menu icon

Understanding Von Willebrand's Disease in Your Dog


vWD or Von Willebrand's disease is a blood clotting disease that can occur in both male and female dogs. It is a hereditary disease and is the most common hereditary blood disease in dogs. In 1925 a finnish doctor named Erik Von Willebrand realized that there was a difference between hemophilia and this disease. There is an adhesive glycoprotein called the von Willebrand Factor or vWF that allows for normal clotting where injury occurs to small blood vessels. When there is a deficiency in vWF in the dog excessive bleeding can occur after even a minor injury. There are 3 types of vWD, Type 1 is the milder form and Types 2 and 3 are severe.


Breeds That are more Affected by vWD

There are over thirty breeds that are more likely to be affected by vWD but the breed with the highest occurrence is the Doberman Pinscher. Out of 15,000 Dobermans screened in a study, 70% of them were carriers though most were not showing symptoms. But though they may have the highest occurrence, they usually only have the mild form of vWD. The breeds more likely to get the most severe form are Scottish Terriers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. The breeds with the lowest occurrences were the Shetland Sheepdogs and the Scottish Terriers.

In most cases owners do not know that their dog has this disease until they got through some kind of surgery like neutering or spaying, or if they are injured. Breeds more likely to develop this blood disease include;

Standard Poodles

German Shepherds

Golden Retrievers

Doberman Pinschers

Shetland Sheepdogs

Miniature Schnauzers

Pembroke Welsh Corgis

Basset Hounds

Scottish Terriers

Manchester Terriers

Bernese Mountain Dogs

German Pinschers

German Shorthaired Pointers

Kerry Blue Terriers

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

Symptoms of Von Willebrand's Disease

Disease symptoms can vary from one dog to another and can range from mild to severe. They can include;

Prolonged bleeding after surgery or a trauma

Excessive bleeding after surgery or a trauma

When a female dog is in heat or when the nails are clipped bleeding may as above

Bleeding from the nose or gums

Blood in the feces either red or back in color

Blood in the urine

Skin bruising

Anemia after prolonged blood loss

Cause and Diagnosing vWD

As mentioned vWD is a genetic blood disease meaning it is passed from parents to puppies. In order to diagnose your dog your vet would investigate their parent's medical history as well as carrying out a physical exam. Tests will be carried out including a complete blood count to rule out other blood diseases, an electrolyte panel to check for dehydration and a urine analysis. Getting a clinical diagnosis will involve looking at vWF concentration levels and how long it takes for small injuries to clot. There will also be tests on the organs, the kidneys, liver and pancreas and sugar levels will be tested and the thyroid. Whatever tests are done, an ELISA assay or a buccal mucosal screening, the diagnosis is not confirmed until a bleeding episode occurs.

If you are getting a new puppy breeds who are more prone can be tested early to see if they have vWD or not. There is a test by VetGen Laboratories which can tell if the dog has it, if they are a carrier or if they are already affected.

Treating and managing Von Willebrand's Disease in Your Dog

This genetic disease does not have a cure, all that can be done is learning to manage the condition once it has been diagnosed. And for breeders to take necessary steps eliminate the disease with careful breeding. For owners with dogs who are affected try to take preventative action against your dog getting injuries. If an injury does occur take it seriously and give it the attention it needs. When your dog is playing make sure there are no sharp objects nearby, check them over regularly. If bleeding does occur take then to your vet straight away where they can get control of the bleeding. If your dog has to go into surgery for any reason the staff taking care of him will give him a drug called DDAVP ahead of time to increase the von Willebrand Factor for a short period of time.

If the form of vWD your dog has is a mild to moderate form it has a very good chance at living a good life needing little special attention, just some care. Those with severe forms though may need transfusions when bleeding is difficult to stop. While they can still have comfortable lives they need to be closely monitored and some of the more risky play needs to stop.

There are some things to avoid for a dog with vWD. Medications to be avoided include;






Sulfa-based antibiotics

Phenothiazine tranquilizers





In humans with vWD emotional stress can lead to bleeding. While at the moment it is not known if that is the case with dogs it is still a wise precaution to avoid high levels of stress in a dog with vWD. Keep your dog happy, loved, calm and in a physically safe environment. Think of it as baby proofing your home, cover sharp corners and make sure your yard is free from things like broken glass, nails and so on. If they suffer from separation anxiety consider having someone come in to keep them company during the day if you have to be out at work.