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Von Willebrand's Disease

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of von Willebrand's Disease in Dogs

LAST UPDATED 16 November 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Michelle Wong BVSc

Bleeding disorders are very concerning to the pet parent and can lead to a stressful time at the emergency centre. These disorders can be due to defects or deficiencies of platelets and clotting factors, either inherited or acquired, the latter being much more common. Of all the inheritable bleeding disorders, von Willebrand's disease is the most prevalent in dogs.

What is von Willebrand's disease?
The Three Types of von Willebrand's disease

What is von Willebrand's Disease?

Von Willebrand's disease is a commonly inherited bleeding disorder in both humans and dogs. It is rarely seen in cats. This disease is characterised by a defect in the clotting factor, the Von Willebrand's factor, which normally acts as the 'glue' in holding platelets together to form a clot to stop the bleeding.

The Von Willebrand's factor is made of a protein complex and its purpose is to bind platelets together over the torn surface of the blood vessel. A defect in any of the proteins within this protein complex will result in von Willebrand's disease. While the platelet is held in place to stop the bleeding, fibrin is then produced to form a more permanent seal. Von Willebrand's factor also provides a small contribution in forming the fibrin clot.

german shepherd dog panting
sheltie sitting in grass
2 Scottish terriers sitting on grass
doberman sitting in grass

Types of von Willebrand's Disease

There are three forms of von Willebrand's disease, defined by the quantity and quality of the protein structure.

von Willebrand's Disease Type 1

Type 1 is the most common. The proteins in the complex are low in number, although all types of proteins are present. Dog breeds which are affected by Type 1 include the Dobermann, the Shetland Sheepdog, the German Shepherd Dog, and the Standard Poodle.

von Willebrand's Disease Type 2

Type 2 von Willebrand's disease produces more severe bleeding episodes and is distinguished from Type 1 in that not only are the proteins in low concentration but there is abnormal structure and therefore function of the complex. This certain type may be more likely seen in German Short-Haired and German Wire-Haired Pointers.

von Willebrand's Disease Type 3

This is the most severe type where there is no von Willebrand's factor present at all. Breeds affected are Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Dutch Kooiker, Scottish Terrier and Shetland Sheepdog.

Symptoms of von Willebrand's Disease

Dogs with von Willebrand's disease may appear quite normal until they show prolonged or excessive bleeding after injury or surgery. Spontaneous bleeding can occur in more severe cases, with noticeable bruising or bleeding from the nose without any history of trauma. The severity of bleeding can vary within this disease, ranging from mild to severe.

Signs to look for:
  • Continued bleeding from injury or surgery
  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding from nose
  • Blood in stools or urine
  • Tarry faeces
  • Bruising
  • Excessive bleeding in females after giving birth or during oestrus (on heat)

How is von Willebrand's diagnosed?

Von Willebrand's disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test where the amount of von Willebrand factor is measured, and then this quantity is compared to the levels in normal dogs. The normal range that should be present is from 70-180% in dogs. 50-69% is considered borderline. Anything less than 49% is abnormal, these dogs are at risk of bleeding and should not be part of a breeding program. DNA testing may be available, discuss screening tests with your veterinarian if you plan to breed or your dog is an at-risk breed and you wish to check before surgery.

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Treatment of von Willebrand's Disease

Von Willebrand's Disease has no cure. Dogs that are already bleeding can be given a blood transfusion containing the necessary clotting factors including von Willebrand's factor. A transfusion may also be given to dogs prior to a planned surgery. Dogs with von Willebrand's disease, or are carriers of the gene, should ideally not be bred to prevent passing on this disease to their offspring. This can help to limit the occurrence of this inheritable disease.

If you are considering getting a new puppy and concerned about genetic diseases, read our vet article on how to find a good breeder to compile your full checklist of questions to ask.

Further Reading

Want to know more? Have a read through some of our other articles:

10 Frequently Asked Puppy Questions

Pet First Aid Tips

Preventative vs Restorative Pet Care

Dental Care for Dogs

Dog Grooming Guide