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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Von Willebrand's Disease

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Condition Overview

Von Willebrand's disease (vWD) is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in dogs. It has been described in more than 50 breeds. Clotting disorders are caused by an absence of one of the coagulation factors needed to complete the clotting sequence.

Symptoms

In most cases, the bleeding in vWD is mild or inapparent, and lessens with age. Severe problems include prolonged nosebleeds, bleeding beneath the skin and into the muscles, and blood in the stool and urine. There is often a history of bleeding from the gums following tooth eruptions, and oozing from wounds following tail docking and dewclaw removal.

Causes

Both males and females can transmit and express the genetic trait. The disease is inherited as an autosomal dominant gene with variable expression. This means that the severity of the bleeding is related to the degree to which the gene is expressed.

The bleeding is caused by a deficiency of a plasma protein called the von Willebrand factor, which is critical for normal platelet function in the early stages of clotting.

Breeds at risk for vWD in which bleeding is likely to be mild include the Doberman Pinscher, Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Akita, and others. Breeds in which bleeding is likely to be more severe include the Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, German Shorthaired Pointer, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Hypothyroidism is common in dogs with vWD, and may contribute to the bleeding risk.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by specific blood tests, including a bleeding time. In this test, a small cut is made and the amount of time it takes for bleeding to stop on its own is measured. From a nail cut too short, 2 - 6 minutes is normal, while a cut on the gums should take 2 - 4 minutes. A quantitative test for von Willebrand's disease involves measuring the vWD antigen. Dogs with vWD antigen levels below the normal range are at risk for expressing and/or carrying the trait.

OFA maintains a vWD registry for many of the breeds mentioned here. A DNA test to identify affected dogs and carriers is available through VetGen. This is the most accurate diagnostic test.

Treatment

Successful treatment of spontaneous bleeding requires rapid diagnosis. Dogs with severe blood loss are given fresh, whole blood containing red cells, platelets, and active coagulation factors. Dogs with less severe blood loss who don't require a blood transfusion are given fresh-frozen plasma or concentrates containing the missing coagulation factors.

Treating vWD hypothyroid dogs with thyroid replacement therapy may prevent subsequent bleeding episodes.

Prevention

There is no prevention for this condition.

Support

Please contact your veterinarian with questions regarding this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +

Sources

Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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