Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Author WDF Staff


We mentioned in several of our articles there are numerous diseases and conditions humans and dogs share. Some of those conditions are related to the cardiovascular system and bleeding. One of those conditions we share with our dogs is von Willebrand disease. This is the most common disorder in dogs and humans that causes bleeding disruptions and healing problems. Here are a few things you should know about von Willebrand disease in dogs.

What is von Willebrand disease in dogs?

Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in humans and dogs alike. It is caused by a lack of a specific protein that aids platelets (blood cells used in clotting) stick together and form clots to seal broken blood vessels. Von Willebrand factor is the name given to the deficient protein (vWF).

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What causes it?

Von Willebrand disease is a genetic disorder. It is inherited in an autosomal incomplete dominant manner. The disease is most severe in dogs with two mutated gene copies. Dogs with only one copy of the mutated gene that causes von Willebrand disease may exhibit no clinical symptoms. Some dogs appear unaffected when young but develop symptoms later in life.

doberman face

On the other hand, some pet parents report that their pets' symptoms improve over time. Because dogs can carry a single mutant gene while displaying no clinical signs, a pedigree history is required to determine whether the dog should be used in a breeding program. Because of the large number of affected Doberman Pinschers, any male or female Doberman should be tested to see if they are carriers. Before surgery, it is recommended that any Doberman be tested or at least have their medical history reviewed.

Which breeds are at risk from vWD?

At least thirty different breeds are affected, but the Doberman Pinscher has the highest vWD incidence. More than 70% of the 15,000 Dobermans screened in a research study were found to be carriers of the disease. Fortunately, the majority of these had no disease symptoms at the time of testing. The number of Dobermans with a history of bleeding, on the other hand, appears to be increasing. Even though Dobermans are frequently affected, they usually have the mildest form of the disease. This breed's average age at diagnosis is around four years old.

Another study found that 30% of Scottish Terriers and 28% of Shetland Sheepdogs had abnormally low levels of von Willebrand factor. The most severe form of the disease affects Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Scottish Terriers.

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What are the symptoms of vWD in dogs?

Most dogs with von Willebrand disease have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, and even those usually go away with age. Some dogs go for years without the condition being discovered, only to have it uncovered when they have surgery or are injured. In severe cases, however, symptoms appear by the time the dog is a year old. The following are some of the most common symptoms of von Willebrand disease in dogs:

  • Bleeding from the gums or mouth on its own
  • Nosebleeds on their own
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding during heat cycles
  • Bleeding in the intestines (visible by bloody or black, tarry stools)
  • Urinary bladder bleeding (visible by blood in the urine)
  • The skin bruises easily.
  • Excessive bleeding during surgical procedures such as neutering or spaying
  • Minor wounds that bleed for an extended period
  • Bleeding for an extended period after the loss of baby teeth
  • Excessive bleeding when clipping nails
  • Anemia

scottish-terrier from side

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How is it diagnosed?

In the vet's office, a screening test known as the buccal mucosal screening time may be performed. Prolonged bleeding with this test can raise the possibility of disease, particularly in breeds known to be at risk. The precise amount of von Willebrand factor present in the blood can be determined using a highly accurate laboratory blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

As puppies, Dobermans may have undergone routine surgical procedures like surgical sterilization or cosmetic surgery like tail docking. A simple recovery from such procedures does not rule out the possibility that a dog will be infected with vWD. Some dogs do not become obvious bleeders until they are much older.

Things dogs with this disease need to avoid

Certain medications may impair platelet function and increase the risk of spontaneous bleeding in patients with von Willebrand disease. Some medications have been found to increase the risk of bleeding in humans, but specific research in dogs has not been conducted; as a result, data from human medicine and research has been extrapolated to companion animals. Your veterinarian is the best resource for determining your dog's level of risk versus benefit. Among the medications that may impair platelet function are:

  • Heparin
  • Amoxicillin
  • NSAIDs
  • Theophylline
  • Penicillin
  • Tranquilizers based on phenothiazine
  • Some antihistamines
  • Some antacid medications
  • Estrogens
  • Antibiotics based on sulfa

sheltie puppy

How is von Willebrand disease in dogs treated?

Von Willebrand disease in dogs does not have a cure, but it can be managed. The goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency of bleeding episodes and control spontaneous bleeding. Parents of dogs with vWD should take extra precautions to keep their dogs as safe as possible.

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Roughhousing with other dogs is not permitted, as even minor injuries can cause problems.

Hard foods, such as bones or rawhide chews, should also be avoided by dogs with the condition, as they can cause gum bleeding or cuts in the mouth.

In an emergency, dogs with vWD may be given blood transfusions or frozen plasma to stop the bleeding. A veterinarian may administer DDAVP to the donor dog to increase their von Willebrand Factor.

uncropped chocolate doberman

In non-emergency situations, a dog with von Willebrand disease may also take this medication. However, because DDAVP is expensive and not effective in all dogs, most veterinarians do not recommend it regularly.

Certain antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications should not be given to dogs with von Willebrand disease. Aspirin, NSAIDs, estrogen, antihistamines, ibuprofen, penicillin, certain tranquilizers, and other drugs fall into this category.

If your dog is diagnosed with von Willebrand disease, inquire about which medications to avoid.

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