Von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs – Information You Can Use

Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs is considered a relatively “new” finding. It was first discovered in 1926 (nearly a hundred years ago) by Erik von Willebrand. A hundred years seems like a long time to me, but for the medical community it’s still considered a time of discovery. If you’re hoping to learn more about von Willebrand’s disease in dogs, you’ve come to the right place.

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I’d like to take a minute to remind you that I am not a veterinarian and cannot diagnose or offer medical advice. I try to research thoroughly and widely in order to bring my readers the best and most reliable information. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. If you are concerned about the health of your dog for any reason, a licensed veterinarian should be your first point of contact. That said, I’ve got some really interesting stuff to share and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

How Do Dogs Get von Willebrand Disease?

All dog breeds have various genetic/inherited tendencies and von Willebrand’s disease is no different. This bleeding disorder is passed down by what’s called an “autosomal recessive process”. In order for this to happen, a dog has to be born with one genetic mutation from the father and one genetic mutation from the mother. Surprisingly, this happens in as many as 30 – 50 various breeds, with Dobermanns high on that list. See below for various breeds and their genetic tendency toward von Willebrand.

Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs is characterized by type, which is explained further down this post. Essentially, Type 1 is the mildest (and most common) form of the disease. On the opposite end of the extreme is Type 3 which is rarer but severe.

The Dobermann is not the only breed prone to Von Willebrand. This bleeding disorder has affected at least 30 – 50 breeds include the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Scottish Terrier and various sheep dogs to name a few. It’s interesting to note that many dogs with von Willebrand’s disease have no obvious signs. In fact, it’s usually through surgery (spaying or neutering, for example) or something as simple as a teething puppy before the disease is suspected.

For reference: Normal blood clotting time for dogs is typically under 4 minutes.

Does Your Dog Have a Type?

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. vWF works in harmony with blood cells to release the clotting factors that slow down and eventually stop the body from bleeding. There are three types of the disease that fall into the following categories:

Type 1

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. This is the most common type of von Willebrand disease in dogs.

The following lists are only examples of breeds more prone to various types of von Willebrand disease. Any breed can inherit any form of von Willebrand’s disease. The following breeds are thought to be more likely to develop the bleeding disorder.

*Dogs AT RISK for Type 1 von Willebrand’s Disease Include:

-Bernese Mountain Dogs

-Dobermann Pinscher

-Manchester Terrier

-Miniature Poodle

-West Highlight White Terrier

-Welsh Corgi Pembroke

Type 2

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

-Short-hair Collie

-Long-hair Collie

Type 3

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:

-Scottish Terrier

-Shetland Sheepdog

You Might Be Interested In This: A Guide to Vestibular Disease in Dogs.

Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs – Signs & Symptoms

The disease is usually suspected after the dog comes out of surgery or has a cut/injury that takes an unusually long time to stop bleeding. Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs might be suspected if:

-Your dog has 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

-Anemia

Von-Willebrand's-Disease
Even a healthy-looking dog like this could have von Willebrand disease.

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.

Age of Onset

The average age when dog’s are diagnosed with von Willebrand’s disease is when they are around 4 years of age.

Treatment Options for Dogs with von Willebrand Disease

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. I think veterinarians would agree that preventing a bleed in the first place is better than reacting to one. However, life happens and – inevitably – a dog with von Willebrand’s disease is going to need help at one time or another.

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.

Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs – How to Keep Them Safe

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.

The following list is comprised of ideas for how to keep a dog with von Willebrand’s disease safer from a serious bleed.

1. Stress Less

Stress can be subjective, depending on the individual. The same holds true for dogs. You might love loud family get-togethers but your dog may not. You can tell that your dog is overly stressed by their posture or behavior. When my dog is overly stressed, he hides in weird places around the house, tail between legs.

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

If you’re like me, you might take over-the-counter medications for granted. We take an aspirin if we’re in pain or pop a couple of anti-inflammatories for minor injuries. However, if your dog has von Willebrand disease, you have to be particularly careful. Drugs like Aspirin thin the blood, which is exactly what you don’t want.

Always consult with a licensed veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medication. Aspirin, in particular, is hard on the stomach and can cause the lining to wear down. This leaves the area vulnerable to an internal bleed.

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:

Vitamin K

Vitamin C

You also want to look for dog food formulated with the following nutrients. These aid in blood production and include:

Iron

Copper

Vitamin B6

Folate

Vitamin B12

Vitamin A

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:

Vitamin E

High doses of Fish Oil (Omega 3’s)

Garlic  

The lists above may not include every vitamin/supplement to watch out for.

5. No Hard Bones Please

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.

I have two large-breed dogs and I’ve seen them chomp and chew their toys so hard that their gums bleed. If either one of them had a bleeding disorder, that situation could have been serious. Instead, it was just a matter of taking the bone away and letting the cut heal.

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. Definitely tell them about your dog’s condition and the implications of a cut.

I think most groomers would agree that it’s better if you not stay during the grooming process. If you’re nearby, your dog likely remains in an excited state. Having you leave the area allows the dog to relax. A relaxed dog is much easier to groom than one eager to jump into your arms again.

After telling the groomer your dog’s condition, it’s possible the groomer will refuse treatment, which is their right. In that case, you may need to do more research. Ask around or get the veterinarian’s opinion on the best grooming options.

von Willebrand Disease in dogs information you can use

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.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT IF YOUR DOG HAS A PREDISPOSITION TO VON WILLEBRAND’S DISEASE.

A Quick Note About Breeders:

Breeders may not necessarily have accurate means of determining the risk of von Willebrand disease. Common blood tests are not always accurate. The best way breeders can lessen the chances of inherited von Willebrand’s disease is by not in-breeding (close relatives). Otherwise, DNA testing is advised.

Department Store DNA Tests

It’s pretty easy to get whatever you want these days. If you have the money, you can buy just about anything online or in store. One of the newer trends is DNA testing for people and animals.

If you are interested in DNA dog testing to determine the risk of vWD, talk to your veterinarian about it. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a reliable lab or provide the testing in the clinic. It’s likely not free, however.

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.

When Did You Suspect Your Dog Had von Willebrand Disease?

I’m curious to hear about your dog and when you first suspected something was wrong. Please, take a moment to comment or send me a direct email at: [email protected] I read and respond to all of my emails!

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