Von Willebrand’s disease (vWD) is a blood disease caused by a deficiency of von Willebrand Factor, an adhesive glycoprotein in the blood required for normal platelet binding (clotting) at the sites of small blood vessel injuries. Von Willebrand Factor is a carrier protein for coagulation Factor VIII (which is necessary for blood to clot). Similar to hemophilia in humans, von Willebrand’s disease can lead to excessive bleeding following an injury, since the blood isn’t able to clot.
Von Willebrand’s disease is the most common hereditary blood clotting disorder in dogs, occurring more frequently in German Shepherds, Doberman Pinscher, Standard Poodles, Shetland Sheepdogs and Golden Retrievers.
The symptoms to look out for: spontaneous hemorrhages from mucosal surfaces (nosebleeds, blood in the feces, bloody urine, bleeding gums or bleeding from the vagina), skin bruising, prolonged bleeding after surgery or trauma, after prolonged bleeding blood loss anemia.
Your veterinarian will need to perform a blood chemical profile, including a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. A clinical diagnosis of vWD is based on a specific measurement of plasma von Willebrand’s Factor concentration bound to the antigen.
Your dog may need blood transfusions of blood, plasma or cryoprecipitate to supply von Willebrand’s Factor. Component therapy (adding plasma or cryoprecipitate) is best for surgical prevention or for nonanemic patients to prevent red cell sensitization and blood volume overload. Dogs with severe von Willebrand’s disease may require repeated transfusions to control and/or prevent hemorrhages. If your dog does require surgery, a pre-op transfusion will be given.
If your dog has mild to moderate von Willebrand’s disease, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t experience a good quality of life, though he may minimal to no special treatments. You’ll simply need to monitor when he has an injury. However, a dog experiencing severe von Willebrand’s disease will require much more diligence and potentially a lot more interventions. Most of the time, a dog can be maintained comfortably but his activities will need to be monitored and limited. No matter the severity of his condition, any time your dog experiences prolonged bleeding, get him to his vet immediately for medical treatment.