Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs

Doberman Pinscher smiling in front of a fence

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Von Willebrand disease is a serious condition that affects the blood and clotting ability of some dogs. Many dogs live a very normal life and owners don't even know their dog has a clotting problem until a blood draw, surgery, or injury occurs. By knowing what to look for, how to diagnose von Willebrand disease, and the precautions that can be taken to keep a dog with a clotting disorder safe, you can help prevent unnecessary bleeding problems.

What Is Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs?

Von Willebrand disease is a disorder of the blood, specifically the clotting components. Simply put, it affects the blood's ability to clot. Platelets are a normal part of blood and they are responsible for clotting. When there is a broken blood vessel, either inside or outside the body, platelets help the blood clot and therefore stop the bleeding. In order for these platelets to do their job, they need to stick together. Proteins help these platelets stick together and form these important clots. In von Willebrand disease, a dog is lacking enough of a specific protein called von Willebrand factor that is needed to properly form a clot.

Symptoms of Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs

Signs

  • Prolonged bleeding from a wound or surgical site
  • Spontaneous hemorrhaging
  • Prolonged bleeding after giving birth

Due to a deficiency of the von Willebrand factor, uncontrolled or prolonged bleeding can occur in dogs with von Willebrand disease. This usually occurs after surgery or when a dog is wounded, but can also occur spontaneously and for no reason at all from various bodily orifices. Female dogs with von Willebrand disease who have given birth may also bleed excessively.

Diagnosis

Often von Willebrand is discovered after a dog has surgery or a wound that won't stop bleeding, but there is also a test that can be performed prior to an uncontrolled situation occurring. Usually, a simple test called a buccal mucosal screening is performed by the veterinarian, but a specific test to measure the von Willebrand factor can also be done.

Affected Breeds and Types of Von Willebrand Disease

Over 70 percent of Doberman Pinschers have been documented to be carriers of von Willebrand disease, but that doesn't mean they are the only breed that can have this disorder. The Scottish Terrier and Chesapeake Bay Retriever are actually more likely to have the most severe forms of von Willebrand disease, even though the population percentages of those who have it is lower. Dobermans, while demonstrating the highest prevalence of von Willebrand, usually have the mildest form.

Three types of von Willebrand disease classify how deficient a dog is in the von Willebrand factor. Type 1 is the mildest form and Type 3 is the most severe form of von Willebrand. Below are the breeds of dogs who are most affected by each type of von Willebrand.

  • Type 1: Airedale, Akita, Bernese Mountain Dog, Dachshund, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Manchester Terrier, Schnauzer, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Poodle, Shetland Sheepdog, and others.
  • Type 2: German Shorthaired Pointer and German Wirehaired Pointer.
  • Type 3: Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Dutch Kooikerhondje, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Blue Heeler, Border Collie, Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Pomeranian, mixed breeds, and others. 

Causes of Von Willebrand Disease

No one knows why a dog may be born lacking the von Willebrand factor. This specific protein may be deficient or completely lacking causing the uncontrolled bleeding and level of disease severity but there is no known cause. Some dogs go their whole lives without any sign of this bleeding problem until they have surgery or get an injury and then the disease is discovered.

Treatment

If actively bleeding, a dog with von Willebrand disease needs to have the bleeding stopped and sometimes the lost blood replenished. This is done by utilizing special clotting sponges or styptic powder, giving a blood transfusion, and sometimes administering a medication called desmopressin that may help a dog temporarily produce more von Willebrand factor in its blood. There is no known cure for von Willebrand disease.

How to Prevent Von Willebrand Disease

The best way to try and prevent von Willebrand disease is to practice selective breeding. Breeds prone to carrying von Willebrand can be tested prior to breeding in order to prevent passing the disorder to offspring.

If you have a dog prone to or diagnosed with von Willebrand disease, you should be cautious with anything involving blood.

  • Discuss any blood tests, IV catheters, surgeries, etc. with your veterinarian in order to determine what is safest for your specific pet.
  • Any surgical incision that needs to be made should be as small as possible and laser or cautery surgery should be considered to lessen bleeding.
  • Needle and catheter gauges should be as small as possible for any injections, blood draws, and fluids that are administered.
  • Keep your dog's nails short to decrease the likelihood of them getting stuck and torn on something.
  • Have styptic powder on hand at home.