Von Willebrand disease is an inherited disorder that prevents normal blood clotting, causing potentially dangerous bleeding after trauma or surgery. The disease rarely occurs in cats but is the most common type of inherited bleeding disorder in canines. Poodles, German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, and Golden Retrievers are some of the breeds most commonly affected.
Animals with von Willebrand disease have a deficiency in the activity or quantity of a certain protein in the blood, called von Willebrand factor. This factor helps platelets stick together to form clots and control bleeding; a lack of this factor results in inadequate blood clotting. The gene mutation responsible for this deficiency is passed from parent to puppy.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Von Willebrand Disease
Von Willebrand disease is usually invisible until a trauma or surgery causes prolonged bleeding in an otherwise healthy animal. In very severe cases, dogs with the disease may bleed from the vagina, nose, or gum line without trauma. Bloody urine and feces are also possible. Some dogs may develop anemia or bruising of the skin.
Diagnosis involves a simple blood test, and any dog at high risk should be tested before surgery. A DNA test performed via mouth swab is also available for some breeds. Additionally, some veterinarians will perform a buccal mucosal bleeding time test to determine clotting time prior to a surgical procedure. This test involves making a small cut inside your dog’s lips and measuring the amount of time required for bleeding to stop.
Prevention and Treatment in Dogs
The only means of preventing von Willebrand is to stop breeding dogs with the disease. There is no cure and no means of stopping symptoms. Without intervention, dogs with this disease can bleed to death following minor injury. Dogs with von Willebrand disease shouldn’t take certain NSAID pet medications because they can exacerbate bleeding even more.
If excessive bleeding occurs in a dog with von Willebrand disease, blood transfusions are effective at increasing von Willebrand factor in the blood to promote clotting. Desmopressin acetate, a synthetic hormone, is also useful at increasing levels of von Willebrand factor. This drug is administered intranasally, although some veterinarians doubt its effectiveness. Some studies show improved clotting in dogs given supplemental thyroid hormone, according to the Canine Inherited Disorders Database.
Ideally, transfusions should take place both before and after surgery to prevent potentially fatal bleeding and associated complications. Cage rest may be necessary for an extended period of time to encourage healing and prevent additional bleeding in the recovering dog.
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