Source: You (Extract)
Posted: May 18, 2023

When Saul Sostak (57) from Norwood, Johannesburg, took his dog to the vet for cancer treatment, he never imagined that it would be the start of a journey for his other dog, Blaze, to help save the lives of other pups.

“Back in 2016 I had a dog that had cancer and I landed up at a specialist vet in Bryanston. They had a poster about blood donation and for the first time I realised that dogs actually need blood too. Before that I thought that when a dog gets sick, you take it to the vet and it gets better. I didn’t think about them needing blood during an operation or if they’re in a serious accident.

After finding out what kinds of dogs could donate blood I signed up my pit bull, Blaze. I learned that he was a universal donor and could give blood to other dogs regardless of their blood type.

I’d get a phone call in the middle of the day and the vet would ask, ‘is Blaze available?’ and I’d say, ‘can I bring him in the morning?’ and I’d hear a pause on the other side of the phone and the vet would say, ‘yes, but we need the blood right now,’ and I would put him in the car and drive to the vet.

I remember one particular case where he’d had the transfusion procedure, and we weren’t even home yet and the vet called and said, ‘he saved a dog’s life straightaway.’

So it was quite moving and I thought, ‘I’ve got to continue doing this. During Covid-19, when there were a lot of dogs fighting at home because of the lockdown, he was still donating blood and helping other dogs.

Every three months it was a big event for Blaze to go donate blood. As soon as his red blood donation bandana came out, he knew exactly where we were going and the closer we got to the vet, the more excited he got. He’d wiggle his whole body.

I take Blaze everywhere with me. He’s socialised around people and animals. When people are scared, he leaves them alone. He’s moved quite a few people at the vet with his gentle demeanour.

When you take a powerful dog to the vet for blood donation, or any other procedure, they often muzzle them for protection. But here comes this dog, as calm as ever. He’s one of the few dogs they don’t have to muzzle.

The recent bad publicity about pit bulls hasn’t deterred me from walking around with Blaze. If we go with my wife, Caron, to a shopping centre, it gives me an opportunity to train Blaze and show other people that they’re okay to be around. He’s just a dog.

When we’ve had a negative interaction with someone about the breed, my wife and I use the opportunity to educate rather than argue. We tell people he donates blood, and at some point might even have saved the life of your dog or someone else’s dog you might know.

The other reason we chose to let Blaze be a blood donor and continued to do it for so many years is that we didn’t want him to be stereotyped. We strive to shine a positive light on the breed to show people that they’re not here to fight or be killing machines, that there are other purposes and needs for them in life.

Blaze recently retired as a donor. We’ve had seven good years of giving blood, which is roughly half of Blaze’s estimated lifespan, but we’ll keep taking him not just to get their pets to donate blood, not just on blood donation, but about life.

Our journey with Blaze and the lives he’s saved, has been touching. We couldn’t be prouder dog owners.”


In South Africa, only specialist vets and veterinary hospitals perform canine blood transfusions. We spoke to the Bryanston Veterinary Hospital where Blaze donates blood.

What are the canine blood donor requirements?

For dogs to donate blood, they must be:

Over 25kg

Between the ages of 18 months and seven years old

Be healthy

Be fully vaccinated and free of parasites

Have a calm and non-aggressive demeanour

Do dogs have different blood types?

Dogs don’t have the same blood types as humans.

Vets test for two blood types in SA, DEA 1.1 Negative and DEA 1.1 Positive. DEA is Dog Erythrocyte Antigens, a red blood cell protein.

Dogs who are DEA 1.1 Negative can be universal donors, but dogs with DEA1.1 Positive blood can also donate.

What is the donation process?

After a clinical exam is done, we insert an IV catheter and administer a very light sedative.

Some donors have been trained to lie calmly and don’t need the sedative.

We clean and prep a small area of the neck and draw blood from the jugular vein using the same type of blood bags used in human donations.

The donor’s sedation is immediately reversed, and once they’re awake, the IV catheter is removed and they can go home.

How often can dogs donate blood?

Every three months.

Is it safe for a dog to donate blood?

Yes, it’s safe. We make sure the donor is healthy before we begin. This includes a full clinical exam, where we listen to the donor’s heart and lungs, as well as do a blood smear to check for platelets and parasites, and we check the donor’s blood count levels. If all these are normal, then we proceed.

What happens to the blood?

The blood bags are labelled with the necessary information and refrigerated.

What are some of the conditions that would require a dog to get a blood transfusion?

Babesia, a parasitic infection caused by a tick bite

Immune mediated Haemolytic Anaemia (IMHA), a condition where the body attacks its own red blood cells

Severe blood loss

Can dogs donate blood to cats?

No. Cats have their own blood types, and we do have cats who donate to other cats. The procedure is the same as dogs, but because cats are so small, they can only donate a small amount of blood. This amount is also too small to store in the fridge, and the donation goes straight from the donor to the recipient.

Is there an adequate blood supply/reserve for dogs in South Africa?

Yes, fortunately we do have a good supply of donors at Bryanston Veterinary Hospital and lovely owners who bring them in.

How can my dog become a donor?

If your dog fits the criteria, contact us on 011 706 6023 or email You can bring your dog in for a free blood typing and we’ll add them to the list and call the owner when we need blood.

Are there any fees?

There are no fees involved for donating blood. We have an agreement that the donor will receive free annual vaccinations (5 in 1 and rabies injections), free nail clipping if the owner requests it, as well as a large cookie for your dog to enjoy at home.