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I recently brought my Doberman Pinscher puppy to obedience class and one of the other puppy owners mentioned von Willebrand’s disease to me.  What is it and what does it mean for my dog?

Von Willebrand’s disease (vWd) is an inherited bleeding disorder that results from deficiency of a protein called von Willebrand factor (vWF).  It is the most common inherited bleeding problem in dogs.

Von Willebrand’s disease is more common in certain dog breeds; up to 70 percent of Doberman Pinschers carry this trait or have the disease.  Dogs affected with vWd typically range from having no signs at all to episodes of prolonged bleeding during heat cycles, nosebleeds, and bleeding from the gums or into the urine.

Rarely this disease results in severe, life-threatening bleeding.  The risk of bleeding increases if an affected dog requires surgery, such as a spay or dental procedures.  If you know your dog has vWd, be sure to notify your veterinarian before any surgical procedures are performed.

If your veterinarian suspects vWd, a test called a buccal mucosal bleeding time (BMBT) may be performed by making a small puncture on the inside of your dog’s lip and measuring the time until a clot forms.  If a clot fails to form within a specified amount of time, vWd is suspected.  This test can be falsely prolonged by medications such as aspirin so be sure to inform your veterinarian of any medications that your dog is taking at the time the test is performed.  In order to diagnose vWd with certainty, a blood test can be done to measure vWf levels in the blood.  Alternatively, a genetic test is available for some dog breeds, which allows testing from a cheek swab.

There is no cure for vWd.  Fortunately, most dogs have only mild bleeding and treatment is only needed if there is trauma/surgery that caused bleeding.  During times of moderate bleeding or prior to surgery, treatment is required.  A blood product (plasma or cryoprecipitate) transfusion from a donor dog with normal vWf levels may be given.  This gives an affected dog vWf that will temporarily result in normal clotting, allowing bleeding to be controlled or surgery to be performed.  Alternatively, a drug called desmopressin (DDAVP) can lead to an increased vWf level in some dogs.  This can be given prior to surgery or to help control bleeding.  DDAVP does not work in some dogs, so testing  with a BMBT should be accessed after administration and prior to surgery.

With a proper diagnosis and careful management, most dogs with vWd live normal lives.  Affected Doberman Pinschers typically have the most mild form of the disease.  Some breeds such as Shetland Sheepdogs, Scottish Terriers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can have a more severe, life-threatening form of vWd so it is important to consult your veterinarian for details unique to your dog.

Arthur A. Fettig, DVM, Diplomate, ACVS

Dr. Fettig received his DVM from Purdue University. He completed a general internship at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and completed a small animal surgery residency at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Fettig is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Dr. Fettig is proficient in general and orthopedic surgery. He also enjoys spending his free time with his wife Pam who is also a veterinarian. They share their home with their dog Rhiannon and their three cats, Asti, Tim and Curtis.