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Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. January 17, 2021
Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Although we do everything we can to protect our dogs, they can get in accidents. Since they are often enthusiastic and rambunctious, it is not uncommon for them to get a scrape or two. These cuts and scrapes will usually heal relatively quickly on their own, although we always need to provide first aid and monitor them. If you notice your dog's wounds heal slowly, it might be cause for concern. Worse still, you may notice your dog bleeds from the gums or nose, apparently for no reason.

If your dog experiences these problems, it is possible they are suffering from a blood disorder. In this AnimalWised article, we explain Von Willebrand Disease in dogs, one of the most common blood clotting disorders. We do so by providing the causes, symptoms and treatment you might expect to see.

What is Von Willebrand disease in dogs?

Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is a blood disorder caused by the lack of a protein known as the Von Willebrand factor (VWF). This glycoprotein can be found in the blood and is essential for the coagulation of wounds and lesions. It is responsible for transporting blood clotting factor VII and this is why its deficiency results in an abnormal union of blood platelets.

Practically, the lack of platelet adhesion results in excessive bleeding, even in minor wounds. This abnormality is the most common inherited blood disease in dogs and is often compared to hemophilia in humans. It is caused by a genetic mutation and can develop in either male or female dogs. Certain breeds are more predisposed to this problem than others.

There are 3 types of Von Willebrand disease in dogs, designated according to the function and concentration of VW factor in the blood. They have been shown in over 50 dog breeds and are distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Type 1: the most common form of the disease, it results in mild to moderate symptoms. This is because there is a low concentration of VWF in the blood, but there is some present.
  • Type 2: causes moderate to severe symptoms. It appears to be inherited as a recessive trait and is relatively rare.
  • Type 3: causes severe to very severe symptoms. It is caused by a complete lack of VWF in the blood. Since it is inherited and recessive, the dog will need to copies of the gene to present the disease. Dogs affected by type 2 and type 3 Von Willebrand disease often experience repeated bleeding episodes.

In addition, several studies have shown that dogs with Von Willebrand disease are at increased risk of hormonal imbalances. This include hypothyroidism in dogs.

Symptoms of Von Willebrand disease in dogs

The most severe symptoms of Von Willebrand disease in dogs becomes evident when the animal reaches 1 year of age. Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Bleeding from the mouth or gums
  • Excessive bleeding when they lose baby teeth
  • Epistaxis (nosebleeds)
  • Blood in stool
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding during heat cycle or childbirth
  • Hematuria (blood in urine)
  • Anemia
  • Excessive bleeding after surgery or trauma
  • Excessive bruising on the skin for no apparent reason

Fortunately, the majority of dogs with Von Willebrand disease have mild symptoms. This is usually seen when the dog has a wound or abrasion which takes longer to heal. These can happen when the dog is playing or can even happen if they snag a nail on something. They may have blood from their nose if they have a bleed in the upper respiratory tract. Since these problems are relatively minor, many dog guardians won't notice or consider them as symptoms of disease.

For this reason, a diagnosis of Von Willebrand disease (especially for type 1) usually only occurs when the dog undergoes surgery. Spaying and neutering can be complicated since it will take longer for the wound to heal. Symptoms of VWD usually improve as the dog develops and ages, but you should seek veterinary treatment if there is any sign of anormal bleeding.

Von Willebrand disease in dogs is diagnosed with a blood test known as buccal mucosa bleeding time (BMBT). As its name indicates, this test times how long it takes for a small wound on the buccal mucosa (the dog's gums) to heal. A complete blood test will also be carried out to determine the amount of Von Willebrand factor present in the blood serum. A DNA test may also be administered to determine if the dog is a carrier of the disease. This latter test if the most reliable method of diagnosing VWD in dogs.

Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment - Symptoms of Von Willebrand disease in dogs

Breeds with Von Willebrand disease

Since there is a hereditary disorder, there are certain breeds which are more likely to carry the gene which causes Von Willebrand disease. This will also depend on the type of VWD. Here we show you the dog breeds which are most likely to carry the gene:

  • Type 1: Airedale Terrier, Akita Inu, Bernese Mountain Dog, Dachshund, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Manchester Terrier, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Poodle, Schnauzer, Shetland Sheepdog and others.
  • Type 2: this is not common among many breeds, but can be seen in German Shorthaired Pointers and German Wirehaired Pointers.
  • Type 3: Blue Heeler, Border Collie, Bull Terrier, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Kooikerhondje, Labrador Retriever, Pomeranian, Scottish Terrier and Shetland Sheepdog breeds can display this type of VWD. It is important to note that symptoms may vary, but it is the most severe type of this disease.

Treatment of Von Willebrand disease in dogs

Unfortunately, Von Willebrand disease in dogs has no cure. However, it can be controlled and there are certain treatments which can be administered to alleviate symptoms. The main symptom to control is diffuse bleeding since this can be fatal. We can also make sure to do what we can to avoid the dog receiving bad wounds.

For dogs with type 1 VWD, they will usually have mild symptoms. In these cases, first aid for dogs in the form of bandages and pressure bandages can be used to control the bleeding until the blood can coagulate and vascular lesions are repaired. Skin glue and sutures can be used, but usually only under veterinary supervision. We also need to stop the dog from scratching their wound since they won't understand the severity of their problem.

When dogs with Von Willebrand disease need to undergo a surgical operation, extra precautions need to be taken. The veterinary surgeon will usually administer drugs which acts as coagulants. It may also be possible they will need to provide blood or plasma transfusions to restore levels of VWF after the operation. Multiple transfusions may be required in come circumstances.

Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment - Treatment of Von Willebrand disease in dogs

Quality of life for dogs with Von Willebrand disease

Dogs that have type 1 Von Willebrand disease will usually have only mild or moderate symptoms. These symptoms may also improve over time as the dog ages. However, we need to be extra careful with these dogs since small wounds and bruises can take time to heal.

We need to prevent them from playing roughly with us or other dogs, usually avoiding interaction with unknown dogs as a precautionary measure. We will also need to avoid giving them chew toys, hard treats or other objects which can injure their gums. We should also remove objects with sharp corners in the home.

In cases of dogs with type 2 and type 3 VWD, the symptoms are generally more severe. As mentioned above, the administration of coagulant medications and transfusions of fresh blood or plasma may be necessary for surgical interventions. They may also need supervision and limitation of certain physical activities due to the possibility of receiving and injury.

Some drugs haver anticoagulant or antiplatelet properties which need to be avoided. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also cannot be administered. Certain high-dose food supplements such as vitamin C and E, omega-3 fatty acids and those containing proanthocyanidins (natural antioxidants). For this reason and many others, we should never give a dog medication without permission from a veterinarian, especially human medications.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Von Willebrand Disease in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment, we recommend you visit our Hereditary diseases category.

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