Von Willebrand’s disease (vWd) is an inherited bleeding disorder that results from deficiency of a protein called von Willebrand factor (vWf). It is the most common inherited bleeding problem of dogs.
It is more common in some breeds; up to 70 percent of Doberman Pinschers carry this trait or have the disease. Dogs affected with vWd range from having no signs to episodes of prolonged bleeding during heat cycles, nosebleeds, and bleeding from gums or into urine.
Rarely this disease results in severe, life-threatening bleeding. The risk of bleeding increases if your dog requires surgery, such as a spay or tooth removal. Be sure to notify your veterinarian that your dog has this disease before any surgical procedures are preformed.
If your veterinarian suspects vWd, a test called a buccal mucosal bleeding time (BMBT) may be performed by making a small puncture on the inside of your dog’s lip and measuring the time until a clot forms. If a clot fails to form within a normal amount of time, vWd is suspected.
This test can be falsely prolonged by medications such as aspirin, so be sure to inform your veterinarian if your dog has received any medications. In order to diagnose vWd with certainty, a blood test can be done to measure vWf levels in the blood. Alternatively, a genetic test is available for some dog breeds, which allows testing from a cheek swab.
There is no cure for vWd. Fortunately, most dogs have only mild bleeding and treatment is only needed if there is trauma/surgery that causes bleeding. During times of moderate bleeding or prior to surgery, treatment is required. A blood product transfusion from a donor dog with normal vWf levels may be given. This gives your dog vWf that will temporarily result in normal clotting, allowing your veterinarian to control bleeding or to perform surgery.
Alternatively, a drug called desmopressin (DDAVP) can lead to an increased vWf level in some dogs. This can be given prior to surgery or to control bleeding. It does not work for some dogs, so testing, such as the BMBT, should be assessed after desmopressin is given and before surgery.
With a proper diagnosis and careful management, most dogs with vWd live normal lives. Some breeds such as Shetland sheepdogs, Scottish terriers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can have a more severe, life-threatening form of vWd, so consult your veterinarian about details unique to your dog.
This column is provided by the faculty of the OSU Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.