Friday, July 9, 2010

Von Willebrand Disease (vWD) in Dogs

By Linda Cole

Just like some people, certain breeds of dogs can be affected by Von Willebrand disease, a genetic disorder that won't allow a wound to clot like it should. Von Willebrand disease is similar to hemophilia, and if your dog is diagnosed with vWD, special care needs to be taken to help keep him or her healthy.

In 1925 a doctor from Finland, Erik Von Willebrand discovered a blood disorder that was different from hemophilia. He was the first one to point out the difference between the two disorders. Hemophilia is found primarily in males, but vWD is found in both male and female.

Von Willebrand disease is the most common hereditary bleeding disorder. It causes a dog inflicted with it to bleed longer than usual even with a small cut. It's been found in at least 60 different dog breeds but is most common in the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, German Short haired Pointer, Doberman Pinscher, Corgi, Standard Poodle, Scottish terrier, Airedale terrier, Schnauzers, Keeshonds, Basset hounds, Dachshunds, Rottweilers and the Shetland Sheepdog. Dobermans are more likely to have this condition than any other breed.

In the clotting process, platelets stick to the sides of a vein and clot, which stops bleeding. Researchers know there are 12 factors in a platelet’s makeup, and it's Von Willebrand factor (vWF) 8 that causes the problem. Because of a genetic breakdown in the dog's protein with vWD, there isn't enough of it in their bloodstream to allow platelets to adhere to the side of a vein like they should.

So what does this means for a dog who inherited Von Willebrand disease? Special care needs to be taken to make sure the dog remains as injury free as possible. Responsible pet ownership is a must, because it's up to the owner to make sure sharp corners in the home are reduced and the yard is kept free from debris like broken glass, nails or anything else that could injure the dog.

Most dog owners have no idea their pet has Von Willebrand disease until they go through a surgery like spaying or neutering, or until the dog is injured. However, there are symptoms to watch for:

* Gums that bleed for no reason
* Unexplained nosebleeds
* Heavy bleeding during a female's heat cycle
* A teething puppy whose gums bleed
* Blood in their urine, or bloody stools with a black tar-like substance in it
* A toenail clipped too short that continues to bleed even after you've put quick-stop on it, or one that bleeds longer than it should

If you notice any of the above symptoms, have your vet check your dog out and screen them for vWD. Testing for this condition has been improved over the years, and results are much more accurate and faster than they used to be. Blood tests can determine if a dog is a carrier of the gene and can also predict if your dog has a chance of developing this disorder.

There is no cure for Von Willebrand disease in dogs, but it can be managed and is a lifelong commitment. Make sure anyone who deals with your dog understands what this condition is. Groomers, babysitters, family members, pet sitters or anyone who may have contact with or be left in charge of the dog needs to be aware of how to handle any injury that could cause bleeding, even if it seems small.

Injuries will need to be dealt with immediately and sometimes, blood transfusions may need to be given to the dog. Precautions should be taken with food and toys. To reduce bleeding gums, bones and any kind of hard chew toys or rawhide should be avoided. A dog who has been diagnosed with vWD may not be able to eat dry dog food or play with balls. Play will have to be kept to a minimum in order to reduce accidental injuries that can happen during more active, rough play. Joints are more easily injured and can bleed inside.

Dogs with Von Willebrand can also develop a hypothyroid, and yearly tests should be done to make sure the thyroid is healthy. If it isn't, oral medication can be given to control the thyroid, which will need to be given for the life of the dog.

Von Willebrand disease can be found in cats, but it's rare. Dogs found to have this condition should not be bred since it is hereditary. Females who give birth are at risk of bleeding and there's no reason to put her through a pregnancy that could be life threatening for her. Most dogs with vWD can live a normal life as long as precautions are taken.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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