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Von Willebrand’s Disease

Introduction

Have you noticed your dog seems to bleed profusely, even when the injury seems minor? Does it seem to take forever for that minor injury to stop bleeding? Your dog may have Von Willebrand’s Disease! This disease was named after Erik Adolf von Willebrand, a Finnish internist who studied a new form of hemophilia in a family in 1925.

Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) is caused by a shortage of Von Willebrand’s Factor (vWF) in the blood. This factor is a protein required for clotting to occur.

This is one of the most common blood disorders found in dogs, affecting over 50 breeds. The breeds most susceptible include:

  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Basset Hound
  • Dachshund
  • German Shepherd
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Golden Retriever

This is an inherited disease, so if your dog is diagnosed with vWD, it is highly recommended that you do not breed her.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Von Willebrand’s Disease can be very hard to diagnose, since many dogs with a deficiency of vWF can go through their life with no episodes of spontaneous or prolonged bleeding. But when symptoms do appear, they always are in the form of either severe hemorrhaging or prolonged bleeding.

Common symptoms of vWD include:

  • Spontaneous nose bleeds
  • Blood in the urine or feces
  • Unexplained bruising of the skin
  • Bleeding from the gums

Von Willebrand’s Disease can be clinically diagnosed based on blood and urine tests. Specifically, your vet will be looking for a specific measurement of plasma vWF concentration bound to the antigen (vWF:Ag). The vet may also cause a small bleeding injury (typically on the inside of the lip) and then time how long it takes to clot.

Treatment

There is no recommended home treatment for vWD. If severe hemorrhaging is occurring, the first thing that must be done is to stop the bleeding. This usually will mean either sutures or cauterization, both of which requires a veterinarian.

Once diagnosed, minor vWD usually does not require any treatment at all. More severe cases can require administration of blood products. This is typically plasma, but for severe hemorrhaging whole blood may be required. These blood products will increase the levels of vWF in the blood, at least temporarily. Replacement therapy may have to be repeated periodically.

Another treatment that has shown some success is a drug called DDAVP. If administered prior to any procedures that may result in bleeding, this drug has increased the vWF in some dogs, but not all.

Conclusion

Von Willebrand’s Disease is a common hereditary blood disorder, that may or may not have a profound impact on your dog. It is difficult to determine if your dog has this disease, since symptoms are not always there. But if the vWD is severe, this disease can have catastrophic consequences, unless quickly treated by a veterinarian.

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