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Von Willebrand’s Disease

Von Willebrand’s disease (vWD) is a common inherited bleeding disorder in people and in dogs. It is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in dogs and is normally in a mild form. Although dogs of any breed (even mixed breeds) can have vWD, certain breeds are more prone to it than others. Doberman Pinschers, Welsh Corgis, German Shepherds, and Scottish Terriers account for most clinical cases of vWD.

vWD is a blood disorder which is very similar to haemophilia in humans. Von Willebrand factor (vWF) is a protein that improves clot formation. The affected dog is deficient in the blood clotting factor (von Willebrand factor). The blood of dogs affected by this disease does not clot properly and these dogs are more likely to have prolonged bleeding episodes connected with any kind of trauma or surgery. The defect isn’t autosomal so both males and females can suffer from the disease. It must be remembered that just because a dog doesn’t show symptoms of von Willebrand’s, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a carrier.

Types of Von Willebrand’s Disease

There are 3 forms of this disease based on vWF concentration and function -

  • Type I – low vWF concentration. This is the most common of type and is typical of Dobermans, Airedales and at least one-third of affected Shelties. There is an increased risk of the disorder in the Golden Retriever, Standard and Miniature poodle, Welsh Pembroke Corgi, Miniature Schnauzer, Basset Hound, German Shepherd, Rottweilers, Manchester Terrier, Keeshond, and standard and miniature Dachshund. This disease occurs in most other breeds and in mixed-breed dogs as well. The clinical symptoms may vary in severity.
  • Type II –Uncommon form of von Willebrand’s that is attributed to German Shorthaired Pointers.
  • Type III – The most severe of types. It has the highest deficiency of vWF and is a typical defect in Scotties, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and the remaining two-thirds of affected Shelties.

Symptoms of Von Willebrand’s Disease

Excessive bleeding is the main symptom. Bleeding generally occurs after a wound or surgery. In these cases, the blood simply does not clot in the normal time, and bleeding is extensive. Dogs with Von Willebrand’s disease may also develop nosebleeds, or bleeding from the gums. Bleeding may also occur in the stomach or intestine in which case the stool may either have blood in it, or be black and tarry. Some dogs will have blood in their urine. Bleeding into the joints also occurs, which can cause symptoms similar to those of arthritis.

The diagnosis of Von Willebrand’s is made through a test, which checks for the level of Von Willebrand’s factor in the blood.

Treatment of Dogs with Von Willebrand’s Disease

Owners of dogs affected with vWD should be prepared to control mild bleeding instances by applying prolonged pressure on many wounds. In other circumstances, veterinary care such as cautery or sutures may be required depending on the severity. Severe bleeding episodes can be treated by administering a source of von Willebrand factor through a transfusion to an affected dog. A veterinarian may recommend a transfusion pre-operatively as a precaution if a dog requires surgery, depending on the severity of the dogs bleeding disorder, and the type of surgery needed by the dog.

Veterinarians have found that thyroid supplementation can lower the tendency in some dogs to bleed while raising the level of vWF concentration.
Injury prevention is one main precaution to be aware of if your dog is afflicted with von Willebrand’s disease. Don’t let your dog play roughly with other dogs or chew on sticks or sharp bones. Some dogs with vWD gums tend to bleed, in these cases it is best to feed the dog only soft foods.

Living with Von Willebrand’s Disease

Currently there is no cure for von Willebrand’s disease but that isn’t an automatic death sentence to most dogs. Many of the dogs that have the condition will live normal lives with no complications. For those that do show clinical signs, there are always options for the owner to guarantee the best quality of life the pet can have.
As there is no cure, keeping affected animals out of any breeding program should be the goal of all dog breeding programs – and most especially those breeds commonly affected by this disease. Tests are available to determine which dogs may have this trait. Dogs that have von Willebrand’s disease and those who are carriers should not be used for breeding at any time.

This article was first published on Fellowship of White Shepherds.