This post was reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM on September 12, 2022
Von Willebrand Disease in dogs is a blood clotting disorder that falls under the broader term of hemophilia. It was first discovered in 1926 (nearly a hundred years ago) by Erik von Willebrand.
Von Willebrand disease in dogs is caused by a blood plasma protein known as Von Willebrand factor (vWF) that is either lacking or non-existent. This protein works in harmony with blood cells to release the clotting factors that slow down and eventually stop the body from bleeding.
When blood vessels are broken, these platelets normally go to work to assist in the blood clotting process.
Is von Willebrand’s Disease the Same as Hemophilia?
Hemophilia is a broad term to describe bleeding disorders in general. In humans, hemophilia occurs when there are low levels of either factor VIII (8) or factor IX (9).
Blood has a variety of proteins known as clotting factors. These help repair injured tissues and prevent excessive bleeding.
There are many different types of bleeding disorders. In dogs, von Willebrand’s disease refers to the lack of a specific blood clotting protein.
The protein, known as von Willebrand Factor, is named after the scientist who discovered the disease.
Is There a Chance My Dog Might Have von Willebrand’s Disease?
There are a variety of breeds more susceptible to the disease, with Doberman Pinschers being at the top of the list.
The following breeds are more likely than others to develop Type 1 von Willebrand’s disease:
-Bernese Mountain Dogs
-West Highlight White Terrier
-Welsh Corgi Pembroke
It’s important to keep in mind that the dogs who do carry the disease tend to have the mildest version. In fact, dogs can carry the gene but not show signs of the disease.
Serious Signs and Symptoms of von Willebrand
-Frequent nose bleeds
-Small cuts that bleed excessively and longer than normal. Normal blood clotting time for dogs is under 4 minutes.
The average age a dog begins showing signs and symptoms (specifically the Doberman Pinscher) is 4 years of age.
What Causes von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs?
Dogs with von Willebrand disease carry a genetic mutation that is passed down. It is a complicated process in which one genetic mutation is passed from the father, and another is passed from the mother.
This occurence is known as the autosomal recessive process. It happens in as many as 30 – 50 various breeds, with Dobermanns high on that list.
Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs is characterized by type with Type 1 being the most common and mildest form.
Many dogs with the disease have no obvious signs. The bleeding disorder only becomes obvious after an injury or during surgery.
Does Your Dog Have a Type?
There are three types of the disease that fall into the following categories:
With this type of von Willebrand disease, your dog has the necessary clotting factor (known as von Willebrand factor), just not enough of them.
The low levels of von Willebrand factor (vWF) manage the job of blood clotting, but there’s still a chance of an internal or external bleed.
A dog whose diagnosis falls within this category have the normal amounts of vWF, they just don’t work properly.
*Dogs AT RISK for Type 2 von Willebrand’s Disease Include:
-German Wirehaired Pointer
-German Shorthaired Pointer
This is the least common form of the disease and the most serious.
Dogs with type 3 von Willebrand actually have none of the von Willebrand factor in their blood.
This is a very dangerous situation where the smallest cuts or bruise can cause a serious bleed. Dogs with type 3 von Willebrand are more likely to need blood transfusions.
*Dogs AT RISK for Type 3 von Willebrand’s Disease Include:
Signs Your Dog May Have the Disease
The disease is usually suspected post surgery after a bout of hemorrhage.
Other signs include:
-Spontaneous nose bleeds
-Bleeding from the gums
-Blood in the stool (it will appear black or bright red)
-Blood in the urine
-Unusual bleeding from the vagina
-After or during surgery when excessive bleeding is noted
In severe cases, a dog with von Willebrand’s disease may bleed internally. It takes longer to detect when that happens because there are few obvious symptoms in the beginning.
Please remember that the symptoms noted above could be caused by any number of things.
If you suspect unusual bleeding of any kind, please get your dog to a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible.
There is no cure for von Willebrand’s disease in dogs. However, there are stop-gaps such as stitches, bandages, and medical glue to seal injuries with abnormal bleeds.
Preventing a bleed in the first place is better than reacting to one.
Blood plasma transfusions may be necessary for an extensive bleed. In this case, a donor dog is given a drug called Desmopressin. This drug (used in animals and people) provides a short-term increase in blood-clotting platelets.
The donor dog passes these benefits to the dog receiving the transfusion. The benefits of the drug do not continue over the long term.
In some cases, Desmopressin might be administered directly to the dog with the disease. It’s important to note that not all dogs necessarily respond to the drug and the benefits are short-lived.
Protecting a Dog with Von Willebrand’s Disease
Safety is an important consideration when facing von Willebrand disease in dogs.
Everyday activities like playing fetch or interacting with other dogs can warrant a trip to the veterinarian if the activity results in a cut. Even damage to internal tissue can result in bleeding into the joints.
Some precautions to take include:
1. Stress Less
Stress can be subjective, depending on the individual. The same holds true for dogs.
Some dogs become aggressive when over-excited or scared. Any situation in which your dog might bite, or be bitten, should be avoided.
2. Avoid Aspirin and Other Over-the-Counter Medications
Drugs like Aspirin thin the blood, which creates a dangerous situation for dogs with blooding disorders.
Always consult with a licensed veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medication.
3. Super Food for Dogs
If your dog has been diagnosed with von Willebrand disease, it might be time to reconsider your dog’s diet.
There are hundreds of choices on the market, many of them formulated with vitamins and nutrients. Nutrients that help with the blood-clotting process include the following:
You also want to look for dog food formulated with the following nutrients. These aid in blood production and include:
4. Watch Out for These Nutrients
The following nutrients are not advised for dogs or people with von Willebrand disease because they can thin the blood and can interfere with vitamin K absorption.
Vitamin K actually helps with blood clotting, which is exactly what you want. Watch out for the following:
High doses of Fish Oil (Omega 3’s)
The lists above may not include every vitamin/supplement to watch out for.
5. Avoid Hard Bones
Von Willebrand disease in dogs typically shows itself through bleeds that come through the mucosal passages. That means the bleeds can come from the nose, mouth, vagina, etc.
6. Community Awareness of von Willebrand Disease in Dogs
Do you bring your dog to doggy daycare? Hire a dog walker? Bring your dog to off leash parks?
These are all normal things to do with a dog; unfortunately, minor accidents can happen when dogs are together.
Dogs love to play and sometimes they play rough. Anything that could result in your dog getting nicked or cut should be avoided.
For added protection, consider getting your dog a medical ID tag.
There are several online products available that can be customized. There’s not a lot of room, but just the words “bleeding disorder” should be enough to alert a stranger that your dog is vulnerable.
7. Stick with Professional Groomers
Unless you’re highly skilled at doggy haircuts and nail trimming, it might be a good idea to leave that to the professionals to avoid cutting the dog’s skin.
Testing for von Willebrand Disease in Dogs
There are only a few ways to test for von Willebrand disease in dogs. One way is called a buccal mucosal bleeding time test (BMBT).
For this test, the veterinarian uses a small instrument to create a quick, sharp cut in the gums.
From this they determine the length of time it takes for the blood to clot. A healthy dog would take less than 4 minutes for the bleeding to stop.
If you’re aware of the disease before getting your puppy, you can ask the breeder about it. Find out if there are instances of the disease in any of their litters or ask if testing has been done.
There’s no guarantee that your dog won’t get vWD, but a little due diligence up front might clear the path for a healthy dog.
The Future for Dogs with von Willebrand Disease
I’m happy to report that most dogs with blood clotting disorders like Von Willebrand go on to live a normal lifespan.
The more common bleeds you’d expect from a dog with Von Willebrand (cuts in the paw, etc.) can be fixed with sutures, glue, bandages, etc.
Increased Age Comes With Increased Risk
To sum it up, many breeds can inherit von Willebrand disease, but those who do typically have the mildest form.
There are many things dog owners can do to protect dogs with bleeding disorders. However, even dogs with Type 1 may require a blood transfusion at some point in life.
As dogs age, the chance of acquiring other chronic illnesses like diabetes or hypothyroidism increase as well.
These diseases and their treatments can worsen the risk of serious bleeds. For the sake of your dog, it’s important to keep on topic of regular check-ups with a licensed veterinarian.
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