Sharing your home with a dog is truly life changing; we welcome them into homes, they keep us company, get us outside more, make us laugh, cause us worry and become the best companions we could ever wish for.
“If you are lucky, a dog will come into your life, steal your heart and change everything!”
So when they are ill or they pass away, we are heart-broken, devastated and feel such immense grief that many people struggle over the loss of their dog.
Can Dogs Become Organ Donors?
I know dogs can give blood, Joanne at Barks & Squeaks, wrote a great blog about dogs giving blood, you can read it here.
So imagine my surprise, when googling ‘can dogs be organ donors‘ that I came across the Veterinary Tissue Bank, answering my question that, yes, dogs (and cats) can donate tissue when they pass away.
I started reading the Veterinary Tissue Bank’s website, intrigued to learn more. I have never heard of tissue donation for dogs, or cats, and wondered what the tissue donation programme entailed.
To find out more, I contacted Justin Archer at VTB, who agreed to answer some of my questions, so that I could write this blog. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this, but raising awareness may help your dog, or another dog, in the future, so I hope you find it interesting and maybe in the future you may need a tissue donation for your pet.
Tell us about the Veterinary Tissue Bank and the people behind it.
Veterinary Tissue Bank is Europe’s first tissue bank for pets. VTB operates an ethical donor programme where pet owners can donate tissues when their dogs and cats pass away, in a process similar to the human tissue donation programme. Tissues are processed into transplants which are then supplied to veterinary surgeons to use in various surgical procedures related to bone and tissue deformity or injury.
VTB was co-founded by two veterinary surgeons Dr. Peter Myint and Professor John Innes. Peter has many years of experience in research and development of human tissue banking. John is a small animal orthopaedic specialist and is internationally renowned in the field.
How did the Veterinary Tissue Bank come about?
Advances in veterinary orthopaedics means more and more sophisticated surgical procedures are being carried out by veterinary surgeons. Prior to setting up VTB, bone grafts were coming into the UK from the United States, and Peter and John saw the need to establish a centralised veterinary tissue banking centre in the UK. John was working at the University of Liverpool veterinary school at that time and both of them worked on the plan for a few years before VTB was eventually set up in 2009 in Wrexham.
Could you tell us more about the tissue donation programme?
Tissue donation can only take place when the pet reaches the end of their life. However, the pet owners can register their pet to become a tissue donor at any time of their life by submitting the registration form online via the VTB website. VTB will then issue a registration pack, including a Pet Donor Card, to the owner and inform the vet about the registration so that they can record this in their database. The vet is also sent a tissue donation file, explaining what to do in the event of donation. If the owner changes their mind, they can withdraw the consent at any time by contacting the VTB. At the time of donation, the owner is asked to sign a consent form, and consent can also be withdrawn at this time.
What is tissue donation and how is the tissue used?
Veterinary tissue donation is very similar to human tissue donation. In human tissue donation people can donate tissues such as bone, tendon, cartilage, eye, skin, heart valve, etc, however in veterinary tissue donation bone and tendon are the only tissues currently possible to donate. However, other tissues such as cartilage and cornea are being considered in veterinary like in human tissue donation.
Bone graft is mainly used in orthopaedic surgery to replace the diseased bone or to fuse the joints or to support the weak bony structure. Some examples used to repair bone and joints are broken bone, bone cancer, bone cysts, spinal disorders, congenital defects and arthritic bone and joints. Bone grafts are also used on periodontal surgery to rebuild the loss of bone mass.
What pets/animals can benefit from tissue donation at the moment?
Tissue transplants are used within the same species which is termed allografts e.g. canine graft for dogs and feline grafts for cats. In theory allografts can be used in any species however only dogs and cats are most widely used.
Can you explain how you ethically source, retrieve and process tissue? Are you monitored by any associations?
VTB only sources tissues from pet dogs and cats where owner or the legally authorised person signs the consent form to agree to donation. VTB practises opt-in system as in human tissue donation in England and Scotland (Wales have opt-out system). Dogs and cats who have no owner history are not accepted by VTB such as in stray pets or are put to sleep for unethical reasons. All pet donations are via veterinary practices referring the donation to VTB and VTB does not accept direct donation.
In addition to ethical donation, VTB also ensures the tissues are safe in order to prevent disease transmission from donor to recipient. The pets must have had a full vaccination history and free of certain medical conditions such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc. This is checked by the attending veterinary surgeon at the time of donation. The owner then signs the consent form. Once this is complete VTB sends a DEFEA approved courier to collect the body and transport it to its premises in Wrexham. After the tissues are removed, the remaining body is collected by a pet crematorium for cremation. If the owner requests an individual cremation, VTB will return the ashes, in a wooden casket, to the owner without any costs incurred.
VTB has fully equipped facilities to process tissues and cells. The processing is carried out in clean rooms by highly trained, qualified staff as in the pharmaceutical industry in line with good manufacturing practice. In addition to tissue processing, VTB also processes and supplies stem cells for dogs and cats.
VTB is not monitored by any organisation, however veterinary professional ethics and standards govern the procedures and practices. John Innes acts as a veterinary medical director of VTB ensuring donor suitability and clinical related practices are separated from the operational matters. Peter Myint oversees the operational and technical affairs. VTB ensures a good clinical and management governance is in place. VTB is also known to Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) for its stem cell activities.
How many dogs/pets have you helped with tissue donation?
To date, VTB has helped nearly 10,000 dogs and cats.
Is this a new service, as it is not something I have heard about as a dog owner?
Tissue donation, both in veterinary and human, is relatively unknown in comparison to organ donation such as liver, heart, kidney, etc. There are only two veterinary tissue banks in the world – the other one being in the USA. VTB recognises that efforts need to be redoubled to increase the publicity and awareness about veterinary tissue donation among pet owners.
Is it only certain vets that have access to the tissue bank?
Predominantly, veterinary specialists such as veterinary orthopaedic surgeons and dental surgeons use VTB services. VTB services are available to all veterinary professionals in need of bone grafts or stem cell therapies.
I couldn’t tell from your website, but you do not appear to be a charity, so I was wondering where does the income come from to support the business?
We are dedicated to being able to provide grafts to the veterinary profession so that they can continue to develop and improve treatments for the diseases that can affect our beloved pets. Without the supply of these grafts, these surgeries would not be able to take place. However, there is a significant cost to the acquisition and processing of these tissues so that they can be used, and we have to charge the veterinary practices for the supply of grafts to recover costs.
What is the hardest thing about working in pet tissue donation?
Like in human organ and tissue donation, a shortage of donors is always an issue. Tissue donation replies on the good will of the pet owners, as well as the co-operation of the veterinary practices. In general, the pet owners are positive about tissue donation message and increasing publicity and awareness will help increase the number of donors. This requires constant chasing after the stories about the experience of donors, recipients, and the veterinary surgeons who use bone grafts, as this seems to get the best response from potential donors. Placing articles in consumer magazines helps us to raise awareness among the general public. VTB appreciates any help which can increase the awareness of veterinary tissue donation.
VTB staff are motivated by seeing not only the pets who are in desperate need of treatment getting benefits, but also seeing the pet owners able to overcome, to some extent, the bereavement process by knowing their pets have gone on to help others live full and happy lives.
What is the best thing about working in pet tissue donation?
We are motivated by seeing not only the pets who are in desperate need of treatment getting benefits, but also seeing the pet owners able to overcome, to some extent, the bereavement process by knowing their pets have gone on to help others live full and happy lives.
What is the future of tissue donation and do you think other organ donation will occur in the future?
Veterinary bone grafting is now fully established within the veterinary profession and also forms part of the teaching curriculum in veterinary schools. Veterinary tissue banking is set to grow and will extend to other tissues such as cornea, cartilage, etc as in human tissue banking.
Organ donation, on the other hand, is very different and it comes with a host of different issues and concerns such as ethics, logistics, etc as organ donors needs to be on life support machines when organs are taken for transplant. According to the records, a kidney transplant was the only organ transplantation that has taken place in veterinary science so far, but this was many years ago.
If owners are interested, how to owners find out more, can they register their dog/pet?
Owners can register online via VTB website www.vtbank.org. We will be updating the website soon. We can also be found on Facebook and Instagram where we share information and stories about our donors
Owners can get more information about donation and how to register from The VTB website at www.vtbank.org/donor-programme.
Thank You To Veterinary Tissue Bank
Thank you to Dr Peter Myint for answering all my questions, I think this is an interesting and unknown topic for pet owners and our beloved pets.
I would love to hear what your thoughts are on pet tissue donation, is it something you would consider, now that you have found out more about it? Or is it something that you couldn’t even contemplate doing?
I’m not sure how I feel about it, it is something I will discuss with my husband to see what his views are. I can’t explain why I am still unsure about pet tissue donation, because, I am on the organ donor register (my husband is aware that these are my wishes).
Maybe it’s because it’s something that I have not been aware of until now. Maybe VTB need to share more success stories in how the tissue donations have helped dogs and cats? Was your dog, or cat, a tissue donor? Has your dog, or cat, had a tissue transplant?
Please share your thoughts with me in the comments below, I really would love to hear them.
- Veterinary Tissue Bank website ~ click here
- Register for VTB Donor Programme ~ click here
- Veterinary Tissue Bank Facebook ~ click here
- Veterinary Tissue Bank Instragram ~ click here