Pet Donors: giving a gift of life

Pet Donors: giving a gift of life

Main image © Steve Hall, UNP

Words by Sue Corfield

As any animal lover knows, losing a much-loved pet is heartbreaking. But thanks to pioneering work, there’s now a way to bequeath your deceased pet to help living animals in need of healing.

The Veterinary Tissue Bank is the UK’s first ethical animal donor programme. Grafts of particular tissues can help cats and dogs with all kinds of conditions.

Cats such as Burt – a male two-year-old grey tabby and white rescue cat. He was severely injured in a road accident outside his home on the Wirral and received a donor bone graft to help repair his fractures.

His owner Alison Reavy (42) from Retford, Nottinghamshire, says: “Burt means the world to us. Prior to his accident, I wasn’t aware of the donor programme and was touched that a pet owner had acted with such compassion at a very difficult time and donated their deceased pet to help other pets in need.”

Burt’s severe fractures were repaired with a plate and screws, together with a feline bone graft and proteins with healing properties supplied by the
tissue bank.

Helen Dakin’s dog Meg (above) also benefited from the tissue bank. Meg suffered from chronic arthritis in her front elbow and was reluctant to exercise or play as it caused her extreme pain. Helen had rescued her beloved Meg, a Labrador-cross, from an animal shelter aged just 12 weeks.

‘Meg still limps slightly but she is keen to go for walks now which is a massive improvement’

Now aged eight, Meg has not had good health during her life,
and Helen was desperate to get her the best possible help for
her condition. Traditional treatment with anti-inflammatories had failed to help Meg. As a last resort, Helen (44) was referred to a veterinary hospital in Doncaster, where Meg became one of the first arthritic pets in the UK to benefit from
the tissue bank.

Helen says: “They really worked miracles with her. Meg still limps slightly, but she is keen to go for walks now, which is a massive improvement.”

Like Burt, Meg had help from the tissue bank, which used
cells taken from her own body and expanded them. The cells were then injected back into
Meg to help facilitate the
healing process. Mark Straw, clinical director at the Beechwood Veterinary Hospital where the operation took place, says: “It is a new procedure and as such, is still relatively unproven. However, we were fast running out of options to give Meg back her mobility and although stem cell therapy isn’t a cure for arthritis it can alleviate the pain.”

As you might expect, the cost of such treatment can run into thousands of pounds, but some pet insurance schemes will cover it.
Meg’s treatment costs were covered by a Marks & Spencer pet insurance policy.

“It has made such a huge difference to her life. It has been amazing,” adds Helen.

How to become a pet donor

  • Sign up for the pet donor register. The tissue bank will then contact your vet and ask them to note your pet’s donor status on their medical record. You will be given a pet donor card.
  • When your pet passes away, you can decide if you still agree to the donation and if you do, the vet contacts the tissue bank and arranges collection.
  • Once bone and tissue have been retrieved, the pet is cremated and the ashes returned to the owner.
  • Donor pets need a full vaccination record and must to be free of any
    infectious diseases.
  • There is no cost to the pet owner.
  • The tissue bank was established by veterinary surgeons, John Innes and Dr Peter Myint. There’s always an urgent need for more pet donors, especially to help
    cats who need grafts to aid fracture repair.

For more information on becoming a donor contact the Veterinary Tissue Bank on 01691 778769 or visit