halted.

Transfusion Hypothermia Reaction

On the opposite spectrum, sometimes dogs may develop hypothermia, (lower body temperature) from a blood transfusion. This seems to happen the most because of the use of cold blood components that were refrigerated. Heating of blood components would be ideal to prevent low body temperatures in young puppies, toy breeds and debilitated dogs. Dogs undergoing anesthesia or dogs recovering from anesthesia may also be prone to lowered body temperatures.

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  • Kristensen, A.T. Administration of blood products to animals. in: S.I. Bistner, R.B. Ford (Eds.)Handbook of Veterinary Procedures and Emergency Treatment. 6th ed. WB Saunders, Philadelphia; 1994:561–573.
  • Yeston, N.S., Niehoff, J.M., Dennis, R.C. Transfusion therapy. in: J.M. Civetta, R.W. Taylor, R.R. Kirby (Eds.) Critical Care. ed 2. Lippincott, Philadelphia; 1992:427–441.
  • DVM360: Practical transfusion medicine for dogs and cats (Proceedings)

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