Von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs
Platelets play a vital role in the blood-clotting process. Why is this so important? If a dog has an injury or wound, the platelets help stop bleeding and speed up the healing process by clotting at the site of the injury.
When a dog has too few platelets, wounds and injuries can be really dangerous because he or she might not stop bleeding and lose a lot of excess blood. There’s a name for this: von Willebrand’s disease (vWD), which is a disorder in dogs that is characterized by excessive bleeding due to a defect in platelet function. VWD is a hereditary disease that is passed from parents to pup in a rather complicated way. It affects both male and female dogs equally, and while any dog can have vWD, there are several breeds that are at greater risk:
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Golden Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Standard Poodle
- German Shorthaired Pointer
The severity of the disease varies from dog to dog and is of most concern if a dog is injured or needs surgery.
Most often, vWD is diagnosed as part of a presurgical or routine blood screen, especially for at-risk breeds.
Symptoms include any of the following:
- Prolonged or excessive bleeding after an injury
- Bleeding from the gums or nose
- Bloody urine
- Prolonged or excessive bleeding during or after surgery
- Blood in the stool
- Bruising of the skin
Specialized tests are required to diagnose vWD; specifically, your veterinarian may recommend these tests as part of a preanesthetic screening if your dog is considered at-risk. If your dog shows symptoms, other diagnostic tests may be recommended to rule out other diseases and to assess your dog’s overall health. Your veterinarian will also perform a thorough physical exam and take a detailed history of your dog’s activities.
Diagnostic tests for vWD could include:
- Measurement of von Willebrand’s factor (This blood test is sometimes repeated as the levels can vary from day to day)
- Specific tests that measure clotting ability
- Buccal mucosal bleeding time (BMBT), which measures your dog’s ability to form a small clot
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Antibody tests to identify if your pet has been exposed to tick-borne or other infectious diseases
- A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other diseases, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
- A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
Many dogs with vWD don’t actually need treatment unless a surgery is planned or they become severely injured and lose a lot of blood.
When treatment is necessary, it may include:
- Replacement blood products, if the dog has lost a significant amount of blood or supplemental clotting factors are needed
- Blood transfusions, if there is a match between your dog and a donor
- Medication that temporarily increases the von Willebrand’s factor
- Other medications or treatments specific to your dog’s individual needs
Unfortunately, vWD is a hereditary disease, so there is no prevention or cure. The good news is, many dogs with vWD live a long and healthy life. It’s important to carefully watch your dog for symptoms and to prevent unnecessary bumps and bruises to help keep her safe. If your dog has vWD, make sure you tell your veterinarian, especially if your dog is scheduled for a surgical or dental procedure.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.