But for many dogs this is a condition that modern veterinary medicine can control very well.
We investigate symptoms, treatment options, and best ways to prevent Von Willebrand Disease and find out what having vWD will mean for your dog
What is Von Willebrand Disease
Most of us have heard of hemophilia.
You probably know that it’s a disease that causes excessive and potentially fatal bleeding in humans.
Nowadays there are treatments that help give a good quality of life to most people with hemophilia
Von Willebrand Disease is a type of hemophilia that affects dogs and can often be treated successfully.
There are three different types of vWD. Type 1 is the most common and the easiest to treat.
What is hemophilia?
Hemophilia is a disorder that interferes with the normal clotting mechanism that stops you bleeding continuously when you cut yourself
For those with hemophilia, the internal bleeding it causes is even more serious than the cuts we can see on the outside of our bodies.
Blood disorders like hemophilia (spelled haemophilia in the UK) are not restricted to humans.
Dogs, and other animals can suffer from hemophilia too.
There are several different types of hemophilia in dogs, each of which may affect different breeds of dog.
Von Willebrand disease is the best known of the canine blood disorders, and it’s the most common clotting disorder that we see in our dogs
Von Willebrand Disease Symptoms
Symptoms of a clotting problem may vary. Your dog may be diagnosed during a medical emergency. Or when a routine procedure such as tail docking, causes more bleeding than expected.
Or the symptoms may be more subtle and come on gradually or be vague in nature
In dogs affected by hemophilia, there may be blood in the stools or urine. Dogs may bleed from the nose or gums. Sometimes bleeding in joints can cause lameness.
Some dogs simply present with general weakness or lethargy.
This is because blood cells carry oxygen around the body. Anything that disrupts the circulation of blood reduces your dog’s oxygen supply and makes him feel tired and ‘washed out’
Sometimes however, there are no obvious symptoms or the symptoms are so mild they go unnoticed.
How does Von Willebrand disease cause bleeding?
vWD and other types of hemophilia occur when one of the many factors involved in clotting the blood is absent or insufficient
Normal blood needs to be liquid so that it can pass freely throughout the body.
But it also needs to be capable of clotting.
Clotting is vital for the repair of damaged tissues. Both in obvious wounds on the outside of the body. But also for tissue repair deep inside the body, where we cannot see what is happening.
What is Von Willebrand Factor (vWF)
Clotting is a complex process. And different factors are involved, all of which need to work together to ensure we don’t bleed excessively.
It only takes one of these factors to fail, for the clotting process to be compromised.
In Von Willebrand Disease for example, a specific sticky protein called Von Willebrand Factor (vWF) is missing or insufficient.
Blood contains tiny particles, too small for us to see, called platelets. These platelets help to block up any wounds or tissue damage, where blood can escape from the body.
The sticky protein we call Von Willebrand Factor is used to bind these platelets together. If there isn’t enough of it, excessive bleeding may occur.
Diagnosis of Von Willebrand Disease in dogs
If your vet suspects vWD he’ll probably take blood samples from your dog and send them off for testing.
The test measures the level of vWF in your dog’s blood
Another practical test that may be carried out is a bleeding time test.
Your vet will make a tiny cut in your dog’s skin and the time it takes for the dog to stop bleeding can be measured.
Some forms of poisoning can mimic symptoms of hemophilia, including rodenticide poisoning and even snake bites. So vets will want to rule out accidents of this kind too.
Some dogs are only diagnosed when being tested for breeding. Some affected dogs are never diagnosed at all, unless tested in this way.
How do dogs get Von Willebrand Disease?
Dog’s don’t catch vWD from other dogs, and can’t transmit the disease themselves, through contact with other dogs.
The only way your dog can transmit vWD is by becoming a parent.
vWD is inherited, passed down from parent to puppy via faulty genetic information. It isn’t sex linked, so both males and females can transmit the disease.
The severe forms of the disease are recessive, so that a dog can be a carrier without actually being sick themselves. Type 1 may be recessive or incompletely dominant
Which dogs get Von Willebrand Disease
Popular breeds prone to Von Willebrand Disease are the Golden Retriever, and The German Shepherd Dog
It is also found in (but not limited to) Corgis, Dobermans, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Standard Poodles
When you are looking for a puppy, you should check whether or not your chosen breed is susceptible to Von Willebrand or other clotting disorders.
If they are, you’ll need to find a puppy from health tested parents.
Testing and prevention of vWD
There is no cure for hemophilia, but there are tests now, that can identify dogs with this condition.
Tested dogs are allocated as:
- clear (free from the disease)
- carrier (not sick but can pass the faulty gene to their offspring)
This enables breeders to make sure that their puppies are not affected in any way.
Von Willebrand Treatment
The treatment necessary will depend on the type of disease the dog has, and how severely affected he is.
Mild and even moderately affected dogs may need little in the way of treatment. And may be able to live normal, active lives.
More severely affected dogs may have episodes of spontaneous bleeding, and will probably need blood transfusions from time to time, and especially if they require an operation.
If you have a moderately or severely affected dog, you will need to take extra care to avoid injury or bruising. And to work closely with your vet to keep your dog in good health.
Von Willebrand is a blood clotting disorder affecting several different breeds of dog.
The disease can range in severity from mild to severe depending on the type of vWD the dog has inherited
There is no cure, but in many cases vWD can be successfully managed so that the dog has a good quality of life.
The best way to avoid vWD is to make sure you buy a puppy from health tested parents.
Always contact your vet if your dog seems off-color or has any of the symptoms described above.
Do talk to your vet about any concerns you may have about Von Willebrand Disease. He or she will be able to give you the latest information and put your mind at rest.