Understanding Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in Dogs

Von Willebrand's Disease

Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) is a common inherited bleeding disorder that affects dogs. It is named after Erik von Willebrand, a Finnish physician who first described the condition in humans. Just like in humans, vWD in dogs is characterized by a deficiency or abnormality of the von Willebrand factor, a protein responsible for blood clotting.

In this article, we will delve into the world of vWD in dogs, exploring its signs and symptoms, the diagnostic process, available treatment options, and steps to prevent the disease. Whether you are a dog owner, breeder, or simply interested in learning more about canine health, this post aims to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of vWD and how it can be managed.

By recognizing the signs and symptoms, you can ensure early detection and appropriate medical intervention for your furry companion. Additionally, we will discuss the importance of genetic counseling and selective breeding to prevent vWD in future generations of dogs.

Join us as we explore Von Willebrand’s Disease in dogs and gain valuable insights into this often misunderstood condition.


Introduction: What is Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in Dogs

Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder that affects dogs. It is caused by a deficiency or abnormality of the von Willebrand factor (vWF), a protein involved in blood clotting. This disorder is named after Erik von Willebrand, a Finnish physician who first identified the condition in humans.

In dogs, vWD is most commonly seen in certain breeds, including Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Shetland Sheepdogs. However, it can occur in any dog regardless of breed.

The von Willebrand factor plays a crucial role in the formation of blood clots. It helps platelets adhere to the walls of blood vessels and promotes the formation of a stable clot when there is an injury or bleeding. Dogs with vWD have a reduced ability to form stable blood clots, leading to prolonged bleeding episodes.

The severity of vWD can vary among dogs. Some may only experience mild bleeding tendencies, while others may have more severe symptoms. It is important for dog owners and breeders to be aware of this condition and its potential impact on the health of their dogs.

In the following sections of this article, we will explore the signs and symptoms of vWD in dogs, the diagnostic process, available treatment options, and steps to prevent the disease. By understanding vWD and its implications, you can take proactive measures to ensure the well-being of your canine companion.


Signs and Symptoms of vWD in Dogs

Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in dogs can manifest in various signs and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. It’s important for dog owners to be familiar with these symptoms in order to identify potential cases of vWD and seek appropriate veterinary care. Here are some common signs and symptoms of vWD in dogs:

  1. Excessive Bleeding: Dogs with vWD may experience prolonged bleeding after minor injuries, such as cuts or scratches. The bleeding may be difficult to control and take longer than usual to clot.
  2. Nosebleeds: Spontaneous nosebleeds, also known as epistaxis, can be a sign of vWD in dogs. These nosebleeds may occur frequently and may be difficult to stop.
  3. Bleeding Gums: Dogs with vWD may exhibit bleeding gums, especially after chewing on toys or eating hard food. This can cause the gums to appear red, swollen, or even bloody.
  4. Blood in Urine or Stool: vWD can also lead to blood in the urine (hematuria) or stool (melena). If you notice any signs of abnormal bleeding in your dog’s urinary or gastrointestinal tract, it is important to consult a veterinarian.
  5. Excessive Bruising: Dogs with vWD may develop bruises easily, even with minor trauma. These bruises may be larger and take longer to heal compared to dogs without the condition.
  6. Excessive Bleeding during Heat or Surgery: Female dogs with vWD may experience excessive bleeding during their heat cycles. Additionally, dogs with vWD may have increased bleeding during surgical procedures or dental cleanings.
  7. Spontaneous Internal Bleeding: In rare cases, dogs with severe vWD may experience spontaneous internal bleeding, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms may include weakness, pale gums, abdominal distension, and collapse.


It’s important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary among dogs, even within the same breed. Some dogs may exhibit only mild bleeding tendencies, while others may have more severe symptoms. If you notice any of these signs or suspect your dog may have vWD, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Diagnosis of vWD in Dogs

Diagnosing Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in dogs requires a comprehensive evaluation by a veterinarian. There are several steps involved in the diagnostic process to accurately determine if a dog has vWD. Let’s explore these steps in detail:

  1. Clinical Evaluation: The veterinarian will begin by conducting a thorough physical examination of the dog. They will inquire about the dog’s medical history and any observed symptoms of bleeding or clotting issues. This evaluation helps rule out other potential causes of bleeding disorders and provides a baseline for further diagnostic testing.
  2. Buccal Mucosal Bleeding Time (BMBT) Test: This test assesses the dog’s ability to form stable blood clots. A small incision or puncture is made on the inside of the dog’s cheek, and the time taken for the bleeding to stop is measured. Dogs with vWD typically have prolonged bleeding times compared to healthy dogs.
  3. Coagulation Profile: A coagulation profile involves a series of blood tests to evaluate the dog’s clotting factors. This may include partial thromboplastin time (PTT), activated clotting time (ACT), and prothrombin time (PT) tests. Abnormal results in these tests can indicate a potential bleeding disorder such as vWD.
  4. von Willebrand Factor Antigen Test: This test measures the amount of von Willebrand factor (vWF) in the dog’s blood. It helps determine if the dog has a deficiency or abnormality of vWF, which is characteristic of vWD. This test is typically performed using specialized laboratory equipment.
  5. Genetic Testing: In some cases, genetic testing may be recommended, especially for dogs from breeds known to be predisposed to vWD. Genetic testing can identify specific gene mutations associated with vWD and provide valuable information for breeding purposes.
  6. Consultation with a Veterinary Hematologist: In complex cases or when definitive diagnosis is challenging, a consultation with a veterinary hematologist may be necessary. These specialists have expertise in diagnosing and managing blood disorders and can provide additional insights and guidance.


It is important to note that vWD can present challenges in diagnosis due to its variable nature and the potential for false-negative or false-positive results. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian experienced in diagnosing and treating vWD in dogs to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.


Treatment and Management of vWD in Dogs

Once a dog has been diagnosed with Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD), the appropriate treatment and management strategies can be implemented. While there is no cure for vWD, there are several approaches to help manage the condition and minimize the risks associated with bleeding episodes. Let’s explore the treatment and management options for vWD in dogs:

  1. Replacement Therapy: The primary treatment for dogs with vWD involves replacing the deficient or abnormal von Willebrand factor (vWF). This can be done through infusions of cryoprecipitate, fresh frozen plasma, or specific vWF concentrates. These treatments provide the missing vWF and help improve the dog’s ability to form stable blood clots.
  2. Transfusion Therapy: In severe cases or during emergency situations, blood transfusions may be necessary to replenish the dog’s platelets and clotting factors. This can help control or prevent excessive bleeding episodes.
  3. Topical Hemostatic Agents: For minor bleeding incidents, veterinarians may recommend the use of topical hemostatic agents. These are substances applied directly to the site of bleeding to promote clot formation and control bleeding. Examples include styptic powders or gels.
  4. Avoidance of Trauma and Injury: Dogs with vWD should be protected from situations that may lead to excessive bleeding or injury. This includes avoiding activities that pose a high risk of trauma, such as rough play, intense exercise, or contact sports. Regular nail trims can also help prevent nail-related bleeding incidents.
  5. Preventive Dental Care: Dental procedures can be a significant source of bleeding for dogs with vWD. Regular dental cleanings and oral hygiene maintenance are crucial to prevent oral infections and minimize the risk of dental-related bleeding. It is important to inform the veterinarian and dental care providers about the dog’s vWD condition before any dental procedures.
  6. Collaboration with Veterinary Specialists: In complex cases or when additional expertise is required, collaborating with veterinary specialists, such as hematologists or internal medicine specialists, can provide valuable insights and guidance in managing vWD.
  7. Regular Monitoring and Follow-up: Dogs with vWD require regular monitoring of their clotting factors and overall health. This ensures that their treatment plan is effective and allows for adjustments if necessary. Routine check-ups with the veterinarian, including blood tests, can help assess the dog’s response to treatment and identify any potential complications.


It is important to work closely with a veterinarian experienced in managing vWD to develop an individualized treatment plan for your dog. By following appropriate management strategies, you can help minimize the risks associated with vWD and provide a good quality of life for your furry companion.


Preventing vWD in Dogs

While Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in dogs is an inherited condition, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent its occurrence and reduce the risk of passing it on to future generations. By implementing preventive measures, dog owners and breeders can contribute to the overall health and well-being of their dogs. Let’s explore some key strategies for preventing vWD in dogs:

  1. Genetic Counseling and Selective Breeding: One of the most effective ways to prevent vWD is through genetic counseling and selective breeding practices. Dogs known to carry the vWD gene should not be bred, as it increases the chances of passing on the condition to their offspring. Consulting with a veterinary geneticist or specialist can provide valuable insights into the inheritance patterns of vWD and help make informed breeding decisions.
  2. Routine Screenings: Regular screenings for vWD can help identify carriers of the gene and prevent the breeding of affected dogs. Screening tests, such as DNA tests or specific blood tests, can detect the presence of vWD gene mutations. Breeding dogs should undergo these screenings before mating to ensure they are free from the condition.
  3. Proper Nutrition and Care: Providing dogs with a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for their overall health. A well-balanced diet helps support their immune system and promotes optimal blood clotting. Regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, and preventive care are also crucial in maintaining the overall health and well-being of dogs.
  4. Avoiding Breeding Dogs with Unknown Lineage: When acquiring a new dog for breeding purposes, it is important to obtain a detailed pedigree and health history. Breeding dogs with unknown lineage or questionable health backgrounds can increase the risk of passing on vWD and other genetic conditions. Responsible breeders should prioritize obtaining dogs from reputable sources with documented health records.
  5. Educating the Dog Community: Spreading awareness and educating the dog community about vWD can help prevent its occurrence. By sharing knowledge about the condition, its inheritance patterns, and the importance of responsible breeding practices, dog owners and breeders can work together to minimize the prevalence of vWD.


It is important to remember that while preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of vWD, no breeding program can completely eliminate the possibility of genetic disorders. However, by being proactive and taking the necessary precautions, dog owners and breeders can make a positive impact on the overall health and quality of life for future generations of dogs.

Remember, consultation with a veterinarian or veterinary geneticist is crucial when considering breeding practices or acquiring a new dog. Together, we can strive to promote healthier generations of dogs and work towards reducing the impact of vWD in the canine population.

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