Von Willebrand Disease

Three Minutes
Apr 14, 2022

Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is a bleeding disorder that affects the blood’s ability to clot properly. If you pet’s blood isn’t able to clot, any injury it sustains can result in heavy bleeding that is difficult to stop. This disease is similar to hemophilia in humans.

With von Willebrand disease, the dog is missing a substance that allows the platelets in the blood to form clots and stabilize. This substance is known as the “von Willebrand’s factor”, thus the disease’s name.

Types of von Willebrand Disease

There are three different types of vWD, beased on whether the “von Willebrand factor” is reduced or absent entirely. Most dogs with von Willebran Disease don’t show any symptoms for several years, or until they sustain an injury that causes bleeding or undergo surgery.

Without treatment, dogs can die from injuries normally deemed “non life-threatening”, or the excessive bleeding can wreak havoc on internal organs.

Von Willebrand Disease is the most common hereditary blood clotting disorder in dogs.

Dog Breeds at High Risk for Having von Willebrand Disease

Dogs that also have hypothyroidism are at an increased risk of suffering from bleeding disorders.

Symptoms of von Willebrand Disease

  • Hemorrhage from mucosal surfaces
  • Nosebleeds
  • Blood in stool
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Blood in urine
  • Bleeding gums
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding
  • Bruising of the skin
  • Prolonged bleeding following trauma or surgery
  • Loss of baby teeth
  • Eruption of permanent teeth
  • Dewclaw removal
  • Surgical incisions
  • Superficial wounds
  • Excessive bleeding during whelping or during heat cycles for intact females
  • Anemia from blood loss

What Causes von Willebrand Disease

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited or hereditary condition. There are tests available to determine if a dog may carry the disease trait. For now, veterinary medicine practices prevention by recommending any dog with the disease or that carries the trait be removed from any breeding program since both male and female dogs can pass the genetic mutation to their offspring. There is currently no cure for von Willebrand Disease in dogs.

Diagnosing the Disease

A physical exam of your pet will be performed by a veterinarian. Along with a thorough history, a blood chemical profile may be performed, which also includes a complete blood count, urinalysis and electrolyte panel. Results showing an abnormal platelet count and irregular coagulation will direct your veterinarian to a diagnosis of von Willebrand Disease.

Treating von Willebrand Disease in Dogs

Dogs with mild or moderate cases of von Willebrand disease not require any or only minimal treatment to have a good quality of life. Those with more severe cases of the disease will be required to undergo a transfusion of fresh whole blood, fresh plasma, fresh frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate to supply the “von Willebrand’s factor” for the blood. The most severe cases may require repeated transfusions to prevent or reduce the severity of hemorrhages.

Dogs with von Willebrand Disease should NOT do the following:

  • Rough play with owners or other pets
  • Eat hard bones, treats or rawhides

Give medication with antiplatelet or anticoagulant effects:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Estrogens
  • Cytotoxic medications
  • Heparin
  • Coumadin
  • Plasma expanders
  • Sulfonamide antibiotics

Dogs diagnosed with von Willebrand Disease should be tested annually for thyroid conditions as well, since dogs with VWD have the tendency to develop hypothyroidism.

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions. 

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