What is von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs?

Jun 21, 2017 | Pets & Vets

What is von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs?

If you own a Doberman Pinscher or breed them, in your studies about this magnificent dog you’ve no doubt come across the subject of von Willebrand’s disease. It is widely considered in the veterinary community as the most common inherited bleeding disorder for dogs, and it can definitely be life-threatening. Although it’s relatively most prevalent in Dobies, it’s also seen most often in German Shepherd Dogs, Standard Poodles, Shelties, and Golden Retrievers.  So what is von Willebrand’s disease, what are the symptoms, and how can you help to prevent it from being passed on to future generations of puppies? Here are some answers to “What is von Willebrand’s disease in dogs?” in simple terms.

A Quick Definition of vWD

Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs (vWD) is a hereditary blood-clotting disorder. It most closely resembles hemophilia in humans in that it can lead to massive amounts of bleeding following an injury, due to the lack of clotting ability. This inability for the blood to clot is caused by a deficiency in the glycoprotein required for blood platelets to stick together.

The Symptoms

What is von Willebrand’s disease and what does it look like? There are many ways this disorder can manifest itself, but one of the most telltale signs is spontaneous hemorrhaging for no apparent reason:

  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Bright red or black blood in feces or urine
  • Excessive bleeding from the vagina in bitches
  • Blood in the mouth (due to bleeding gums)

You may also notice skin-bruising and prolonged bleeding if the skin is cut—either by accident or due to surgery.

Why it Happens and What to Do

This is an inherited disease caused by a specific genetic mutation—your dog can’t “catch it” from another dog. Both males and female are equally at risk. If you suspect your dog is at risk due to his breed, it is wise to do a dog DNA test .  Doing a dog DNA test is especially critical if you plan on breeding your dog. Even if your pet is not symptomatic, he may still be a carrier. If he mates with a bitch who is also a carrier, there is a 25% chance it will produce some symptomatic offspring.

What Does a DNA Test for vWD Tell Me about My Dog?

There are three (3) basic genotypes that are reported for von Willebrand’s Type 1 when you do a dog DNA test with DDC Veterinary, and you can expect your dog to fall into one of these categories.

  • Clear: Considered free of vWDI risk, your dog has two (2) copies of the normal allele on the genes tested
  • Carrier: If your dog is identified as a carrier, he will have one (1) copy of a normal allele and one (1) copy of the vWD mutation on the genes tested
  • Affected: A dog with an affected genotype has two (2) copies of the genetic mutation and is therefore at risk of suffering from a grave bleeding incident

Next Steps

Unfortunately, von Willebrand’s disease cannot be “cured,” but symptoms of an affected dog can be managed to provide a better quality of life. Working closely with your veterinarian is essential, and he/she can be your best resource for preventive measures and treatment. Here are some suggestions for things owners can do to mitigate problems caused by vWD:

  • To prevent accidental injury, keep your dog from engaging in rough play either with other dogs, with children, or with you
  • If a dog has problems with gum-bleeding, soft food or treats may be better choices than hard kibble. And rawhide chewies and similar treats should probably be avoided altogether
  • Be sure your dog visits the vet for an annual checkup

The Tip of the Tail

Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs is not a death sentence—your dog’s happy and healthy life simply requires extra vigilance and care from you. If you plan on finding a mate for your dog, the most responsible thing you can do for the breed’s gene pool is to first test for vWD before embarking on a breeding program.

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