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Dogs and von Willebrand's Disease

As a dog owner, you're probably always worried about your dog's health, but while many dog owners worry about things like lyme disease and hip dysplasia, many don't even know that von Willebrand's disease is a risk - until it happens to their dog. But it's more common than you think, and it could very well be something you and your dog have to face together, so here's what you need to know:

What Is Von Willebrand's Disease?

Von Willebrand's disease is named after a protein that occurs in the body - of dogs, humans and other mammals - called von Willebrand's factor. This protein is one of the things our body requires to ensure that platelets (the cells that clot blood) need to do their job properly.

Dogs and people with von Willebrand's disease have a deficiency in this protein, and as a result, their blood does not clot properly. As you can imagine, being unable to clot means that wounds don't heal properly, and that's a serious, potentially life threatening medical problem.

Which Dogs Get Von Willebrand's Disease?

All dog breeds can get von Willebrand's Disease, or vWD as it is sometimes known, but Dobermans are by far the most commonly affected breed, with up to 70% testing positive in one study. However, while Dobies are the most commonly affected, they are also the most likely to have the mildest form of the condition.

Von Willebrand's Disease tends to be diagnosed in adult dogs.

Signs and Symptoms of Von Willebrand's Disease

The signs and symptoms of von Willebrand's Disease, like so many other conditions, can vary enormously, with some dogs never showing any signs at all, and at the other end of the spectrum, some spontaneously hemorraging from their nose, genitals, mouth or bladder. Dogs that do have von Willebrand's are more likely to have serious bleeding after trauma or surgery, and many are diagnosed when they experience this kind of bleeding when they are spayed or neutered.

Diagnosing Von Willebrand's Disease

Your veterinarian may suspect that your dog has vWD because of their excessive bleeding, but there are other conditions that can cause this, so the best way to confirm the diagnosis is by a lab test that measures the amount of von Willebrand's protein in the blood.

It's important to note that dogs who have vWD might not bleed excessively when they are younger, and the condition may only become apparent later in life. Sometimes, it's not surgery or trauma that causes a bleed, but a reaction to some common medications, like antihistamines, antibiotics like amoxicillin and penicillin, tranquilizers and others.

Stress may also be a trigger for dogs that have vWD to have a bleeding episode.

Treating Von Willebrand's Disease

The trouble with von Willebrand's Disease is that it's sometimes not diagnosed until your dog experiences excessive bleeding, which may be an emergency situation. Dogs that have already been diagnosed may also experience sudden bleeds, and when this happens, it can be a medical emergency requiring blood transfusion.

There is also a drug for von Willebrand's Disease, called DDAVP, that may help to treat acute symptoms of vWD, although most dogs will not be medicated all the time.

Reputable breeders of breeds that are commonly affected by vWD may screen for this disease in their dogs and puppies, but since it is the most common blood clotting disorder among dogs and humans, there are no guarantees that any dog is unaffected unless this test is done.

Dogs with vWD can live long and happy lives. You will need to take precautions against injury and extra care if your dog needs surgery or medication, but you can manage this disease quite well with the help of your veterinarian.

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